Trash Talk – bike lanes blocked while authorities shrug shoulders

Who do you call when trash cans block the bike lanes in LA? After years of digging, LA’s cycling commuity has found the answer: the Bureau of Street Service’s Inspection and Enforcement Division. Their Inspectors are professional peace officers tasked with, among other things, keeping the right of way clear of obstructions. You can contact them by calling 213-847-6000.


You know what is cool? Bike lanes in Los Angeles are cool. You know what is not cool? Blocking bike lanes with trash cans is not cool, moreover it is also illegal. It says so in California Vehicle Code Section 21211:

“(b) No person may place or park any bicycle, vehicle, or any other object upon any bikeway or bicycle path or trail, as specified in subdivision (a), which impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of any bicyclist unless the placement or parking is necessary for safe operation or is otherwise in compliance with the law.”

In California, it is against the law to block the road without a special permit – but in LA, you’d need more than a special permit to find a cop willing to enforce this rule.

Cyclists have, for years, lobbied politicians in city hall, LAPD commanders, LA Department of Transportation officials, and others in local government to do something about the hazard of large numbers of trash cans blocking bike lanes before and after trash pickup days. The response has been baffling. Officers of the law have shrugged their shoulders. The highest officials in city government tilted their heads like confused dogs and said, “Uhhh…”.

In Los Angeles, the vast majority of residential properties have their trash picked up by the City of LA’s Department of Public Works in special bins that are leased from the city. The Bureau of Sanitation (a wing of Public Works) has a large fleet of special trucks that haul away may tons of garbage in these special bins – each one of which is leased to a property owner, each of which has a serial number identifying it (and thus identifying the party leasing the bin).

Bike Lane or Garbage Can Lane? by Waltarr
Image by Waltarr on Flickr.

So, what happens on trash day?

People drag their trash cans out and, instead of setting them against the curb, park them in the street beside their parked cars. God forbid they move their cars on trash day, or that they find an open curb space to leave their bins. It is much easier to keep your car parked where it is and simply drag the cans into the street – blocking the right hand lane on some roads and blocking the bikeway on others.

This sucks – but how do we fix it? I tried, for several years, to take corrective action after hearing LA’s highest authorities blow the issue off. The adrenaline rush was a lot of fun as I practiced side kicking bins into parked cars, swerving in to the lane of traffic with cars going 20 mph faster than me, on my way to work each morning. The bins would end up back where they were the next week, so my personal campaign came to a close.

Yet there are others in city government who work full time on this issue, attempting to ensure that LA’s streets are safe and clear of debris. The Bureau of Street Services Investigation and Enforcement Division (the BSS is a part of Public Works) is tasked with policing crap blocking the right of way. The IED employs a bunch of Investigators who are:

“… are duly appointed “public officers” pursuant to Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 61.07(a) with the power of arrest of a “peace officer” as authorized by California Penal Code (PC) Section 830.7(j). Section 830.7 grants Investigators the same law enforcement arrest authority exercised by police officers or sheriff deputies (PC 836) for specified illegal dumping related matters. In addition, Street Service Investigators have the authority to issue “personal service” criminal citations (Notices to Appear in Court), the power to serve warrants, make arrests for offenses that are a violation of state law or municipal ordinance; obtain criminal history information from the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS); carry self-defense weapons and impound vehicles.”

When it comes to blocking the right of way, these guys don’t mess around! They also work in the same department (Public Works) that licenses those trash bins to property owners.

Coincidentally did you know that if Bureau of Sanitation truck drivers notice you’ve over-filled your trash can, or put non-recyclables in your recylables-only bin, that they will note it and will not pick up your bin? In other words, the Bureau of Sanitation has a system for recognizing customers violating the terms of their service, recording that violation, and taking corrective action.

When customers violate the law (not just their terms of service) by blocking a bikeway, you’d think that it would be pretty easy to figure out some sort of corrective action. This is especially true when you realize that there are cops, with guns and the right to make arrests, that police this specific issue and work in the same department as those that lease these bins and collect trash from them on a weekly basis.

The Bureau of Sanitation and the Bureau of Street Service Inspection and Enforcement Division really ought to figure something out when it comes to trash bins blocking the right of way, don’t you think?

On behalf of all my cycling colleagues out there, I’d like to apologize to all the clueless, unhelpful, government authorities that let this problem sit on the shelf, shrugged their shoulders, and ignored the problem. I am sorry that you guys didn’t think of this first!

A big thank you to Ted Rogers of Biking In LA for help researching this article!

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