Trash cans in bike lanes are epidemic, and are a public danger hazard to bicyclists. Placing a trash can, or anything else, in a bike lane is a violation of California Vehicle Code (CVC):

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.

bike-lane-trash-cansSome people misunderstand where to place their trash cans, but most people know and don’t care – I’ve had extensive conversations with many such people – they don’t think that my right to the bike lane supersedes their right to put their trash can wherever they damned well please. The photo at right is on Tupelo Drive in Citrus Heights, trash cans placed directly in a marked bike lane. Notice that it would have been easy to place them in the parking “lane” instead, but the residents chose not to. This is not just a Citrus Heights problem, this photo could as well be any street anywhere in the region.

What is the problem? Well, trash cans cause bicyclists to veer out of the bike lane and into the “traffic lane” (called a general purpose lane). CVC recognizes debris or objects in the bike lane as a valid reason to leave the bike lane [CVC 21202 (a) (3) “When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656…”] But every time a bicyclist leaves the bike lane to avoid a trash can, they are veering back and forth, not riding predictably, and so exposing themselves to significantly higher risk, as well as scaring or irritating motor vehicle drivers. As a vehicular bicyclist, this doesn’t much bother me. I’m rarely in the bike lane at all, because there is almost always one of the exceptions in effect. But the average bicyclist is not ready for riding in the general purpose lane, and does not understand the exceptions. They have been suckered into using the bike lane, and then endangered by trash cans.

Even more hazardous are trash cans at night. They are all dark colored, and none of them have reflective stripes, unless the resident/owner has added them. A bicyclist riding along at night could easily run into one at full speed and become seriously injured. Heavily loaded yard waste cans are essentially immovable objects. Even hyper-aware me has had collisions with trash cans at night. What about the average bicyclist? Many people leave their trash cans out two nights, placing them the night before pickup and then leaving them out until the day following pickup. So they are out for at least 48 hours, though many local codes specify no more than 12 hours before and 12 hours after.

This could all be blamed on the home owners and renters who place trash cans in the bike lane. But I see it as a problem created and perpetuated by government indifference. The cities and the counties are hardly unaware of the problem, but they have largely chosen to ignore it. After all, the safety of bicyclists is not a priority, or even a concern (as in the case of Sacramento County).

trash-can-legendThe City of Sacramento has begun to address the issue with an imprint on trash cans, shown at right. Of course this is only on newer trash cans, not on the older ones. And I have seen a number of trash cans so marked, and placed right in the bike lane. Again, many people don’t care. The city’s Collection Services page suggests “Keep containers out of bike lanes whenever possible,” (and don’t forget to call your mom), however, city code provides the more legally correct “13.10.100 Placement of containers for collection. D. Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, no container shall be placed, kept, stored, or located on or in any street, sidewalk, alley, or any public place in a manner that impedes traffic or drainage or creates a hazard to public health or safety, or the public welfare.” At least the city is trying. On the other hand, neither the county nor Citrus Heights have imprinted their trash cans (I looked at as many new cans as I could find today, and saw none that were imprinted).

I would be pleased to receive comments that provide information on other cities and counties in the region.

What are the solutions?

  1. Create code at the county and city level that prohibits and sets significant fines for placing trash cans in bike lanes, and then enforcement.
  2. Enforce CVC by CHP and city law enforcement.
  3. Refuse to pick up trash cans that are placed in a bike lane. People would start catching on if their trash were not picked up.
  4. Add imprints to all trash/yard waste/recycling containers in all cities and counties. Older containers could be stenciled with the message, with a deadline of one year for implementation.
  5. Require reflective stripes on the sides of all new containers, and addition to existing containers within one year. This can be done along with the stenciling.
  6. Strong and clear messaging to residents in their collection bills and in the media about the dangers of trash cans in bike lanes. This should be the responsibility of every city and every county. The message is really “Putting your trash can in the bike lane is just like placing it in the middle of the street – so DON’T.”

A city or county that does not address the trash cans in bike lane issue is clearly stating that it is not bike friendly. In fact, I’d go further and say that any area, city, county or region that claims Bicycle Friendly Community status from the League of American Bicyclists should have that status revoked unless they proactively deal with this issue.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Or helpfully push the cans out into the traffic lane.
    You’re welcome, citizen. No need to thank me.

  2. I think most people don’t know that the trucks have a long reach and can get the cans in the parking area. Just carelessness. Try riding down H St. on garbage day (Thursday), if you want a thrill!
    M Riley

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About Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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