Trash bins blocking the bike lane? Here’s how to fix that

Trash bins blocking the new bike lane on Lombard after being hit by a driver. (Photo sent in by a reader)

In addition to leaves and cars and gravel and puddles and signs and construction equipment, another all too common object that blocks travel lanes used by bicycle riders are those big trash and recycling bins. Far too many people disrespect bike lanes and their lack of attention to this issue creates a significant safety hazard when road users are forced to steer around the bins and into other lanes. The issue has become more acute in recent years as the Portland Bureau of Transportation has created more curbside, parking-protected bike lanes.

The issue should be handled automatically by the city through a mix of marketing, education, design and enforcement. But until that happens, like many other street safety issues we face, the burden is on us to file a complaint with the city.

Last week we had a reader contact us about a repeat offender who was leaving several bins in the new bike lane on N Lombard each week. She lives in an apartment and noticed how workers from her property management company were to blame. When she brought the issue to their attention, they “repeatedly dismissed” her concerns. Then last weekend, the bins were struck by a car driver. Frustrated and worried, our reader decided to go a different route: She emailed the Oregon Department of Transportation (they manage this section of Lombard) and the Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability (who are in charge of the waste and recycling).

“I shudder to think what would have happened had a cyclist approached this sudden wall of cans in the rainy dark weather and darted into traffic to avoid them,” she wrote in an email copied to BikePortland.

One day later she got a reply from a BPS staffer. The staffer said they got in touch with someone at the property management firm and was told they would place the bins up on the sidewalk and out of the bike lane from now on. The BPS staffer also shared sage advice for how to report the issue so it gets handled correctly.

If you come across bins blocking the bikeway (especially repeat offenders), you can file a complaint with Bureau of Development Services by sending an email to codec@portlandoregon.gov or by calling 503-823-2633.

The applicable code is found in Chapter 29.20.010:

K.  Obstructions to sidewalks, streets, and other rights of way.  Keep the adjacent rights of way free of anything that obstructs or interferes with the normal flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic, unless specifically authorized by permit or ordinance to do otherwise.  This responsibility includes, but is not limited to, removal of earth, rock, and other debris, as well as projecting or overhanging bushes and limbs that may obstruct or render unsafe the passage of persons or vehicles.  

It’s unfortunate bicycle riders are burdened with having to report these obstructions and I realize not everyone is willing to do it. But if this is your type of thing, at least now you know where to take your concerns. Hopefully they’ll get taken care of quickly.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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onewheelskyward
onewheelskyward
1 year ago

Thank you, I’ve been trying to figure out where to report vegetation-blocked sidewalks and bike lanes, and the bureaucracy defeated me. Until now. I’m going to start filing reports!

EP
EP
1 year ago

The PDXreporter website makes it real easy for you fill out a report with a photo about vegetation and can geolocate it if you’re on your phone.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago

Interesting, as a pedestrian I always move obstructions on the sidewalk out into the street, if there’s no grassy (or similar) area to move them to. I’d rather there be room for wheelchairs to get through. I’ve done it mostly with construction signs that I find blocking sidewalks.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago

Throw them in the car lanes

Amit Zinman
1 year ago

There’s also PDX Reporter
https://pdxreporter.org/

Mauri Rocco
Mauri Rocco
1 year ago

When SO MANY basics laws are not enforced in Portland (such as blocking sidewalks, discharging RV sewage into the streets, throwing garbage everywhere, speeding, street racing and tagging structures with graffiti) you can see why many many not be so concerned about where they put their recycling bins. Just sayin’

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  Mauri Rocco

When I have to remove obstructions like these, I make sure they’re as hard to recover as possible.

Just saying.

Paul H
Paul H
1 year ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

Seems like the prudent thing to do here would be to not assume malicious or even negligent intent on part of the bin owners.

Sometimes the garbage/recycling/compost trucks don’t set them down very well. Sometimes the wind blows them over. And lots of time this happens while people are away from their home, unable to monitor this situation closely enough to cater to someone who would “make sure they’re as hard to recover as possible.”

Bjorn
Bjorn
1 year ago

I tend to move them far enough back onto the property that it is unlikely they will be picked up. I feel like folks will get the hint eventually.

Michael
Michael
1 year ago

A friend of mine has been known to relocate the cans, realtor signs, and other miscellaneous illegal bike lane blocking items a block or two away. Not the best neighborly thing to do, but it’s humorous at times and gives them some mild satisfaction.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago

I don’t think that’s the only applicable code section. There’s also this:
17.102.290 Storing Solid Waste, Recycling or Compostable Containers in the Right of Way Prohibited.(Amended by Ordinance Nos. 182671, 184288 and 189293, effective January 11, 2019.)
A. No person may store, or cause to be stored, containers of solid waste, recycling or compostables in public right-of-way without a permit from the City Engineer, the City Traffic Engineer, or the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. For the purposes of this Section, storage means leaving containers in the right of way for more than 2 hours either before or after collection during normal business hours. If collection occurs after normal business hours, containers may be placed in the right of way at the close of business but must be removed from the right of way by the start of the following business day or within 24 hours of set out, whichever occurs first.

https://www.portland.gov/code/17/102#toc–17-102-290-storing-solid-waste-recycling-or-compostable-containers-in-the-right-of-way-prohibited-

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago

Interesting thing about those “projecting or overhanging bushes and limbs”: I’ve reported low-hanging tree branches to BDS a few times, and got an email last time saying that BDS had no authority over the pubic right-of-way. They told me to contact PBOT maintenance instead, who have actually been pretty responsive to this.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

What BDS told you isn’t true. Every couple years, I get a notice from BDS demanding that I trim a tree they think is in my front yard (actually not my yard or tree) whose limbs are obstructing views of a stop sign and are too low over the street. Not acting is also a BDS violation.

Also, on the City’s “Report a Code Violation” page, BDS is listed as the responding bureau for “bushes/trees/vegetation encroaching into r.o.w.”, and for “low tree limbs over adjacent street/sidewalk from private property trees” (Urban Forestry responds if public trees).

I have a hard time faulting staff for not knowing, given that BDS, BPS, PBOT and Parks (Urban Forestry) all have responsibility for right-of-way concerns, dealt out in a random, inefficient manner. But it’s great PBOT responded.
https://www.portland.gov/bds/code-enforcement/code-enforcement-phone-numbers

qqq
qqq
1 year ago

When I pursued this issue with the City in 2017, BPS told me PBOT should enforce it, because City code states:

16.90.110 Drop Box.A container in which trash or any other refuse material is temporarily stored or collected. For the purposes of Title 16, a drop box will be considered a vehicle in terms of parking provisions and restrictions.

PBOT told me they don’t care what the code says, so they won’t enforce it. I can’t disagree with BPS, and I think PBOT should be enforcing this the same as they do with vehicles. What if the garbage container gets knocked into the middle of a street? It makes no sense that anyone but PBOT (or the Police) should be the ones to enforce anything blocking a street.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago

Sorry for multiple comments (!) I’d love if the article’s info is correct, but I’m not convinced that the City has sorted this out to guarantee the immediate response that anything blocking traffic in a street deserves. When I go to its “Report a Code Violation” page, it says, “Empty garbage containers left on the curb” is BPS, not BDS, and “garbage dumped” that is blocking traffic is Bureau of Maintenance, or BDS if NOT blocking traffic. There’s nothing about bins in the street, but it’s weird that BDS would do bins in the street if they don’t do bins on the curb or garbage in the street.
https://www.portland.gov/bds/code-enforcement/code-enforcement-phone-numbers

Here’s what happened when I tried to report bins in the street in 2017:
–BPS told me it’s not illegal, then said it was, but it was a PBOT issue
–PBOT told me no, it’s BPS’s issue
–BPS replied that City Code defines garbage containers as vehicles, so PBOT is responsible
–PBOT said they’re not “vehicles” but it can tag them as “abandoned autos”
–PBOT then decided it couldn’t do that, and said to file a complaint with BDS (same answer as this article)
–BDS told me that empty garbage containers are not BDS’s issue, they are BPS’s, which brought me full-circle back to an endless loop.

So all three bureaus telling me it was another bureau’s issue. This whole process took many calls and emails over months. I don’t recall any resolution from the City.

Jay cee
Jay cee
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

The city has way to many divisions-departments imo.

dw
dw
1 year ago

I ride to work pretty early – around when garbage gets picked up. I often see the workers leave the bins in the bike lane, even if residents and businesses place them on the curb/parking strip. I don’t mean to minimize the problem, but who’s gonna get those guys to care about whether or not they’re blocking the bike lane? Seems like they’re already stretched pretty thin as it is.

Laura
Laura
1 year ago
Reply to  dw

We noticed a similar change when our area service provider switched from one where employees manually took the bins to/from the truck, to a provider who used fully automated trucks. Folks place the bins appropriately; the driver/operator just drops the empty bins wherever. Maybe complaints on the performance of the providers to Metro or the City?

Tom
Tom
1 year ago

How are cars , trucks and delivery vehicles supposed to park in bike lanes when they are always full of obstructions ?

DC
DC
1 year ago

When there’s a sidewalk next to the bike lane, isn’t putting a bin in the bike lane the lesser of two evils? As a cyclist, I’d rather deal with myself, and go around the bin, then force someone on the sidewalk (potentially someone really old or really young or in a wheelchair) to have to go off the curb to go around it.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  DC

The part of the sidewalk next to the curb (the “furnishing zone”) is where things like lamp posts, trees, mailboxes, hydrants, bike racks, and garbage bins normally go. It’s actually safer to have some obstructions here to separate pedestrian and motor traffic. Many sidewalks are too narrow for street furniture, but I don’t think Lombard is one of those places.

Isaac
Isaac
1 year ago

Did you know the average email message takes around 200 watts of electricity to write and send?

Moving the cans takes zero electricity and far less time than complaining to a bureaucrat. Added bonus is that it guarantees the cans will get moved.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

DC
1 year ago
Reply to  Isaac

Not quite…you’re off by a factor of 3 million!
“sources estimate that a 10KB email uses up to 0.074 microwatts of electricity”
But I see your point.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  DC

Moving the can takes work – just chemical energy converted into mechanical energy instead of into electrical energy.

An iPhone on standby draws something like .25W. Fully on it’s over 1W. Therefore taking 1 minute (60 seconds) to send a message will consume ~50J of electrical energy above and beyond what the phone would have drawn anyway. That’s .0125wH (Watt Hours, Power * Time to get back to Energy).

Measuring the energy required to either move the object or send an email in watts is totally wrong. Watts are power (Energy/Time). Work in both the mechanical and electrical realm is measured in joules.

Finally – 200 Watts is 2.7 *BILLION* times greater than .074 *micro*Watts

This pedantic detour is brought to you by me not wanting to work on something boring.

Thank you.

Faye Zatarain
Faye Zatarain
1 year ago

While I understand the intent, this feels like NIMBYism / Karen culture. I don’t snitch on my neighbors because it could lead to them getting murdered by state sponsored oppressors aka BDS or any other government agency.

Anyway it’s hard for me to care about a sham recycling bin placed in a gentrifier’s bike lane painted on STOLEN LAND. There’s a way to approach this problem intersectionally, do better.

dw
dw
1 year ago
Reply to  Faye Zatarain

Bike lanes are gentrification now?

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  dw

Bike riders are always yuppie gentrifiers. Except when they’re lowlife criminals. It’s just science ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  dw

Bike lanes are associated with increased movement of high income and white people into a city neighborhood, so, yes bike lanes are often a symbol of incipient or ongoing gentrification*.

we identify a bias towards increased cycling infrastructure investment in areas of existing or increasing privilege. This paper suggests that marginalized communities are unlikely to attract as much cycling infrastructure investment without the presence of privileged populations, even when considering population density and distance to downtown, two motivators of urban cycling.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0739885915300287

which can be interpreted as increases in bike facilities being followed by increases in income/White proportion and increases in income/White proportion being followed by increases in bike facilities.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1361920921002194

*Market urbanists/YIMBYs often claim that gentrification does not exist (e.g. it’s just vibes) but this is just an example of how their Randian socioeconomic ideology is fundamentally dismissive of the lived experience of POC and marginalized people.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

Are the Randian
YIMBYs in the room with us now?

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

There are always better/multiple ways to approach the many problems we face.

The way I approach this problem is that I check my mirror, then gently steer around the offending obstacle, before returning to the bike lane. Then I get on with my day.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Faye Zatarain

There’s a way to approach this problem intersectionally, do better.

I’d love to hear what this approach is. I too don’t want my neighbors to be murdered by BDS thugs.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago
Reply to  Faye Zatarain

Sorry, hard to take you seriously when you call it a gentrifier’s bike lane. What’s a car lane then?

Just Jeff
Just Jeff
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Look at what bike lanes did to N Williams / Vancouver.

dw
dw
1 year ago
Reply to  Just Jeff

Actually a valid point, I see a ton of gentrifiers using those bike lanes for parking their 2022 RAV4s

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago
Reply to  Just Jeff

yeah they made them safer

ED
ED
1 year ago

I also feel like there’s an opportunity to think bigger here–why are there so many bins cluttering up the street in the first place? Why does every house need their own bins? I recently moved to a townhouse project with about 30 units and we each have three bins apiece (that we’re forced to store in our garages, meaning many people then park on the street, but I digress…). If there were provisions for neighbors to share cans or have centralized bins on each block, we could really cut down on bin clutter! The bins are also too big for many households as 60% of households are now 1-2 people. Even with the smallest sizes available, I barely coat the bottom of my cans some weeks. Realistically the bins can’t get much smaller and still get picked up by the trucks, so again–opportunity to combine trash!

(Of course, I realize this idea of neighborhood cooperation is utterly un-American and goes against our rugged individualism of getting to throw whatever you want in the bin whenever you want to, and not-unplaced fear that shared resources would not be respected and could lead to mountains of trash. But I can dream!)

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  ED

this idea of neighborhood cooperation is utterly un-American

I use the small trash bin with monthly pickup, and mine is rarely more than half full. My neighbor fills a big bin every two weeks. If we shared, I’d need to make sure he left enough room for my stuff, and I’d want him to store them in his driveway (rather than behind his locked fence) so I could access them easily (I wouldn’t want them in my yard, and I’d want him to do the work of taking the cans in and out… hope he won’t mind). Unfortunately, the reason he keeps them back there is because people camping nearby dumped his trash out a few times, so that probably wouldn’t fly. So I’d probably need the combination to his lock so I could get back where the cans are, and I’d have to ask him to keep his dog inside when I have trash because it is very protective of the yard. It would probably work best if I made a reservation to get back there, and he could structure his dog’s outdoor time around that. Because of our unequal trash generation, we’d need to work out some sort of equitable cost sharing arrangement — I’m very averse to subsidizing his trashful ways, but maybe he’d want me to pay more when I have a month when I’m doing something like cleaning out the garage and I have more trash than usual? We could use a shared bank account with autopay to manage the finances, but I’d want to make sure I’m not dinged if he contributes late and the autopay fails, so there’d need to be some way to attribute payment based on our negotiated (and perhaps fluctuating) cost split. The yard debris would be more complicated, as we both follow a similar annual cycle of when we have a lot of debris and the can is full (or at its weight limit). For this I might want to keep the can in my yard, so I wouldn’t have to cart all my debris to his house. Unfortunately, he eats a lot of meat, so sometimes the can gets a bit smelly, so I might need to ask him to keep his scraps in his refrigerator until pickup day. I’m sure that would all be fine (he probably has room in his fridge for his bones and scraps), unless he doesn’t want to cart his leaves over to my house only to find I’d filled the can. In that case, maybe he can dump them in the bike lane (there’s plenty there already, the city doesn’t care, and he can put them in the can the next week, assuming they don’t get wet and weigh too much). I don’t want him in my yard unannounced, so we’d probably need a scheduling system for yardwork similar to our trash system, along with a way to reserve capacity to make sure we didn’t overflow.

Overall, I’m eager to be more communitarian, so if you could help us iron these few wrinkles out, and maybe help convince my neighbor it’s a good thing to be less rugged and individual, I think your idea would be great. Until then, I’ll probably need to keep my own cans, sadly.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

LOL. We managed to share a NYT subscript with our neighbors for a few years—oh wait, three out of four us were European.

I hear you with the trash, though. Our can is so small it was grandfathered in. I’m not sure you can buy one that small anymore.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

Mine’s the size of a teacup.

Ken
Ken
1 year ago

So they’re going to block the sidewalk so people with mobility impairments can’t travel freely. Nice.
Thanks a lot.
Bikes can use the whole street by law. Wheelchairs, not so much.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Ken

If this makes you mad, wait till you see all the illegal planters and similar obstructions property owners are installing to keep unhoused people away. Pretty hard for a wheelchair user to move one of these, I’ll bet.

IMG_20220327_224744.jpg
Just Jeff
Just Jeff
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Looks fine. What’s not fine for wheelchair users is blocking the entire sidewalk with tents and trash.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Just Jeff

If you don’t like sidewalk camping, then make it easier to build housing. Problem solved.

Jay cee
Jay cee
1 year ago

I personally leave a note and the next time I leave a note and knock the can over usually in the driveway of the house or business, from there on out it’s knocked over and or upside down if I feel like getting of my bike. I know I’m a prick.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay cee

do I have a doppelgänger?

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

We are legion!

N Brooks
N Brooks
1 year ago

I used to run into this issue weekly with dumpsters in the bike lane on NE 16th just north of Sandy. I would move them out of the lane each time but each week they would be back. Finally I called the number on the dumpster and reported the hazard to the waste company – that actually seemed to work! I don’t remember seeing the dumpsters in the bike lane after that.