Mobile Billboard Operators Try Bicycles as a Workaround to Law

A mobile billboard attached to a bicycle was seen Sunday in the Cahuenga Pass | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist

Just months into a new Los Angeles law banning standalone mobile billboard displays on city streets, operators behind them are trying to find loopholes. One of the more prolific examples (and one that will likely induce a double take) are bicycles.

Mobile billboards, often described as unhitched trailers with advertising signage, for years have been sources of complaints for San Fernando Valley residents who consider them blight and a nuisance. As one city representative, Councilmember Dennis Zine of the southwest valley, says, "These mobile billboard advertising displays take up parking spaces, impede visibility, and attract graffiti and vandalism."

Zine has been on a mission to rid the streets of them, and in 2010, at the urging of him and the L.A. City Council, two valley assemblymen pushed through legislation that gave cities the power to ban mobile billboards. When that state law went into effect on January 1st of this year, so did the city's.

"It shall be unlawful for any person to park a mobile billboard advertising display... on any public street or public lands in the City of Los Angeles," the municipal code reads. If violated more than once--it's a misdemeanor--not only does the trailer get impounded, the punishment can include a fine of up to $1,000 and/or six months in county jail.

The question for operators comes down to how a mobile billboard is defined. As written, " a 'mobile billboard advertising display' means an advertising display that is attached to a wheeled, mobile, nonmotorized vehicle, that carries, pulls, or transports a sign or
billboard, and is for the primary purpose of advertising."

The word "nonmotorized" is key to the city's efforts in enforcing bicycles attached to them. Although state law affords cyclists riding on a street "all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle," they are still human powered.

Steps toward enforcement have already being taken by City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who has seen the bicycle trailers himself. "The councilman is now addressing this issue so that our streets are no longer blighted with these potentially dangerous and haphazard eyesores," his communications director said.

Lone Star Security and Video's Bruce Boyer, who refers to the city and state laws as the "anti-Bruce" laws--his company has had around 450 mobile billboards removed from L.A. streets--agrees that signs attached to bicycles will be impounded, but says there still is a solution for other companies: sleighs.

He explained because the law defines a mobile billboard as being attached to a "wheeled, mobile, nonmotorized vehicle," it is illegal for the city to impound one with skis in place of wheels (he says they have been towed and cited under the new law anyway). While that may not address the storage of non-mobile objects on a roadway, Boyer has a much broader fight in the works about municipal towing, a legal battle that he says has been running since 2003 and is currently awaiting a hearing date in federal court. "It's a fight to the end, and the city is going to lose," he said.

But until the courts, or at least city attorneys, put a halt to enforcement, the impounds of mobile billboards will continue. In a statement about the bicycle workaround, Zine said "I encourage the public to continue to report them to LADOT so we can eradicate them from the streets once and for all."

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