New York City Sidewalks Don’t Have to Be Garbage Dumps

New York City isn’t Barcelona. You can tell because in Barcelona, garbage bags don’t line every sidewalk. Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
New York City isn’t Barcelona. You can tell because in Barcelona, garbage bags don’t line every sidewalk. Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

In many parts of the city, sidewalks are too narrow for two people to walk abreast comfortably. One way NYC compromises the walking environment is by dumping garbage on the sidewalks before pick-up.

Whether in commercial or residential areas, every week people are forced to walk around mountains of waste on streets where curb lanes are reserved for vehicle storage.

For his “Rebranding Driving” series, Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr. took a walk with pedestrian advocate Christine Berthet to survey sidewalks in Hell’s Kitchen prior to pick-up time:

Dumping trash on the sidewalks is not just unsightly. As shown in the video, it creates pinch points, which can be impossible to navigate for people with strollers or in wheelchairs. Sidewalk garbage was also cited as a contributing factor in the death of Andrew Schoonover on the Upper East Side in 2012.

There’s another way. Over the weekend Clarence sent these shots from Barcelona.


Notice the refuse bins are sited on asphalt, rather than the sidewalk. The trash is out of sight, and people aren’t tripping over it.


The video features pics from other cities with similar systems.

New York has room to get trash off sidewalks. What it needs is the political will to use curb space for something other than parking.

  • Matt X.

    Sorry, 1975 was calling you. The NYC of today is a playground for the global rich.

  • Matt X.

    Hot garbage juice! Yum! A swirling mixture of old OJ, warm milk, Campbell’s soup, blood, vomit, urine, yogurt, and liquidated cottage cheese. Someone should make a bar drink called Hot Garbage Juice.

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. I see broken streets, piles of trash (especially near businesses), a subway which is getting worse and worse, dangerous driving habits, traffic jams, general chaos on lots of streets, plus a bunch of other things I probably can’t think of right now. This doesn’t mean I focus solely on the negative, but to deny there are a lot of negatives generally means one of two things. Either you’re living in an alternate reality, or you’re well off enough to more or less not have to deal with them. Given the number of trips SuperWittySmitty mentions taking, it’s highly likely he/she falls into the latter. I never made enough to be able to afford one trip overseas, never mind dozens.

    The bottom line is there are two New Yorks. One is the NYC of the wealthy who live in nice neighborhoods, live the city often for trips (hence may not be around enough to notice the problems), and pay people to do a lot of the dirty work of running errands (meaning they just don’t experience much of what I mention). Basically for them, the city is a playground.

    And then you have the NYC of the poor and working class. They take the subways to work, often at rush hour because their jobs offer little flexibility. They walk or bike on streets which are like obstacle courses. They live is less nice areas where they see more vandalism, crime, broken streets, garbage, etc. They’re much more likely to be subject to police abuse enforcing things which the wealthy consider a problem (i.e. the crackdown on delivery people is a good example).

    For a number of people the negatives of living in the city often eventually outweigh the positives. Even if not, there’s no denying the city can be made much better if we had faster subways/buses, streets designed more for walking/biking than driving private cars, a better waste disposal system, better street maintenance, a better police force, less government waste, lower taxes, and much more affordable housing.

  • Joe R.

    Don’t forget feces (usually dog or rat). That’s an important ingredient in “garbage juice” which adds to the texture and aroma.

  • SuperWittySmitty

    I’m commenting on his negative reaction. If you have an opinion, find someone who cares and tell them all about it.

  • Jim

    While those chamfered corners are very nice, they’re a solution to an unrelated problem (lines of sight at corners). That’s not where the garbage bins typically are in Barcelona. The bins are generally situated mid-block, so that at most you only have to walk half a block (and don’t have to cross any streets!) to get to one.

    The bins are dumped by a truck that has a fork mechanism on the side, so the truck just drives along, stops momentarily and grabs the bin to empty it, then keeps going. It’s very fast.

  • Jim

    The truck is neat, but it’s really not that much more advanced than the trucks that are already widely in use in US suburbs. (They have side-loading arms that grab cans and flip them upside-down.) Typically one can per house, and you have to drag it to the curb.

    Really the whole idea would just be doing in cities what’s already commonplace in high-growth suburbs, only with bigger cans and no requirement to store them in your house/garage 6 days a week.

  • kevd

    um. not to be all argumentative –
    but this is literally the first intersection in Eixample that I picked completely at random in Barcelona.,2.1813689,3a,75y,342.5h,101.85t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sgGfQOIwpCJ9On6Wu1coxFQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  • streets_throwaway

    If we used the bins Barcelona uses, there is practically no smell at all, and you don’t see any actually garbage.


Eyes on the Street: Keeping Trash Off the Sidewalks in Buenos Aires

Clarence Eckerson has been following our #sidewalkhogs competition while in South America. He sends this photo from Buenos Aires. “Not only have I seen very few cars parked on sidewalks,” writes Clarence, “there are hundreds of spaces in the city where trash pick up is located in the street in what were once parking spaces.” This […]