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.

  • qrt145

    Not to mention how civilized those containers look compared to the piles of plastic bags we have in NYC!

  • Fool


    This is the single biggest quality of life and health improvement the city could do.

  • AstoriaBlowin

    I once had to climb inside and search through the paper recycling bin outside our apartment in Barcelona because i thought I accidentally threw out my green card. It was much easier to search through all the trash in the refuse bin than if it had been piled up in bags on the sidewalk. So there’s another advantage to that system over ours.

  • Hilda

    Great ideas, and I agree wholeheartedly that a number of the spots used for storing private vehicles should be set aside along every residential block for not only garbage, but also permanent loading and unloading for residential/contractor/disability use. On every block. Imagine how much less fuel could be used if the trash trucks made only a couple stops per block on typical residential streets.

    For the academics and designers, there are new zero waste design guidelines from AIANYC and a few other groups, including Kiss+Cathcart, Architects.

    We also simply have a waste problem as Americans.

  • Alan

    These big bins can be mechanically loaded into trucks, too, saving the backs of DSNY employees. The efficiency of this style of collection would also make it easier for DSNY to manage its expanded responsibilities with organics recovery that it’s currently having issues scaling to:

    (Note that this video shows a garbage-protected bike lane)

  • ohhleary

    Not only would this create more sidewalk space, but it would also solve the issue of biking through hot garbage juice on the Park Avenue South side of the bike lane through Union Square.

  • Och

    Doesn’t happen in nice neighborhoods with single family houses and driveways, but all over dumps like park slope.

  • Boris

    The DSNY unions would never agree to this. It’s too much of a labor-saving move. Then again, it’s been 50 years since the Great Garbage Strike of 1968, perhaps it’s time for another one?

  • Atrios

    well…recycling bins are placed like this and there are additional trash receptacles some places, but generally people put their trash out on the sidewalk in barcelona. nightly! unless this changed very recently.

  • AnoNYC

    That garbage truck has impressed me.

  • ohnonononono

    This makes entirely too much sense so it’ll never happen.

  • AnoNYC

    This already occurs at some locations around the city. It should be the standard.

  • AMH

    It would also make garbage collection a whole lot safer (it’s currently one of the city’s most dangerous jobs).

  • AMH

    This was also the case in London during a recent visit. Curbside trash was tightly regulated–you could put it out only within an hour of collection, but the public bins were available 24/7.

  • AMH

    YES! This is one of my pet peeves that I keep harping on–practically every time I visit another city, I marvel at how much better they handle refuse. There is no reason to use the sidewalk as a garbage dump, and how much additional waste do all those heavy black bags contribute? Then the sanitation workers who have to pick them up manually are at risk of injury for no good reason.

    I’m curious whether anyone has tried an ADA suit against the city on the grounds that sidewalks are impassible. A quick fix would be to pile it on/between parked cars.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This is a lot harder than it’s being made out to be. Once you get past the parking space issue the real issue arrives — in front of whose home should the whole street’s garbage be?

  • Joe R.

    Overpackaging is one huge problem which creates lots of unnecessary waste. And then of course you have consumerism in general. We need to figure out a better way for modern economies to operate. The current model of replacing things before they wear out (and making stuff which is designed to wear out more quickly) just isn’t sustainable on a planet with finite resources.

  • Joe R.

    To be fair garbage bins look no worse than most parked cars. SUVs especially are butt ugly eye sores. And perhaps as a sweetener the city could pay an annual fee (to be given as a credit against real estate taxes) if a homeowner voluntarily allowed the bins in front of their property. That would be a great way for people on fixed incomes to earn extra money.

  • AnoNYC

    Just make it standard on each corner. If you make them low you could probably daylight the corners at the same time.

  • kevd

    Germany has lots of those two.
    Would New Yorkers figure out a way to get off their asses and bring their own garbage to those large bins?
    Probably not.

  • J

    Even more awesome is what Amsterdam does, which is store the garbage in bins cleverly embedded in the sidewalks. Put these in the parking lane and you have the best system ever!

  • Every trip I take to the UK and Europe reminds me of how lazy and inefficient New York street design is.

  • kevd

    amazing underground garbage cans!

    Also, that thing is maybe 1/4 full.

  • kevd

    We can’t even get bioswales installed in this town without Tony Avella and his ilk losing their minds.

  • MosquitoControl

    Better question: do we actually have the space under our streets and sidewalks for this? Given what I’ve seen the past 6 months as Con-Ed has been tearing up the sidewalks in the West Village, I’m doubtful.

  • kevd

    unlikely in most places. but we can do better than “big pile of leaking garbage bags on the sidewalk”, certainly.

  • kevd

    barcelonas funny octagonal intersections also help with this as there is all that space at corners.

    Though honestly, they make walking a bit annoying as you can never go in a straight line across an intersection in Eixample.

  • Atrios

    nah barcelona is really put your stuff out at night and they pick it up later. there is trash on sidewalks. they are also good and thorough about picking it up regularly, but it isn’t just bins on the corner

  • AnoNYC

    Very nice.

  • AnoNYC
  • Joe R.

    As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think it’s laziness or inefficiency. To quote a line from the movie “Gangs of New York”‘:

    Every year the Reformers came.
    Every year the Points got worse.
    As if it liked being dirty.

    You could say the same thing about the entirety of NYC. It’s just the nature of NYers to live in filthy, third world conditions. Probably because being a city of immigrants that’s where a lot of people here came from. Every time we try to build anything nice, it never seems to last. The piles of trash everywhere, complete with rats crawling through them, are just the finishing touch.

  • Guy Ross

    Ah…… Germany has no bins on streets (other than for glass and paper recycling) nor sunken containers to my knowledge. What they do have is wheeled bulk containers for large complexes which are kept in the central part of the building’s common areas for ‘rest waste’.

    What I can give them credit for is excellent separation and different specialized systems for handling each aspect – much more efficient and leaves very little left over for the dump.

    It’s amazing what a country is capable of if you find a way to change the rights/responsibilities relationship within the society. Germany does garbage good, America does guns good.

  • kevd

    Must have been thinking of the many, large recycling bins.
    I’ve seen those all over german cities.

  • RC

    I saw those in Italy as well. Really wish NY had them!

  • kevd

    I don’t know. I think the way we do it might be better…..

  • Guy Ross

    Well, well, well….. I learn something new every day.

    Germany is now burying their treasure, too.

  • I can only imagine how this would work if run by the NY Department of Sanitation. Lmao.

  • The age old problem is — space.

  • kevd

    the point is, that there would be plenty space if we didn’t devote nearly every foot of street frontage to car storage.

  • onedrewthree

    I dunno if you can land that on the immigrants bud. It’s the city services and those aren’t usually headed by people fresh off the boat from garbage island. The fact is that every single NYC service office has corruption and dead weight soaking up all the money. Civil workers shouldn’t be making 100k a year while garbage rots on the street.

  • djx

    My kid loved watching videos like that when he was a toddler. Then when he started spending more time outside the NYC garbage trucks were a huge letdown.

  • Tom Ford

    My Range Rover and G550 4×4 squared are quite fabulous, you pauper.

  • In Seville right now. Here are some new photos.

    NYC should get right to work doing a sort of experiment on a few streets. Nowhere better than Hell’s Kitchen!

    Look it’s great that some cities are beginning to think about pneumatic tubes to pipe away their trash bags instantly. But heck just put bins in the parking area/street to collect the garbage. It’s a start.

  • Joel Epstein The failure of NY and other cities to take care of the low hanging fruit of municipal governance speaks volumes… Here’s the disgusting situation in KTown/Mid-City in LA.

  • SuperWittySmitty

    Such negativity. I can’t imagine where in NYC you live! I’m a native of Queens and have lived in NYC for almost 30 years. I was also a NYC school teachers who traveled extensively through all of the boroughs (except Staten Island.) Although there have been exceptions, I rarely encounter “third world conditions” or New Yorkers living in filth. If anything, NYC is much cleaner than it was 20-30 years ago. Where are these piles of trash, complete with rats, that you apparently encounter on a regular basis? I’m guessing they can only be found in your imagination. If anything, it’s time for you to move elsewhere, maybe Florida. You do not deserve to live in NYC.

  • Wow. It would seem a revolution is on! Damn, thanks for posting Joel!

  • Joe R.

    Well, I’ve lived here all of my 55 years, so I’ve seen a lot of things come and go, but one common denominator through all the years is that NYers tolerate a lot of stuff that would have people screaming in anger elsewhere. It’s not just piles of garbage. It’s the general disorder of this city compared to other first-world cities. That includes things like using every inch of available curbside space for car storage, using bike lanes and sidewalks for parking, rampant double-parking, littering, and so forth.

    I’ve also noted every time we try to build anything nice, it gets destroyed. For example, when the city started putting up new bus shelters with glass I knew the glass would be broken within weeks. Sure enough, it was. Maybe the city is somewhat cleaner than 30 years ago but there’s still a lot of the same nonsense going on, starting with vandalism.

    If anything, it’s time for you to move elsewhere, maybe Florida. You do not deserve to live in NYC.

    Not too many places in the US I could live given that I can’t drive (and can’t afford a car anyway). If I ever decided to leave NYC, it would most likely be to move to a large city in either Europe, Japan, or China. I hate hot weather, so Florida would be dead last on a list of places I would end up.

    Note I’m not being negative here. New York is still a wonderful place to live despite all the things I mentioned. However, it could be worlds better if we cracked down on the filth and general disorder. A lot of the disorder comes from poor street design which encourages bad behavior. We should look to Europe for how to fix that. And we should start banning private cars from ever larger parts of the city as nothing contributes to the general sense of disorder more than automobiles.

  • SuperWittySmitty

    You’re VERY negative- you seem to see only what’s wrong. Where I live (western Queens) the glass in the bus shelters are fine, people use the bike lanes, and the sidewalks are clean and well maintained. There is no “general disorder” and yes, I been to Europe dozens of times and know that things are different there. Still, I think is NYC is superior to Hamburg, Rome, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, and so forth when it comes to functioning as a modern urban city. Our trains and buses get me to and from work on time and I walk the streets late at night and never feel as if I’m in danger. Once my bike was stolen (1996) but that is the only crime I’ve ever experienced.

    I love this city so maybe I focus on what’s wonderful about it- you seem to yearn for the past and seem intent on insisting that “Europe” has it figured out. They don’t. They have huge social problems, crazy traffic jams, corruption, welfare cheats, and rats. In some cities, their mass transit is inefficient and heavily subsided by the government to keep the fares low; otherwise, the riders would abandon it.

    I’ve spent time in Tokyo- very clean & efficient but very homogenized. If you’re not Japanese, you are an outsider. I’ve only been to Hong Kong and can’t say much about China but I don’t know any Chines immigrants already here in NYC (I know around a dozen) who would consider moving back. Urban life in China means crowded and crappy housing and industrialized cities where air pollution and less-than-fresh water is the norm.

  • this is one i don’t understand from a political perspective. Vision Zero was a great initiative for di blasio for sure, but why not something as simple as:

    “hey NY, i’m going to get piles of trash off the street.” #cleancityhealthycity #votethisperson2022

  • Dave

    Joe R is not being negative. He’s describing the city as he experiences it and you (SuperWittySmitty) are ‘gas lighting’ him, that is, denying that his experience of reality is valid.


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 […]