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Department of Sanitation

Hey, Hells Kitchen, Your Parking Space is Garbage!

Look what can be accomplished when garbage is put where it belongs. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Finally, garbage gets put in its rightful place.

Confronting years of city failure at getting mounds of smelly, rotting garbage away from long-suffering pedestrians, activists reclaimed some curbside space and replaced one form of trash (stored cars) with another.

"I've been so frustrated for so long not being able to walk on the sidewalk," said longtime Hells Kitchen pedestrian advocate Christine Berthet, as she showed off her freshly made "garbage corral" on W. 38th St. near Ninth Avenue last Thursday. "There's no reason that all this garbage shouldn't be in the parking lane. Why should pedestrians, every day, have to compete on very narrow sidewalks with those piles of garbage? The de Blasio administration has done nothing."

Well, not nothing, but next to nothing.

Last year, the departments of Sanitation and Transportation put out a request for proposals for garbage companies or community groups to propose methods of repurposing curbside space — often claimed by drivers for the storage of their cars — for trash so that sidewalks did not continue to be overwhelmed with black-, blue- and clear-plastic bags every afternoon.

That request led to two initiatives that would have helped get trash off the sidewalk — but, alas, the program is on hold because of the coronavirus

So Berthet and her crew decided to stop waiting and do it themselves. The work took all of an hour.

"There is no reason why any sidewalk — which is for are walking, for rolling if you're in a wheelchair, for pushing strollers — should be covered by all of this stuff," said Doug Gordon, who helped build the corral [let the record show, he was pointing to bags of garbage when he said "stuff"]. "We have all of this space available to us. So it's very satisfying to think about all we can do to re-purpose it."

Berthet said her group spent roughly about $210 for three heavy-duty curb stops to frame the corral and then about $120 more for cones. She urged city officials to provide the materials to neighborhood groups that lack the resources to free up sidewalk space in this manner. (Neither the DSNY nor DOT responded to a request for comment.)

New York City has been struggling with trash ever since the Dutch started making it. Because New York lacks back alleys for hiding garbage, the city gets a trashy 5 o'clock shadow in the forms of mounds of trash — 12,000 tons a day, citywide — tossed onto the sidewalk every afternoon.

But it's not for lack of space. It's for lack of taking space away from drivers.

Berthet's group, CHEKPEDS, had submitted a proposal to the DSNY/DOT initiative called TOSS, short for Trash Off Sidewalk Space. The plan [PDF] was not approved, but that didn't stop Berthet last week from trying to retip the public right-of-way pendulum back towards pedestrians from drivers.

Otherwise, we're stuck with this:

This may become more common. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
A scene that can be seen every day: a New Yorker trying to avoid a huge pile of trash on the sidewalk. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

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