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City To Activists: Please Stop Making Sidewalks Safe For Pedestrians!

12:01 AM EDT on July 28, 2020

And then there was none… The city ordered the removal of the trash corral on W. 38th St. hours after being told about it.

That was so fast, the garbage didn't even have time to rot!

how streetsblog covered the garbage story
How Streetsblog covered the story.
How Streetsblog covered the trash corral story.

The city ordered community activists in Hells Kitchen to remove a just-installed "garbage corral" — a place for storing garbage in the street instead of narrow sidewalks — after Streetsblog asked about the vigilante pro-pedestrian operation on Monday.

The removal order came on Monday afternoon — the same day our story (right) went up.

Christine Berthet, who led the "tactical urbanism"-inspired effort on W. 38th Street, was surprised that the Department of Transportation — which has stated many times that the COVID-19 crisis has slowed down key initiatives such as bike and bus lane construction — could move so rapidly to shut down her group's effort.

"DOT and Sanitation found the time during the pandemic to address alternate-side parking, which requires the modification of thousands of signs, but have no time to fix a problem that affects millions of pedestrians and is unhealthy for people, not cars," she said.

Berthet is especially enervated because her group, CHEKPEDS, has repeatedly sought permission from the city to create a garbage corral by repurposing a tiny bit of curbside space so that pedestrians would not be squeezed daily by black-, blue- and clear-plastic trash bags that could easily be in the street.

She also thought it was particularly ironic that the Department of Transportation said her group's corral was illegal because curbside space is legally reserved for cars. "Thousands of cops and construction workers take parking space illegally in the city all the time," she said. "But who cares about that?"

The DOT did not immediately respond to requests for comment before our first story went up nor before this story went up. But agency spokesman Scott Gastel did send over a statement on Tuesday morning:

"We admire Ms. Berthet's advocacy work, but no individual can commandeer a public parking space for their own purposes, however meritorious, without the city’s permission," he said. What Berthet's group did would be similar to a car owner swiping public curb space for his or her own vehicle, the agency suggested. (But, then again, the city has waived such rules so restaurants can operate in curbside space during the COVID-19 crisis — an indication that authorities can be flexible ... when they want.)

A spokeswoman for the Department of Sanitation said the agency is "supportive of new initiatives to better manage the tons of waste created by city residents and businesses." But two initiatives launched last year — one to work with business improvement districts to install trash containers in curbside spaces, and another to require new residential buildings to containerize their trash — are delayed because of the virus with an uncertain timeline.

In any event, neither would necessarily help Berthet's building, which is not new. It is unclear if the Hudson Yards Business Improvement will participate in the containerized trash pilot program.

Here is a reminder of what sidewalks look like most afternoons in New York:

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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