By Sally Koslow
In early January I hit the tipping point as I observed trash smothering our sidewalks, spilling into gutters and taking up residence around trees lining our Upper West Side. I wasn’t sufficiently nimble to snap a picture of a cheeky rat that raced across my path in midday, but I did photograph random piles of refuse—used pizza boxes, unbundled remnants of cardboard boxes, liquor and beer bottles and gaggles of assorted garbage–between 96th and 106th on Broadway, my neck of the woods. I sent the photos to the West Side Rag, which published them along with my short screed, “The Dirty, Rotten Truth About Upper Broadway.”
Plenty of neighbors, it seems, had also become disgusted by the jumble of junk that seemed to be everywhere, though the general agreement was that the east side of Broadway between 104 and 105th Street, under the scaffolds near McDonald’s, won the prize for garbage most foul. My grumble hit a nerve, with 10,312 views and 100+ people chiming in with observations like that of “Jules,” who said, “The whole area along Broadway looks like a dump in a third world country.”
The good news is that our area’s longtime New York City Council Member, Gale Brewer, reacted. Working with James Leavy, Manhattan’s Department of Sanitation Borough Chief, the piggy-ist pigs were read the riot act. Mom and Pop establishments, I was informed, were far more responsive than businesses owned by conglomerates. No surprise there. But the improvement is impressive, even if you choke on your cynicism when passing two brooms conspicuously parked outside McDonald’s or a sanitation truck on sweeping detail that, like a float in the Thanksgiving Day parade, merrily tootled by city officials at the exact moment they stopped to inspect trash levels. Improvement is improvement. The ‘hood looks cleaner and it’s gratifying to see. For that I wish to express public gratitude.
I was pleased to discover—and hope you will be, too–that trash bins (and more of them) will now be emptied twice a day. Also, soon the City will vote on the future of our abundant controversial eating sheds, which some Covid-concerned residents appreciate as healthful alternatives to indoor dining, even in sub-freezing temperature, and others see as cozy rat motels that gobble up parking spaces.
In the spirit of fair journalism, I must report that some of my questions went unanswered. For example, “Why is the West Side so much dirtier than the East Side?” Enquiring minds really do want to know. In her verbal equivalent of an exclamation point, Brewer informed me, “I concentrate strictly on the West Side.” Next!
“Have you noticed fewer dog owners picking up pets’ poop?” She hadn’t. I have.
“Have people gotten lazier since the pandemic?” I wondered. Radio silence.
Of Superintendent Leavy I asked, “Are you looking into organizing clean-up volunteers?” “That’s not his job,” Ms. Brewer responded. “It’s my job.”
Are the improvements I saw on a sunny morning permanent? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, my takeaway is that while it’s the legal responsibility of owners and landlords to keep the fronts of their establishments tidy, bottles, bags and assorted drek doesn’t land there by magic. As we were taught in second grade, it’s our responsibility not to be litterbugs.
Now let’s talk about rats.
Lots of trash right by the barriers of 20th precinct on west 82nd street – as a condominium owner I get ticketed when there is a few pieces of trash on the street where cars are parked let alone the sidewalk which is caused by passer-by’s – why aren’t the police responsible to clean up the mess on their sidewalk ?
Very true I walked on West 82nd St., the other day and the whole 20th precinct area is garbage everywhere how they work there I don’t know and who’s responsibility to cleaning up? I don’t know… I even mentioned it to the police walking by and they shrugged there shoulders saying… “Not My Job!!! ”
I love there attitude about it!!!
I walked by the FedEx office on Broadway between 80th and 79st St. Yesterday – Thursday….
I walked into their office and I said look at that mess that’s in front of your office? The girls said to me….” It’s not my job”… it was a disgrace, and it was all their cardboard boxes scattered all over the sidewalk you could even walk through it!!! And all she said was…. “Not my job” it was the same attitude as The 20Th Precinct police department had on 82nd St.!
Call 311 and file a complaint.
There is always garbage, and a garbage can without a lid, in front of the precinct. When I asked a cop about sweeping, he said his union didn’t allow him to! The mess and attitude are both disgusting.
Please continue to clean up the Upper West Side.
Yeah, let’s thank them endlessly for doing their jobs. Barely. And only upon photographic evidence. As if Amsterdam b/n 71 and the 90s is some invisible mythical place where the same mess isn’t evident every day.
Morningside Heights is a public trash disaster. Please add $ to the annual city budget for additional DPW services and staff. I was in Mexico City last year, for the year, and was shocked at how much cleaner that city was than our NYC. There are crews cleaning and maintaining the parks/gardens 24/7. That is not an exaggeration. It is so much cleaner. There is no reason why trash removal and environmental maintenance should not be a significantly larger part of the city budget
We have been without garbage bins between 106 & 108 both sides of Broadway since Sept. happy to hear they are emptying them 2X a day but there are no bins to empty! I have a small group of volunteers who meet every Sunday to pick up trash.
What time ? I’ll join you.
You, Carol, and your volunteers are the real heroes in this story. THANK you for your service.
I have lodged complaints with 311 as well.
109th street also has only one can
I couldn’t be more in agreement about the state of our sidewalks up here. Let’s hope the everyone involved (shop owners, the public, and DSNY) keep up the momentum with the progress.
I also would like to shout out Sally for the delightfulness of her writing! This article made me chuckle a few times—“cozy rat motels” is my fav sound bite. Thank you, Sally, for sharing your reporting expertise and creativity with us!
Councilwoman Brewer is terrific but she can’t be everywhere to observe the extent of this problem. DOT must strictly enforce the law to get restaurants and shop owners to clean and maintain the areas in front of and around their premises on these crowded commercial corridors. DOT must adjust its collection schedule accordingly. DOT also must replace the trash cans that it removed from the residential avenue corners on West End and Riverside that have much fewer trash receptacles. Neil
In previous times there were trash cans along side the benches at each of the dividers on Broadway .
People now throw their discarded lunches, etc under the benches or in the greenery behind the benches.
An excellent piece.. And I also ask: why is the East Side of Manhattan so much cleaner than the West Side? Inquiring minds…
Not all of UES is pristine; there are areas bad as UWS or elsewhere.
That being said in general owners of UES properties (commercial and multi-family) make a concerted effort to keep area in front of their buildings clean.
Building workers are out all hours of day or overnight sweeping, hosing down sidewalks and gutters. This and you have a very active UES business district who pays for those men in blue suits to clean along avenues and commercial areas.
Will give you in general area from 57th to 96th from 5th to Lexington is immaculate. But then look at the money in that area.
More money spent on politicians over there .
Riverside Park Below 86th is in better shape, too.
No return on making it nicer for lower income zip codes …
Thank you, Sally!!
People mostly don’t know it’s called CURBING your dog. Letting them poop in the middle of the sidewalk leaves smears that foul our shoes. And walking in dog urine isn’t much better. It’s easy to train your dog to go along the curb. The ‘good dog’ gets a favorite treat. After awhile Poochie understands how to get that delicious snack.
For anyone unaware, curbing refers to “have your dog defecate in the EDGE OF THE STREET, near the curb and in “the gutter, RATHER THAN THE SIDEWALK.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curb_your_dog
I post this because nearly all seem to misinterpret, and have their dogs go on the edge of the curb, but still on the sidewalk.
I advise Fidos to keep to the edge of the curb, lest they be run over while poo-positioning in the bike lane.
Great reporting. Informative and fun to read. Thank you for asking the tough questions and for sharing what you learned with your readers. Proliferation of trash really does affect Quality of Life, mentally and physically, and trash begets trash. What IS going on with the dog owners who bag the poop but then toss it on the ground?
One Block is a grass roots neighborhood organization that bags 1000 bags of garbage/week. See those bright green bags? That is us. Our efforts make it easier for DSNY staff to collect more trash during their shifts. Please learn about this wonderful UWS organization and please consider adding them to your list of charitable giving. More donations will allow up to cover more territory. As our co-founder says, “it takes a village.”
THANK YOU for your service! Like Carol and her volunteers – see above – you all are the real heroes in this sorry saga. I will research your organization, ‘One Block’. Thanks for letting us know how to get involved and donate.
I have taken to reporting garbage piles to 311. I use the app. I get a response and apparently DSNY has 1 week to come and check it out. Usually the response is that by the time they get there they say no violation. Are those reasonable metrics in which to address an issue? It’s not like this winter they have been saddled by repeat snow storms? Maybe it’s time for the union to raise the bar?
Thanks Sally for drawing attention to this problem. Our neighborhood is one of the greatest but also one of the dirtiest. In addition to the trash problem, dog owners need to do a better job of cleaning up after their pets.
Yes, definitely more dog poop lately. Can’t walk half a block here in the UWS without encountering smeared or not-yet-smeared feces. Also, those litte green poop bags are often found on the street or sidewalk, where they end up getting stepped on or run over and smearing their contents.
Let’s all help! I have picked up a large empty box in the middle of Broadway (a danger to vehicles) and deposited it in a trash bin; also in the middle of the sidewalk, I have seen and picked up big windblown plastic bags. Yes, people just walk by. Not my job? Let’s dispose of trash when we can as good citizens.
THANK YOU for your service. IMO, picking up litter sends an a powerful message to others. Every piece of plastice we can keep out of the drains that empty into the HUDSON river and the Atlantic ocean is monumentally important.
Pardon my typo. I meant DOS, not DOT. Neil
“New York City Council Member, Gale Brewer, reacted. Working with James Leavy, Manhattan’s Department of Sanitation Borough Chief, the piggy-ist pigs were read the riot act. ”
Excellent. But the “riot act” is only a first step. How about hitting the slobs with substantial fines?
One. The need to put garbage back in riverside drive and west end. Two all these “luxury” apartment buildings should not be allowed to put garbage out 12-18 hours before it’s picked up.
Exactly. There should be a two hour window !! City trash should be collected in the evenings, not during the 9-5 workday.
This is great. But also troubling, in that our public services seem to only perk-up and jump into action with extraordinary media coverage and prodding from elected representatives.
Combine this unacceptable garbage mess with the fact that trees near bus stops (which are basically everywhere on upper Broadway) are not and will not be replaced when dead or dying. It is as if a concerted effort is being made to make our neighborhood as unattractive, rodent infested, baron and shadeless as possible. I know I’m piling on here (whoops, couldn’t help myself) but the atrocious state of affairs with respect to both issues point to a city government which , to be generous, has been neglectful of our neighborhood and it’s resident’s quality of life.
The parking lot in front of the 24th Precinct is chock-a-block full of vermin. It amazes me they can’t find some volunteers to clean it up. The street is supposed to be cleaned 2x a week, but instead it is full of illegally parked cop cars and wrecks.
The Garbage piece was well done. More action has to follow.
Agree. Trash bins are usually overflowing by Sunday afternoon. B’way should have ‘industrial’ size/type trash bins on every corner, especially between 102nd & 109th streets. And yes, dog owners have decided to begin ignoring the law to pick up after their dog ’cause the law as no teeth or big $ fine. It’s looking like the 1980’s. I carry extra bags when I walk my dog and have no problem embarrassing someone not complying by offering them a bag. Wish ths law was better enforced.
I think one thing that might help would be changing local law 11. The goal being either to enforce it much more strictly or to extend the time line from 5 years to something closer to 10.
Landlords put up sidewalk bridges that stay in place year after year … this adds to the climate of disorder, because the sidewalk bridges block visibility of stores’ signs, provide cover for people to appropriate sidewalk space as their private space, etc.
Is it feasible for lots of commentators on here to push for changing local law 11? Perhaps either the fines could be much higher or the time line longer or both.
Most of the issue in this neighborhood is due to buildings in landmarked neighborhoods. LPC makes everything take longer than it would otherwise, even for buildings trying to do the work in a timely fashion. Any rational reform of LL11 would remove LPC from the process.
It’s a filthy disgusting mess with garbage strewn eerywhere.
There is a homeless man who has camped out day and night on the southwest corner of 85th and Broadway for the past four years, Every day he dumps a big pile of garbage into a tree pit on Broadway midblock, ignoring the nearby trashcans. Don’t know what his deal is but would love to know why officials have given him a blatant exemption to the rules they enforce against everyone else, including other homeless who have tried to set up camp and were ordered away.
I tried to clean up one of those treepits occupied by the undomiciled dude referenced above and he was VERY upset, and I let myself get into a screaming match with him. Good for no one. Anyway, I’m pretty sure all that mess is considered by him to be his personal property, bedding, etc. It’s a chronic disaster which seems to now stretch pretty much the whole block. Though maybe fartetched, I wonder if his presense is thwarting the emply space/storefront which used to be Victoria’s Secret and rumored to be a future Panera from coming into fruition.
Some say, they have a right to live on the street if they want, and maybe even — pushing it — to dump stuff in tree pits if they want.
Others say, no, they don’t have right to appropriate public property to convert to their own effective private property. And they don’t have the right to dump stuff anywhere.
How are the citizens going to adjudicate this? Does someone who wants to live on public property – the sidewalk or wherever – have the right to live there?
Well, society owes them a residence, say some. Others say, they should work for and pay for a residence, and if they can’t, then they should decamp elsewhere. No one gets to set up residence on public property.
Where do we go from here? I think there is a huge disputation about the “unhoused” that needs to be worked through. I am guessing that most people who pay for a residence would not want someone else camping out on public property right in front of that residence that they pay for.
Adding: and the property owner has to pay for the sidewalk, people who rent storefronts are supposed to shovel it, etc. The sidewalk in front of a building is not wholly public property, even if the municipality is the owner of a strip of land on each side of the street.
I too have been wondering why the trash cans on the east side of West End Ave have been removed?
Maybe that’s why some people, unable to find any trash receptacles, leave poop bags on the ground?
Little Italy on Amsterdam and 71st continues to allow their outdoor table area to be filled with garbage. How hard is it to send someone outside to pick up the trash every half hour?
Businesses that don’t take responsibility for cleaning up their area should definitely be fined.
WHY aren’t they?
I realize there are complexities involved with all of these issues but it’s become very sad and demoralizing to a lot of residents to witness the
decompensation of their neighborhood and the city as a whole.
They are being stolen. It takes a lot of nagging to get a new one.
Robin- True but that ignores the elephant in the room: WHY does someone have to come out and clean the messes every half hour? WHY are New Yorkers such PIGS? I’ve seen people drop litter on the ground ONE FOOT from a trash receptacle! Do they do that in their own apartments?? If so, I don’t care, that’s their own castle and it reflects upon them 100%.
The streets and sidewalks of this city are shared public spaces and as such should be treated BETTER than your own home; these actions reflect upon all of us, depresses all of us and endangers all of us by encouraging the growth of the rat population and other rodent populations, and all other parasites and pathogen populations as well.
Besides having a direct bearing upon the health of the city as a whole, be selfish, think about your own health and the health of your loved ones and how you’re putting it at risk by spreading your filth around.
DO NOT TURN NEW YORK CITY INTO A GIANT RAT’S NEST. We’re better than that; there should be public media campaigns to raise awareness about the obvious (at least to us) dangers we’re facing here- because some New Yorkers- especially the impressionable young- may still be persuadable.
Sadly, I would not question or confront these miscreants because they may be narcissists, sociopaths and worse, without any empathy for others, the times being what they are.
I was just thinking about both the very recently released Tyre Nichols and Paul Pelosi videos… and also the comment released from jail to the public by the assailant who hit Mr. Pelosi in the head with a hammer-“You’re welcome”.
While these are dark days indeed, we cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by all these negative events, large and small, and thus become psychologically neutralized, with less agency, becoming merely victims in our own lives.
Lawrence: it’s likely the people doing this are people not living in the neighborhood or even it the city. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen SUV’s with NJ or CT license plates throw garbage out their window. The way to stop this is to (a) make the area spotless – people are far less likely to litter in a pristine environment and (b) penalize the act of littering or having litter in front of your residence or business.
Sadly plenty of neighborhood residents litter. and leave trash – stacking a Starbucks cup on an overflowing sidewalk trash cans, taking household garbage and putting it in sidewalk trash cans etc
Yes continually mind-boggling that people litter and leave trash everywhere in NYC even parks.
And incredible in affluent educated West Side
Two comments, Sally-
That last article was GREAT, I’m very happy you followed up on it.
SECOND: Your red wool toggle coat in the photo… FABULOUS. Love it!
Growing up I always wanted to wear a black leather jacket but my parents wouldn’t hear of it. As an adult I was free to indulge but, somehow, now that I’m mature and more open-minded… let’s just say that the sight of you in your red toggle coat really hit the spot.
You see you CAN be public-spirited AND stylish at the same time.
Thank you again for your article, your public concern AND of course that photo!
I travel to the Upper East side frequently and I also have noticed that the Upper East Side is so clean, you could practically eat off the streets. Trash cans on every 4 corners and never overfilling. I was disappointed with Gale Brewer’s flippant answer, I concentrate on the UWS. Perhaps it would be beneficial for her to contact the leaders of the UES and inquire how they are managing their streets and storefronts.
I was just in 2 different areas of the UES in the past week. I find myself food shopping over there because it’s only a bus ride over and I find it so depressing to be shopping on Broadway for food and such. What in the world has happened to Broadway? The UES feels like a different city. It is spotless. There are many more small shops there because the incredible street level vacancy on the UWS is not plaguing the UES. There are way less big box stores. There are dramatically fewer homeless on the streets. I have had friends from the East Side tell me they were on the West Side and could not believe what’s happened to it.
While I applaud all who are making an effort to see that garbage is removed, the problem is far greater than what individual actions can accomplish even thought they’re important. This is government neglect to the degree of negligence. And the solutions must be far-reaching. The rat problem is something I’ve never seen in 40 years of living here. The fact that we ignore that it seemed to start after restaurant sheds and massive construction on the UWS is in a word “denial”. But the Mayor does not wish to curtail either. I think the UWS needs to form its own advocacy group to hammer City Council and the Mayor about what’s happened here.
The outdoor dining sheds really have to go. I’ve lived here my whole life and never seen the rat problem this bad here. It’s always had a lot of rats compared to other neighborhoods in the city but at least they really only came out during the night back in the day. As soon as I can I’m taking my kids and moving to a smaller city. Kinda have had it with NYC in general. Quality of life isn’t worth the money we pay here and the arts and entertainment ain’t what it used to be.
“I was disappointed with Gale Brewer’s flippant answer.” So was I.
The efforts are much appreciated. I’m old enough to remember the national anti litter campaign with the image of the crying Native American. We need a new campaign because unless people are not once again taught not to litter, I don’t see how things will change. I am amazed to see how casually people drop their trash and the trash from their autos on our streets.
Or leave their used goods on stoops rather than recycle or donate them. Seems generations of people think Mom and Dad will clean up after them. And don’t get me started on the epidemic of unscooped dog poop. The real epidemic is the failure to adult.
That campaign was Lady Bird Johnson’s Keep America Beautiful campaign. I remember it well, too! I have no idea why people remain slobs. It’s so sad and horrible,
Leaving goods on stoops or on the corner to be taken with a free sign, or using Buy Nothing Groups are actually a way more effective way of donating items than dropping them off at an organization. 9 times out of 10 Goodwill and The Salvation Army will just throw the stuff out. Follow TheTrashWalker for more in depth information.
Good Will throws nothing out. They have a warehouse in New Jersey that sells fabric (clothing that doesn’t sell) by the pound … it goes to artists, repurposing (.e. quilters) and the like. It is a complete fallacy that materials are thrown out. You can look up their warehouse online and every now and then the press announces the sales.
Leaving used goods on stoops or curb (esp. with a ‘free’ sign) IS a way to donate/recycle them. 99% of the time, someone gladly takes it. For the other 1%, goodwill wouldn’t want it anyway.
Myself and my fellow small local businesses that I know always clean our sidewalks every day. We literally discuss how much we do it and all I ask is that people appreciate how hard it is to keep up – for the stores that do it. There are times when I physically gag when I am cleaning up some very disgusting things on our sidewalk left behind from others. We want our block to always look beautiful and some of us are working very hard to keep it nice. Just know that it sometimes takes a lot to clean up after others like we are every day. Thank you.
Please continue to clean up the garbage and empty the bins on the UWS.
What are our local representatives doing about companies like CVS, Patagonia, Papyrus, and Rite Aid throwing away and purposefully damaging items instead of donating them? There’s a lot of “trash” that doesn’t need to be in a landfill and no one besides grassroots organizations and volunteers are doing anything about it. Big respect to the local woman who runs TheTrashWalker to shed light on these issues. Allow people to leave donated items on their stoops too! HOA’s and block associations make things way too difficult.
A while ago, my partner picked up a piece of trash (as he often does) on Bwy/90 and walked it 3 feet over to a bin. Within a few minutes, a homeless person dumped the whole bin into the street. I often see homeless people sifting through the bins and making a mess. Watching this behaviour makes us all think “why bother?”. I commend One Block and hope that they motivate us all to band together to keep our streets clean.
I am continually shocked by the mindset of some people who were apparently raised by pigs, although that is an insult to actual farm animals. I was in the Columbus Circle train station on the downtown #1 train line, where there are two huge trash cans on either side of the bench: one no more than one foot from the bench. A woman around 30 years of age sat down. She was dressed nicely, but sat reading her iPhone. She crumpled up a cellophane food wrapper and dropped it behind the bench. I was outraged, called out to her, and pointed out that she was sitting right next to the trash can. She never acknowledged me or looked up from her phone. I walked over, picked up the wrapper, and put in the can, while asking her why she would do that? I told her to keep New York clean. She never looked up, never said a word, and did not acknowledge me in any way. She was frozen in her same position staring at her phone the entire time she was there. When the train arrived, she simply got up and on it. I have no idea what is wrong with such a person. I cannot imagine how or why anyone would drop trash next to a trash can (or not next to a trash can) or how she was raised in order to do that. Nor do I understand why she ignored everything around her as if by doing that the world around her would cease to exist.
Thank you for calling her out. Even though she pretended to ignore you I bet she doesn’t do it again. Shame works even though it might not seem to at the time.
It’s just as bad i the 80’s and 70’s. Bagged garbage sits on the sidewalk on 78th (betwen RSD and WEA) nearly all day. This inccludes my building!
But Brewer and the Dept of Sanitation still can’t manage to replace a removed trash/waste basket on my corner. Albeit, I don’t live on Broadway in the 90s/100s.
Thanks to Sally and WSR for bringing attention to this frustrating issue. Some chronic problem spots: The northeast corner of 111th and Broadway, in front of T-Mobile, where trash cans are usually overflowing into the street. Then there’s the front of 868 Amsterdam Avenue, a NYCHA residence where the building’s garbage is dumped in front, much of it loose and improperly bagged. Always a mess.
This has nothing to do with Gale and/or Sanitation All up and down the UWS residents come out of their small buildings and brownstones.. Everyday people on their way out to work hundreds of these folks dump their household trash in the corner baskets on WEA and Bway. At about 0700 this am the two baskets at my corners were empty. I was just out and they are full. The one at my immediate corner has empty amazon packages, junk mail from 6 different people on the block. Sanitation can and should fine the for each piece in the basket they can ID Leavy’s Enforcment officers could clean up if they wait for the illegal dumpers, they way NYPD looks for those not using seatbelts etc.
And the publicity would help put the fear of getting caught into all their fellow trashcan abusers. But regardless of who put what where – why can’t we commit to keeping those bins empty? How much more would it cost?
Thank you Sally for these articles — the first one depicted the real trash emergency in our beloved Upper West Side, and the second one showed that things really can change and get better when we take responsible action. While the trash and general messiness is most urgent, some of the comments touch on another quality of life issue that really seems to be worse in our neighborhood than others — the dog poop and pee all over the sidewalks, and in the tree beds. Perhaps we need an article focusing on just this issue, and letting dog owners know how unpleasant and unhealthy it is to walk on dog pee/poop? Families with kids have to navigate it at their peril. Do dog owners really not know, or care? I see some allowing their dogs to pee on signs asking them to refrain from doing so! Any comments to these owners, no matter how polite, are either ignored or met with righteous indignation. Is there a quality-of-life campaign that can help this strange lack of basic pet hygiene? Sorry to deliver a question but not a solution, but I am at a loss.
Yes – dog poop and pee problem much worse over past few years.
Baffling that so many dog parents allowing dogs to poop middle of sidewalk and pee on schools, churches, stores etc.
Several schools have put up “please no pee” signs.
BTW today walking to subway saw 2 people with off-leash dogs and then a person with a big dog on the subway,…
Where is Danny O’Donnell in all of this?
Well, maybe below 106, but that southwest corner of 110, by the CVS is so piled with trash every day you can barely walk through it. Disgusting. Guess this area isn’t Councilmember Brewer’s bailiwick…