Solving Cities

Is New York's odd way of cleaning up its subway actually working?

Is New York's odd way of cleaning up its subway actually working?

Posting in Cities

Some New York subway stations have removed all their trash cans. Is it actually making stations cleaner?

Making sure a subway station is a pleasant place for passengers is already difficult. Being underground means that, like sewers, rats are regulars and the terrible smells (oh, the smells!) get trapped in the underground bunkers. To make sure these problems don't proliferate, New York wants to cut back on trash in the subway. But they're doing it in a counterintuitive way. And, so far it seems to be working.

Last year, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority experimented with removing all trash cans from two stations. And since the initial pilot program, eight more stations have gone trash-can free. The result wasn't that trash started piling up on platforms as much as you might imagine. Instead, at least according to the city, those stations are cleaner. The New York Times reports:

At the two stations that have been without trash bins since last fall — the Eighth Street and Broadway station in Greenwich Village and the Flushing-Main Street station in Queens — the number of trash bags hauled out by workers has decreased by 50 percent and 67 percent, the authority said.

Officials have described the logic of the program simply: If there is nowhere to discard trash, riders will take it with them — often outside of a station.

And with New York's subway system producing about 14,000 tons of trash each year, the amount of trash that's not filling up subway stations is significant.

It, of course, doesn't mean that people magically have less trash while riding the subway. So are people just dumping it outside the station exit?

A spokeswoman for the city’s Sanitation Department said the reduction in trash at the two pilot locations had not burdened its collection operations at street level. “Sanitation has monitored these two locations and there has been no negative impact,” the spokeswoman said.

Some riders aren't happy with the inconveniences of having to look for other trash cans outside the system. But if it really can reduce the amount of trash (rat food) that lingers and piles up in stations on a large scale it could be a compromise that passengers grow to appreciate.

M.T.A. Expands an Effort to Decrease Subway Trash [The New York Times]

Photo: Flickr/eric is what you need

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure