Exclusive: CM Erik Bottcher and West Side electeds implore DSNY for clean Manhattan streets

Elected officials on Manhattan’s West Side are telling DSNY it’s time to clean up their act—the city may have reopened but lax sanitation efforts are putting a stink on tourism.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many city-run programs halted or were scaled back due to protocol safety measures and staffing shortages—and into the fall of 2021 some workers refused to be vaccinated despite the mandates. Although Mayor Eric Adams recently flipped the switch on encouraging tourism back into New York City through the Winter Outing Program, some elected officials fear that sanitation conditions will deter tourists from visiting their district.

Councilmember Erik Bottcher, along with several of his colleagues, has received numerous complaints from constituents that areas in the Village, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen are becoming hovels of mounting trash bags, overflowing corner garbage baskets, and litter across the street and sidewalks.

“The overflowing wastebaskets are most problematic in areas with high pedestrian traffic, and especially on the weekends,” Councilmember Bottcher told amNewYork Metro. “Sanitation issues have always been an issue, but they became worse during the pandemic when services were cut.  Services still haven’t been fully restored to pre-pandemic levels. Constituents not only mention the quality of life and public health issues posed by so much trash, but they also note how dispiriting it is that the city where they live, raise a family, or own a business.”

Pedestrians pass by a pile of trash beside the sidewalk. Photo by Dean Moses

In hopes of starting New York City off on the right foot this year, entice visitors to these areas in District 3, and to clean up the area for those who pass by the streets on a daily basis, elected officials have penned a letter to Mayor Eric Adams and DSNY Commissioner Edward Grayson imploring for disposal services to be restored in these high pedestrian traffic areas. In the letter they request that DSNY resume two weekly street cleanings, as well as frequent curbside composting service.

According to Bottcher, sanitation had 736 trucks routed on average to service Manhattan, yet that number dropped during the height of the pandemic to just 272 due to funding cuts in 2020; however, as the city edges toward regaining normalcy, there are only 440 trash pickup routes currently working in Manhattan.

“Residential street sweeping is currently happening once weekly, instead of twice weekly, as it was pre-pandemic,” Bottcher said, “Though some funding has been restored, the number of trash pick-up routes is still only at 440. It’s important to note that the Department of Sanitation is doing the best they can with the resources they’ve been provided. They simply don’t have the funding they need to handle the amount of trash being produced.”

Bottcher also shared that all of the trash—coupled with poorly constructed outside dining sheds—has harbored a well-fed rat infestation, causing those who want to dine outside in these areas to lose their appetite.

A woman glances down at a pile of bags left by a bus stop. Photo by Dean Moses

amNewYork Metro noted in December 2021 abandoned graffiti and trash-ridden outside dining shelters have become an eyesore for locals and tourists in the Village as well.

“If New York City is going to recover economically from the COVID-19 crisis, we need to put our best foot forward to the world, and that includes having clean streets. Visitors, office workers and residents won’t want to be here if the city is filthy. It’s imperative that we get a handle on this,” Bottcher said.

Bottcher and his colleagues, like Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, stated in the letter they know that DSNY is doing their best with the funding that they have been allocated and applaud their commitment to making the “city cleaner, greener and healthier through modernizing and improving our City’s sanitation practices.” However, the hope that more funding can be put toward cleaning high pedestrian traffic areas so that everyone can see the beauty of New York City.

In response to the letter, a DSNY representative had this to say: “The Department of Sanitation is proud of our work removing 12,000 tons of trash and recycling every day to keep our city safe and clean, including during the worst days of the pandemic. We see New York City residents and elected officials as partners in this work, and we welcome their collaboration, input and advocacy as we continue to fulfill our mission. We are working with the Mayor’s Office to evaluate Sanitation programs and improve quality of life for all New York city neighborhoods.”