Alley Garbage Truck Math
August 30, 2015

I advocate building places to the scale of people. The biggest influencer of scale is street size. A vast majority of streets (75% or more) should be built to the scale of humans - they should feel welcoming, cosy, intimate, and very natural;

Unfortunately virtually all the streets in the United States, even in the most urban places, tend to be hypertrophic and extremely oversized;

Not only do these ultra wide streets feel less humane, but they cost more to build, gives you less street frontage to build on, and gives you dramatically less building space and tax revenue to support it all. Wide streets and boulevards are important, but they should consist of less than 25% of your streets.

Paris is famous for boulevards, and many cities try to imitate Paris with their own grand boulevards.

Boulevards only make up a tiny fraction of the streets in Paris. This is more typical scaled street.

Fortunately for us, as we try our best to humanize the existing cities in the United States there is a lot of low-hanging fruit already there for the taking; alleys.

An alley in Hoboken, NJ. This could be transformed into a perfectly proportioned street.

Many cities have already had success transforming their alleys (laneways) into narrow streets for people.

Melbourne is the poster child for laneway revitalization.

People have asked me if we turn our alleys, that are currently used for garbage pickup, into narrow streets for people - what are we supposed to do with all of our garbage? I have two responses to this.

1) Not every alley has to used for al fresco dining. Making your alleys more warm and inviting does not have to stop garbage trucks from fitting through when needed. When the garbage truck needs to come through, people simple stand to the side, but otherwise go about business as usual.

Garbage trucks can still fit through. No problem.

2) Even if you did want to fill your alleys with tables, chairs, and signs like Melbourne does and you still want to use them to garbage pickup, you can simply do the math. Let's say the garbage truck comes through twice a week, and the sanitation department gives you a 2 hour window on those days for when the alley needs to be cleared of tables and chairs so that the garbage truck can fit through. That works out to be 4 hours a week. One week has 168 hours, subtract those 4 hours and you are left with 164 hours a week when you are free to set up your tables and chairs. The practical implications could be that your laneway cafes do not serve an al fresco breakfast on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. It is not the end of the world, and you have a pleasant outdoor dining environment the other 97.6% of the week.


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Bryce • 07.18.2016 • 05:01 AM (MDT)
"The practical implications could be that your laneway cafes do not serve an al fresco breakfast on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. It is not the end of the world, and you have a pleasant outdoor dining environment the other 97.6% of the week." I do agree the disruptions on actually using the alleys are fairly minimal, however, as someone who works in the foodservice industry, that specific example is terrible. Most restaurants (regardless of whatever it is you call them be it cafe or whatever) run on extremely thin margins, so any disruptions can have pretty bad effects. Giving up a 2PM-4PM slot for garbage collection won't have much of an impact since there usually isn't much business, but giving away the times people tend to eat lunch and dinner or much of the morning can severely harm business, and giving away two entire meal services could be enough to sink a business. Aside from that factor, though, I'd like to know how business on the back of buildings affects business on the front. I've often heard that you don't want to cannibalize the front side where the major streets are, since that business is what helps make said street more lively and affects walkability (since you don't walk where there's nothing to walk to)
Andrew Price • 09.05.2015 • 17:14 PM (MDT)
Warren, thank you for commenting and I totally agree. I don't think the garbage truck issue is one we should worry about, but it's a common talking point when I bring up using alleys for anything more than garbage, so I though I'd tackle it once and for all.
Warren • 09.05.2015 • 14:38 PM (MDT)
The garbage truck problem is such a minor issue it really doesn't need to be addressed at all... However it's an easy solve in that you don't need a truck that both collects and transports the garbage. In an area I lived that was full of apartment blocks the regular sized trucks could not get to wear the big bins were. So they used a modified jeep to go down the driveways and get the bins and then take them out to the truck. That's not the option for this though. I'm thinking of something substantially narrower and less noisy. Something that can snake through an alley quietly and pull out the garbage and deliver it to the truck. But without using the bins so it does not have to go back into the alley. So it would be a very low impact service and could happen at anytime without much disturbance to businesses and therefore no one has to close. There might need to be more pick-ups per week to keep the load this "narrow snake thing" has to carry. Of course designing the alleys well and placing garbage collection points at either end of the alley and you eliminate the need for a vehicle trip through the alley totally. In any event, make the lane happen and we can worry about garbage collection later.