How not to place a garbage can

Garbage bin, S-W corner of Queen West and University

This is getting ridiculous.

I walked down Queen Street West last week with a couple of colleagues from the Toronto Pedestrian Committee, to find that the city had just installed new garbage bins absurdly deep into the sidewalk, a long way from the curb, making the sidewalk seem unnecessarily crowded.

What’s ridiculous is that the coordinated street furniture program, under which these new bins are being installed, is supposed to follow the City’s new “Vibrant Streets” guidelines, which were designed specifically to develop consistent practices for street furniture placement that would create more clear space on the sidewalks for pedestrians. Yet the results seem to be quite the opposite.

Readers may recall that last fall I put up a post about how the new transit shelters being installed under the coordinated street furniture program were eating into sidewalk space. It was happening because a) the new design was too bulky, and b) the shelters were being installed further from the curb than they needed to be.

We asked the City staff in charge of the sidewalk furniture installation to come to the Pedestrian Committee’s January meeting to talk about this problem, where they assured us that they were aware of the problem and would provide as much clear space as possible going forward. And yet now we find that whoever is actually placing the pieces of furniture is placing them inconsistently, and often far deeper into the sidewalk than they need to go.

The Vibrant Streets guidelines specify that furniture has to be placed 0.6 meters from the curb, which is already kind of deep compared to the past. The rationale is that it gives enough space that vehicles turning into the curb lane won’t knock them by accident.

Garbage bin, S-W corner of Queen and Augusta

We measured the placement of the new garbage cans, though, and they were way more than 0.6 meters from the curb. The one at the S-W corner of Queen and Augusta, above, was almost a meter from the curb (0.93 m), trespassing into the middle section of the sidewalk, while the one at Queen and University at the top of this post was 0.82 meters (quite a lot deeper than the old silver garbage bin behind it). You can see that the extra distance makes quite a difference to the perception of space and how deeply the garbage can intrudes into the sidewalk. (The pregnant-looking design doesn’t help, either).

Garbage bin at S-E corner of Queen and Portland

What’s absurd is that this variation is unnecessary. The bin at Queen and Portland is only 0.64 meters in, and it doesn’t seem that intrusive — you can see that it sits within the first panel of the sidewalk, which is where we normally expect street furniture to reside.

Blue garbage bin

Meanwhile, the cheap blue bins that the City put in a couple of years ago are consistently almost exactly 0.6 meters from the curb. If they could do it right with cheap temporary bins, why can’t they do it right with expensive permanent bins?

Where there is a boulevard or where sidewalks are wide, the placement and design of the bins probably won’t be a big problem. But many of the sidewalks most heavily used by pedestrians in Toronto are fairly narrow, and in these cases it’s really important for the City to place the new furniture carefully to maximize the available sidewalk space. There is a whole unit at City Hall devoted specifically to placing street furniture, so they should be able to get it right consistently.

The new bin’s design also seems to mean that, if they are placed on the property side of the sidewalk, they also have to stick out because they open at the back, as in this example on the N-E corner of Queen West and University. Note how the post box is nicely tucked against the wall. It would have been useful to have some variations on the design to accommodate different situations.

Garbage bin, N-E corner of Queen and University

All photographs by Sean Marshall. Thanks also to Roger Brook for his assistance with this post.


  1. And what is with the push pedal thingy at the bottom to operate the garbage can? Those will all be broken in a few months.

  2. I have seen some new bins in odd places in more residential areas. The sad reality is that if the bins are not close to a shelter where people stand, then people will litter. I dont get the foot pedal thing at all but on a crowded sidewalk it will be great for tripping over.

  3. The sidewalks in this city are badly crowded. It is such a drivers’ city, so pedestrian issues are ignored, much less cyclists’ issues. It’s gotten that I do not bother to walk in the Annex, Queen Street West or the like, because I can’t walk at anything but a crawl. Thia means I won’t shop there. Of course, I doubt the BIAs get that. I am not otherwise fond of the Danforth, but go there because there is something like room on the sidewalks.

    Well written post, apart from the phrase ‘going forward’ which usually comes from the mouth of someone bullshitting: politician or other ‘suit’. When someone (else) uses such jargon, instead of ‘in future’, ‘from now on’… I know I am being fed a line.

  4. It looks like the depth is more because they open in the back and if someone is servicing them or the door is left/wrenched open, it won’t stick into traffic. My question is: who decided that it was a good idea for garbage bins—which would back either into a wall or into traffic—to open at the back?!

  5. The room on Danforth sidewalks only lasts a week or two into spring… because after that, it’s devoured by restaurant patios. Eaters/drinkers 1, walkers 0.

  6. This is ridiculous – they can’t even build a better garbage can, much less place it correctly so that it’s not in the way of pedestrians. The design and placement standards for these bins were probably made by a committee, and we know how that usually turns out. Get thee back to the drawing board!

  7. I haven’t used one yet myself, but can someone who has tell me if there are any potential accessibility issues? I like the idea of being able to open it with the foot pedal, but I am typically-abled – my sister is in a wheel chair, and I’m wondering if this means she’ll have to hang on to her garbage until she gets inside somewhere….?

  8. Not only are they mis-placed, they look like a “Wall-E” character.

    What peeves most people i’ve talked about city dump cans, are their “flaps”. Don’t they simply get in the way of quick-disposal? I think so.

    The rectangular silver boxes are the best ones i’ve seen in quite some time(*minus the flaps)

    Way to “vary-things-up” some more Toronto! I love ‘ya!

  9. Excellent points. Yonge and Davisville’s already narrow sidewalk now has one of these bins too.

  10. Erin asks if there are accessibility issues.

    The signs on the bins say something like “step on bar or push flaps”. I guess the bar is there so you can keep your hands clean; the flaps get filthy really quickly.

    The step-on-bar action wasn’t exactly inspiring when I tried it. I agree, it’s a crappy design that looked okay on PowerPoint.

  11. You should check out the new push-pedal bin they put on the northwest corner of College and Palmerston. It’s on the outside of scaffolding, facing the scaffolding, rendering the push-pedal – and the bin itself, actually – completely useless. Well, unless you have Spiderman-like abilities.

  12. Personally, I’m wondering why there are flaps over the openings at all? If these are emptied regularly, then really why not just leave the openings open? No messy flaps to touch, no bar to figure out (or fix), you just pop your junk in the opening and away you go! There really shouldn’t need to be instructions for something as simple as this.

  13. I think the foot pedals are a great idea. They are after all found on many domestic models. The flaps – which help contain odours – can always be “manually” pushed open for those not typical-abled. If setback was such an issue, then why isn’t everything place on sidewalks inset 0.6m? I’m curious to know more about these new cans though…anyone?

  14. the flaps are required so that if some dumdum puts a burning cigarette in the trash, a fire can be suffocated by a lack of air. and aside from a bit of sidewalk cramping here and there, i’m finding all this hate to be slightly extreme. im as much of an urban critic as anyone, but to be honest..i kind of like the new design. the foot bar (which isn’t NECESSARY to use, so an accessibility non-issue) kind of reminds me of the sinks from my elementary school, palmerston ps, and look hearty enough to withstand breakage within, as one estimated, a few months. and i might add – scaffolding is not permanent street furniture. yall need to put your tape measures away and go have a beer or something – your uptight PCness is cramping our city’s style.

  15. I noticed this, too. The new bins I’ve seen so far are ABSURDLY conspicuously away from the street; it feels like they are in the middle of the sidewalk. When I first saw one I thought it was some kind of joke or a mistake because every pedestrian had to navigate around it. Who is installing these things so terribly?

  16. The only reason I see for the wide setback of the trashcan is in case the piles of snow dumped from the road onto the sidewalk. Now with the setback, the snow could be piled up without damaging the trashcan.
    Fine in winter, but not so much in summer. Unless there is a bicycle lock attachment that I somehow missed seeing.

  17. It *is* ridiculous. At SW corner of Dufferin & Davenport it’s in the MIDDLE of the sidewalk. I don’t think wheelchairs can even get by reasonably anymore.

  18. What was wrong with the silver ones with three holes? At this rate – a new style of garbage bin every year, it seems – the city would be better off doing a ‘neighbourhood theme’ and have each ‘hood design its own bin. I know we’re all about diversity, but ecleticism in the realm of trash cans is confusing and silly, not to mention a waste of money.

  19. The fact that these bins open in the back is a huge design flaw. By opening the bin at the back it looks like you need more than 0.6M for safety reasons, so the workers picking up the garbage don’t come too close to the road.

    There will always be room at the front of the bin, because that’s where the public access the bin.

    It would be nice of course to have a bin with no front and no back. There is such thing in most of the world.

  20. Tanja: You’re talking about the postering kiosk, right? At the January pedestrian committee meeting, I showed Kyp (the manager of the street furniture program) a couple photos of it, and he agreed to review the placement. Ha.

    As for the doors being on the rear, here’s what the RFP said: “Each stand alone container should have two access doors such that both the recyclables and waste
    can be collected from each side. For ease of collection, both recyclables and waste should be
    accessed by opening a single door on the curb side of the container. To allow an alternate means
    of access when snow banks or other materials block the curb side door, a second door should be
    provided on the sidewalk side.”

  21. Ah, but the new street furniture (and the street sign redesign) is all about uniformity, doncha know. All garbage cans, bus shelters, street signs, benches and newspaper boxes will be completely homogenous. It should only take, what, 20 or 30 years?

  22. >Brent
    Excellent – Sign/bench/box asymmetry was tops on my list of civic problems.

  23. Why not have the top removable instead, or empty it from the front?
    It’s ridiculous to be so far from the street just so it can be emptied.
    The pedal won’t work with an snow buildup either, I can’t believe this was approved.

  24. I’m thinking of slapping some stickers on them with a long list of the design flaws.

  25. Could be worse, I suppose. It could have been the megabins where the opening faced the street.

  26. In addition to the complaints above, the bins don’t seem to hold much, either. I’ve already seen one full to overflowing.

  27. Dylan — Totally!!!! As soon as I saw these I was like, why does it seem like they’re taking up an unnecessary amount of space? Even though they would seem to hold less garbage? Thumbs up for investigative measurement.

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  29. Embarrassingly incompetent for a world class city.

  30. Ditto the above – though is it maybe world crass?
    It seems there has to be enough space for a car door to open eh? so all through the former urban area, we’re getting suburban standards.

  31. Over-sized, over-engineered, overly ugly, all-over the sidewalk bins.

    Leave it to Toronto to screw up something as simple as a garbage can.

    I’m so glad that I left you, you disasterously ugly (sorry.. ‘messy’) disaster of a city!

  32. So can someone from the city please join the discussion and comment….. the city staff voice is noticeably absent in these postings. Surely they’re reading this..

  33. 100% agreement. I walked to work the other day (down Bathurst) and my blood was boiling by the time I got in. The number of these stupid droids that simply blocked the sidewalk was unbelievable.

    I admire the intent of the City to elevate the design of street furniture in the city, but sadly the process (joint design/advertising RFP) ended up saddling us with with this amateurish stuff that “looks” designed, but was never really thought through from the standpoint of real-world use. A little more Dieter Rams (his ten commandments, especially no. 5, were needed here – a little less Jetsons, please.

  34. They’re
    a) too small
    b) poorly placed
    c) all going to be broken/defaced in months.

    At least they don’t have huge spaces for ugly ads.

  35. I was agnostic about the design of the new street furniture. Having seen small urban messes all over the world that didn’t make me think any less of the wonderful cities that I was visiting, I am not prone to breast beating about how sad our city is.

    Having said all that, though, I do find the design of these and their placement on the sidewalks really highly stupid. It’s a great post pointing out some really stupid placements of these overly large, overly engineered bins.

  36. I asked city staff about this problem at the same time as I posted, and they got back to us to say that they’re aware of it, that they are working on making sure installations are more consistent from now on, and that they fixed the one at the S-W corner of Queen and University and will fix other problem installations.

    I haven’t had a chance to measure the Queen/ University one yet after the city fixed it.

    I’m hoping this was indeed a blip and that the street furniture placement will be better and more consistent from now on. We’ll keep an eye out.

  37. I thought the whole point of this was to harmonize our street furniture? In most of these photos the new bins are adding to the visual cacophony on the streets, not reducing it, as the old bins still remain.

    While I never found the visual cacophony of street furniture design diversity to be a bad thing, I do think its a bit silly to have so many bloody garbage cans obstructing the sidewalk in one spot. Is there an old-bin-removal plan? Not that I want the old bins removed necessarily–they look like bloody works of art compared to these plastic disasters…

  38. I have no problems with the design of the bins, certainly compared to the cheap metal bins from OMG/Eco Media. I do wish the new ones were metal instead of this plastic-type version.

    The old bins were horrible for durability. These ones will probably be the same if only for the silly foot lever. How ridiculous to install something that will be destroyed by sidewalk plows and have snow/ice freeze underneath.

    What is worse, is that these concerns were addressed by the public long ago when the designs were made public. This exercise shouldn’t be a told-you-so, but it will be.

  39. Erin,

    Your sister should be ok to use the new bins. The flap just pushes open with a little force. Course then you’re forced to touch the garbage chute which isn’t a top my list of favourite things to do.

  40. @ Paul N:
    “… you just pop your junk in the opening and away you go!”

    I’m pretty sure you’re talking about a gloryhole, not a garbage can.

  41. I had a chance this morning to measure the placement of the garbage bin at the S-W corner of Queen and University, which the City said they had moved – and indeed, it has been moved to the correct distance from the curb – about 0.61 meters. It makes quite a difference, since now it is in line with the other street furniture and out of the main walking path. It’s a good sign that the city is serious about fixing its mistakes and not making any more in the future.

    I’m assuming that the city will start removing the old bins pretty soon in places where they’ve installed the new ones.

  42. For complete text, please go to:

    International Day of People with Disabilities 2008
    Mayor David Miller proclaimed International Day of
    People with Disabilities on December 3 at Villa Colombo during an event marking the day that the United Nations’ annually observes on this date. The United Nations’ 2008 theme was “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Dignity and justice for all of us”.

    In his remarks to an audience of approximately 250 participants, Mayor David Miller said, “We come together to renew Toronto’s commitment to the goal of becoming a barrier-free city. The City needs your experiences and insights to realize our vision of an inclusive city.” end quote.
    Personal observation:
    Sidewalks blocked for wheel-chair users during garbage collection days:
    On garbage collection day, be it green, blue or garbage bin collection, the sidewalks on many residential streets are blocked for wheelchair users. The various bins turn the sidewalks into a virtual sidewalk hazard for anyone using a wheelchair or who is otherwise mobility impaired.In many instances it is impossible for them to go down the street. I met an elderly neighbor who walks with a cane and already has significant mobility difficulties in getting around. She was quite upset yesterday because with the various bins on the sidewalk it was next to impossible for her to walk down the street in her own neighborhood.

    In addition to wheel-chair users, mothers with children in baby carriages, parents walking with their children hand in hand, people using bundle
    buggies are also affected by the sheer volume of various “Bins” obstructing the sidewalks. Like many others, I am sometimes forced to leave the sidewalk
    because of the obstructions in front of me and walk on the road with traffic zipping by left and right. This is a safety hazard and is unacceptable!

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