A series of tubes, but with less filth
July 3, 2012 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Roosevelt Island in New York City has a pneumatic garbage collection system. As part of the planned development of the island in the early 1970s, network of 20-inch tubes takes trash from the island’s 16 residential towers to a central collection point, replacing streetside garbage collection.
posted by exogenous (40 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
God Roosevelt Island is such a weird place.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:28 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know who else has a pneumatic garbage collection system???





That's right, Disney World, specifically at the Magic Kingdom.
posted by eriko at 12:31 PM on July 3, 2012


This control panel is amazing.
posted by whir at 12:31 PM on July 3, 2012



God Roosevelt Island is such a weird place.


And it's getting crazy-looking super science centers soon! It'll be go-to place for gentlemen in lab coats cackling wildly.
posted by The Whelk at 12:34 PM on July 3, 2012


NYC's Trash-Sucking Tubes May Be Upgraded, Expanded
Cornell-Technion Chosen to Build Science School on Roosevelt Island
posted by kliuless at 12:34 PM on July 3, 2012


This is so emblematic of New York: whiz-bang pneumatic trash system in one small part, giant streetside piles of garbage bags everywhere else.

Most cities have alleys for garbage; but in New York it's either fantastic futurism or miniature landfills on every block a few days a week.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:45 PM on July 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Way cool. When I was a kid nothing seemed more futuristic or technologically advanced to me than pneumatic tube delivery systems, and I regret that I have never had the opportunity to work with them firsthand.

I've suggested installing pneumatic tube-based interoffice messaging at my current job many times, but so far my ideas have failed to gain traction.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:46 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Parts of Roosevelt Island were built as a utopian planned community. There were no cars allowed and they had their own school system. Before that it had a prison and a smallpox hospital. It really is a fucking wierd place.

There are also a very small pneumatic subway in NYC from 1870 - 1873. It later became part of the BMT lines.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:57 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The infrastructure of the pneumatic intra-post office mail system is still there too, just not used.

I wrote a really shitty steampunk-y story about a NYC powered entirely by pneumatic technology once. How I sold that beast I'll never know.
posted by The Whelk at 1:05 PM on July 3, 2012


Guess I chose the wrong day to quit trash-talking New York.
posted by hal9k at 1:07 PM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


A poor substitute for jet packs.
posted by hwestiii at 1:13 PM on July 3, 2012


Pneumatic trains only made sense before electric motors, dangerous to run a coal powered train in a tunnel, even thought we did.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:18 PM on July 3, 2012


Oh, wow. The rest of NYC needs this right now.

It's always astonished me that a city as wealthy and technologically-advanced as NYC has still not figured out that it's a terrible idea to pile up trash from skyscrapers on the sidewalks. Even the new buildings do it. Even in its myriad incompetence, DC's somehow managed to have never had this problem.

It also sounds like the problems with Roosevelt Island's system could be easily fixed with a better design that ensures that the clogs happen in the buildings, rather than in the trunk of the system (or doesn't provide chutes that are large enough to accomodate items that are larger than the pipes below).
posted by schmod at 1:21 PM on July 3, 2012


"God, Roosevelt Island is such a weird place."

Hmm? What's that? Sorry, I was on the other line with Margaret.
posted by Eideteker at 1:30 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


“You tell people don’t, and they do”
--NY City Sanitation worker
posted by stbalbach at 1:43 PM on July 3, 2012


No way it will ever happen in a million years. We will get matter decompilers before we tear into the streets and decrepit old buildings to install pneumatic garbage tubes.

I have one goddamn electrical outlet per room and ungrounded ones at that. To add more I have the choice of running wires outside the walls or tearing up the plaster. There is no fucking way I am tearing up the plaster, that is a nightmare. At least one day a month I have no water because the ancient pipes always break. At least my apartment has character though.

Add to that the fact that Manhattan is like 1/3 landfill and 2/3 schist. Any tunnelling has to go through old riverbeds and streams that were filled in at the turn of the century or some sort of bedrock that just happens to be supporting a skyscraper or old dumps and burial grounds that will become national historic sites as soon as we dig them up.

There are also tunnels down there already, tunnels full of rats and mole people and CHUDS.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:53 PM on July 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


God Roosevelt Island is such a weird place.

It really is. It's like someone who had never been to NYC built their tiny idea of what Manhattan is. Any day now it's going to blink out of existence as humanity en masse realizes it doesn't really exist.

Although I had an awesome date there once where one of the stipulations was that we find the trash processing plant. Mission accomplished amirite?
posted by greenland at 2:15 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Toronto also deals with garbage in a less-than-graceful fashion. On these hot & muggy days, the whole city basically smells like rotting organics. Utterly charming. I believe there was talk of putting a pneumatic garbage system in as part of the waterfront redevelopment, but the city refused to consider it. Ah yes, here -- Toronto Life has an article about it.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 2:17 PM on July 3, 2012


...so far my ideas have failed to gain traction.

That's because they suck.
posted by goethean at 2:23 PM on July 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Fuck it, let's tear the motherfucker to the ground and rebuild from the ground up with garbage tubes. I was just forced outside, it is like 95 out here and the garbage piles reek.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:30 PM on July 3, 2012


Aren't there dumpsters or alleys or dumpsters in alleys for trash in New York? I'm confused by this thread. I've been to New York a couple of times, but didn't pay attention to the trash. Why would it be out on the sidewalk?
posted by Area Man at 3:18 PM on July 3, 2012


The night before trash pickup days, buildings will take all of their trash bags out of whatever receptacles they are in inside the building (or typically in containers in the front stoop areas of smaller brownstone buildings) and pile them up on the sidewalk. Then in the morning, the sanitation department ("New York's Strongest") drive by in garbage trucks and carry the bags from the sidewalks to the trucks. This is in my opinion a strong contributor to the distinctive scent of New York in the summertime.

I'm a fairly recent arrival here myself, and I'd be curious if anyone knows how this system came to be. It doesn't seem like the most salubrious way to do things.
posted by whir at 3:27 PM on July 3, 2012


There are oddly few alleys. I mean there are sometimes alleys next to large apartment buildings but not to drive a garbage truck down. There are dumpsters for commercial garbage, and commercial garbage trucks to lift them and sometimes residential garbage may be in stored in dumpsters between pickup days, but the garbage trucks used for residential trash cannot lift dumpsters, so someone has to take the garbage out so the garbage men can toss it in the back of the truck. Invariably this means that the garbage gets left at the curb the night before pickup day.

Some newish buildings have incinerators, many building built in the 50s and 60s have them. there are something like 17k residential buildings with incinerators. They fell out of favor due to polution.

There are a few other issues. Homeless people digging through residential garbage and garbage just left on the street.

Recycling has helped with homeless digging through residential trash to get recyclable bottles and cans. Now that the garbage is seperated they don't tear the bags open any longer. They can take the blue recycling bags.

Garbage left on the street is a bigger problem. People eat in parks and medians with benches. They leave food garbage under the benches and it attracts rats. Crossing the broadway median strip at night will sometimes startle 5-6 rats sitting there eating.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:30 PM on July 3, 2012


As to how we got this way with garbage pickups? Just a guess. But I am guessing a mix of Unions and the fact that commercial garbage was traditionaly controlled by the mob. That is why it was kinda a wink wink joke when Tony Soprano told people he was in commercial garbage.

Add the fact that due to street parking there is no good place to put dumpsters for most buildings.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:37 PM on July 3, 2012


A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed this little 15-minute film on Vimeo called Nature Abhors a Vacuum. Lots of funny stories from the people who've worked there about dumb stuff put down the tubes ... and what they have to do to fish it out (and repair the tubes).

Lots of metaphors for the internet in there.
posted by Twang at 4:00 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


God Roosevelt Island is such a weird place.

I have a friend who lives there. Her address is on Main Street, New York, NY, which is excellent.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:00 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't really understand why we don't use pneumatic tubes for everything.
posted by dry white toast at 4:52 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


because some people just hate joy apparently.
posted by The Whelk at 4:56 PM on July 3, 2012


I wonder how many cats have gone schwomp down those tubes.
posted by fshgrl at 5:47 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, somebody needs to tell me more about this island. Is it a cool place to live? Is it expensive? Is it safe? Is it a convenient commute to Manhattan?

Alleys are mostly for cities (or parts of cities) that had some advance planning, like Chicago or L.A. New York is too old, too dense, and too expensive to have alleys for trash collection. I heard an interview with a film director (not this interview, because it was on NPR, but it must have been this guy) that L.A.-based writers are always putting NYC scenes in alleys because L.A. has a lot of them and they don't realize NYC doesn't.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:58 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look, we're only about 80 years past the last dead horse left rotting in the streets of Manhattan. Festering garbage piled on the sidewalks? Bah.

Re Roosevelt island:

1. Cool? Interesting for sure, but not hip or trendy or anything like that. Walking over it across the 59th Street bridge it mostly just looks institutional.

2. Expensive? Not sure, actually. Housing is pretty limited, and there's not a lot of different types of housing stock. Which implies to me that it's probably fairly pricey. But then it's also not in any way posh, so it's unlikely to be completely outlandish, either.

3. Safe? Probably.

4. Convenient commute? It only has one subway stop, the F train which connects Astoria with the Upper East Side. It's probably great if you work in Midtown East or Rockefeller Center, but not so great if you work anywhere else. I have no idea whether that one subway stop is walkable from the whole island or not. There's also a cable car, but I think that's mostly a novelty and not a commute option.

My main concern about living there would be the availability of local services. Restaurants, bars, supermarkets, and shopping are all probably fairly limited.
posted by Sara C. at 6:08 PM on July 3, 2012


Downtown Philadelphia has a lot of alleyways, like proper smokey, shadowy alleyways where you can be attacked by vampire alleyways. I always thought the typical superhero stopping street crime made more sense in Ohiladelphia then in New Yrk win has like four alleyways, total.
posted by The Whelk at 6:28 PM on July 3, 2012


Roosevelt Island is simultaneously fascinating and boring. It used to be called Welfare Island, and housed convicts, smallpox victims, and "lunatics." Then it became a planned community, with the pneumatic tubes and dull architecture. It's small and as I said, planned, so when I used to visit an aunt there, there was one liquor store, one dry cleaner, one grocery store, and they all had matching signs that said, for example, "Liquor Store," "Dry Cleaner," etc. Very bizarre. Very lacking in personality.

It has two old buildings--the smallpox hospital, which is magnificent but in ruins, and a chapel, which is right on main street and completely out of place among the personality-free modern buildings. It also has two chronic-care hospitals, one on each end of the island, Coler and Goldwater. My understanding is that people live in these hospitals for years. I was also told that the entire island is wheelchair accessible. That's obviously fantastic, but it also leads to the somewhat surreal experience of seeing people scooting around in hospital beds. Like, pushing themselves along with a stick like they're poling a boat.

All this weirdness was just exacerbated at the time I was visiting my aunt there by the fact that Grandpa Munster lived on the island and liked to just hang out outside. So, you're walking down the most boring, planned, unnatural street imaginable, and a guy with no lower half just poled past you on a hospital bed, and there's Grandpa Munster sitting in front of a lovely old chapel.
posted by Mavri at 6:58 PM on July 3, 2012 [14 favorites]


And like just a few months ago I was listening to proposals to demolish Goldwater and it was so boring and I knew nothing I liked would get talked about.
posted by The Whelk at 7:39 PM on July 3, 2012


"So, you're walking down the most boring, planned, unnatural street imaginable, and a guy with no lower half just poled past you on a hospital bed, and there's Grandpa Munster sitting in front of a lovely old chapel."

OMG, Marvri, I want to go to there.

(Confession time: Despite being a reasonably well-traveled lady who has been to 33 states, 2 territories, and 13 countries, and despite having been to New York STATE, I have never been to New York City. And I'm sort-of not sure if I want to because real-NYC will be so different from book- and movie- and periodical-NYC that it might be very upsetting. On the other hand I'm terrifically curious to see all the things I've read about. On the third hand, I have two kids under four, so it'll be a while.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:53 PM on July 3, 2012


Real NYC is a hell of a lot like book/movie/TV NYC. Well, it depends which books/movies/shows we're talking about, to be honest. But, say, for example, Just Kids, anything by Woody Allen especially back in the 60's-80's before he got really weird/out of touch, and Seinfeld? Yeah, it's kind of like that.

There are all sorts of little things that the broader media gets wrong about the city all the time, like the alley thing, or the thing where the writers of How I Met Your Mother don't know that cell phones don't work on the subway. Or realistic apartment square footage. But those things are easily ignored considering all the stuff that really is real.

Funny story: I was disappointed when I finally saw Escape From New York and the landscape bore absolutely no resemblance to New York at all. I mean, surely half the point of the gritty post-apocalyptic New York setting would be to see all the various landmarks and tropes and New-York-isms used to brilliant effect. I mean, just think of the amazing setpieces you could do! Instead it really should be called Escape From An Island That Looks A Lot Like Pittsburgh.
posted by Sara C. at 8:01 PM on July 3, 2012


At least NYC's sewage system is mostly functional. Compare with elsewhere:

The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It's located in Dubai, a city with a lot of other skyscrapers. What Dubai doesn't have: A central sewage infrastructure that can accommodate the needs of a bunch of skyscrapers.
posted by Pryde at 8:13 PM on July 3, 2012


I live just down the street from the bridge to Roosevelt Island (in Queens) and I sometimes wander over there purely for the weirdness of seeing that chapel in the middle of all those buildings. Also to look at Manhattan from close up.

My daughter has a friend who lives there -- her parents both commute to work via the cable car. It's an easy connection to the 59th St subway stop.
posted by gaspode at 9:08 PM on July 3, 2012


That tramway is really so strange. I rode it once when I lived in NYC a decade back just because, dammit, there's a commuter aerial tramway in NYC and it takes the Metrocard!
posted by item at 6:14 AM on July 4, 2012


I've been in New York many times and never really noticed the lack of alleys. I love the alley system in my city, it keeps all the trash and garages and power lines in the back of the houses/buildings and keeps the street clean looking. And I can live in a townhouse but still have a garage (which oddly has its own mailing address since it faces the alley).
posted by octothorpe at 10:39 AM on July 4, 2012


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