Philly mayor wants $10.5M for street sweeping program

A city street sweeper cleans Chester Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A city street sweeper cleans Chester Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Mayor Jim Kenney wants the city to spend a whole lot more money on its experimental street sweeping program.

In his latest budget proposal, Kenney is asking for $10.5 million for the next phase of the pilot, scheduled to start in April. That’s almost five times bigger than last year’s budget of $2.3 million.

“Ensuring cleaner streets is a pivotal first step to creating more inclusive and resilient neighborhoods,” said Kenney during Thursday’s budget address before City Council.

The mayor’s request is not surprising. Philadelphia is the only major U.S. city lacking a street cleaning program, a product of funding cuts and resident backlash over parking tickets issued during sweeping days in the past.

The Kenney administration wants to have a citywide street sweeping program in place by the end of his term.

As part of that goal, the Streets Department has plans to at least double the pilot’s footprint this year.

“We’re actually fine-tuning the boundaries that we believe we can get to and maximize the neighborhoods that we can do under this proposed budget,” said Commissioner Carlton Williams.

In 2019, the sweeping pilot served six neighborhoods across the city. The target areas covered sections of West Philadelphia, Southwest Philadelphia, Kensington, Strawberry Mansion, Logan and South Philadelphia.

Williams said the Streets Department will announce where the pilot will be expanded in April, though the program won’t extend beyond last year’s boundaries until July, the start of the next fiscal year.

“They’re in close proximity to the pilot areas that were previously established,” Williams said.

To service a larger pilot area, the city is purchasing 21 new vehicles totaling roughly $4 million. The order, part of which has already been filled, includes more mechanical broom trucks, as well as sidewalk cleaners similar to the ones used by the Center City District.

If approved, the rest of the $10.5 million budget would be used to pay new hires, Williams said. The department is looking to add up to 75 new positions, including drivers and laborers.

The second phase of the pilot will start the same way the last one did. Armed with gas-powered leaf blowers, crews will push trash into the center of the street for mechanical broom trucks to sweep up.

After effectively calling that strategy a failure, the city will move away from relying on blowers starting July 1. Starting then, residents who live in the pilot area will be asked to move their cars on designated street sweeping days so mechanical broom trucks can suck up trash from curb lines.

The Streets Department’s tentative plan is to clean between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Residents would have to move their cars between 9 and 11 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., or 1 and 3 p.m.

In August, the Philadelphia Parking Authority will start handing out $31 tickets to drivers who don’t move their cars after the monthlong “warning period.”

“We need the cars to move to do a thorough and efficient job to get through an area,” said Williams during a news conference last month.

The Kenney administration has proposed $67 million for street sweeping over the next five fiscal years.

Both the pilot program and Kenney’s funding bump came after a WHYY/PlanPhilly report found the city rarely sent sweepers to a handful of streets still nominally scheduled for regular cleaning. Separately, City Council passed legislation steering $10 million to bolster cleaning on major commercial arteries late last year.

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