Philly street cleaning pilot will ‘blow trash into street’ to bypass parking issues

The city has revealed details about a planned street cleaning pilot project the same week as a WHYY/PlanPhilly investigation into Philly's lackluster litter collection work.

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

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

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

The city has revealed the first details about a planned street cleaning pilot project that will endeavor to improve Philadelphia’s lackluster litter collection efforts.  The new information comes the same week that a WHYY-PlanPhilly investigation found the few major streets still scheduled for regular cleaning rarely receive it despite drivers being ticketed for parking in sweeping zones.

Philadelphia is the only major city without a comprehensive street cleaning program. The last neighborhood-wide sweeping services were terminated over complaints from residents about weekly alternate-side-of-the-street parking restrictions designed to clear a path for sweeper trucks.

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City sanitation officials announced earlier in the month that they would experiment with the first expansion of municipal street sweeping in decades. In an interview, the city’s managing director, Brian Abernathy, said the upcoming pilot would focus on strategies that allowed cars to stay put while streets are swept.

“The pilot is actually going to be a mixture of mechanical sweepers, as well as laborers who will blow trash into the street, where the sweepers will then pick it up, so folks don’t have to move their cars,” he said.

Abernathy did not give specifics but said the program would target six neighborhoods “that need the most assistance with street sweeping”  The locations, he said, will be determined in part by the city’s so-called “litter index.”

“Not surprisingly, those areas are often some of the communities that have seen the fewest city services,” he added.

Abernathy said the program is expected to launch in April.

The city currently schedules portions of 33 major streets for overnight sweeping and eight additional routes for early morning cleaning. These a.m. routes feature parking restrictions that prevent cars parked overnight from blocking the curbline that sweepers are designed to clean.

However, recent reporting showed that the city was hitting its morning routes just 25 percent of the time, even though many neighboring residents are still ticketed by the Philadelphia Parking Authority nearly every week.

Although the city has pledged to improve its on-time appearance rate for these streets, Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams, whose department oversees the current $850,000 a year sweeping program, indicated they would not be part of this initial pilot program.

“An issue in our current program is moving cars. We know that’s a challenge and that parking space can be limited,” Williams said. “…We’re trying to improve that service under this program and hopefully it can be replicated for our existing program.

Mayor Jim Kenney had pledged to restore street sweeping service during his 2015 campaign. To date that promise has been largely manifested in the city’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, which has focused on a variety of data-driven tweaks to litter management and an increased short dumping enforcement. But not explicitly on new street cleaning service.

“We have heard and certainly the mayor has recognized that Philadelphia is a dirty city. And we need to do a better job of keeping our streets clean,” Abernathy said. “We look forward to making sure this program works before we roll it out on a larger scale.”

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