Philly to spend $10M on commercial corridor street cleaning program

The yearlong program is an expansion of an ongoing pilot in City Councilmember Cherelle Parker’s district, which covers parts of Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia.

Litter blows on Germantown Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Litter blows on Germantown Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philly has a solution to spruce up its busier thoroughfares. 

City Council approved funding on Thursday for a street cleaning program for Philly’s commercial corridors. Details about the $10-million program are pretty scant right now. It’ll be run by the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, rely on privately contracted cleaning crews and likely start before next summer rolls around. 

The program is expected to create 300 part-time jobs and has enough money to operate for a year. 

City officials will sit down with city lawmakers and union leaders in the coming months to figure which commercial corridors will be part of the program and other logistics. 

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“We have to iron out those details,” said City Councilmember Cherelle Parker during a news conference announcing the effort.

The program will essentially be an expansion of a clean-up program launched over the summer in Parker’s district, which covers parts of Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia, including Mount Airy, Logan and Oxford Circle. 

The yearlong pilot, scheduled to wrap up at the end of July, cleans 10 commercial corridors in Parker’s district, including a stretch of stores near the Olney Transportation Center at Broad Street and Olney Avenue. 

The program employs 16 part-time workers paid $15 an hour to clean up 25 hours a week. 

“This new investment will have a big impact on neighborhoods across our city and provide neighborhoods and businesses beyond Center City with the resources they need to succeed and thrive,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. 

The city has launched similar programs in the past with mixed results. 

In June, a bill reauthorizing the Germantown Special Services District stalled in Council after more than 100 property owners wrote letters decrying the 24-year old program, in part because of revenue and management issues. 

“You need good supervision and good clear rules, because what you don’t want is a program with good intentions that underperforms and that people end up thinking is a waste of money,” said Paul Levy, executive director of the Center City District, in September after Parker introduced her bill to launch the citywide street cleaning program. 

Thursday’s announcement comes less than two weeks before the city wraps up a monthslong street sweeping experiment in six neighborhoods around the city. 

Launched in April, the pilot program has used a combination of gas-powered leaf blowers and mechanical broom trucks to clean up residential and commercial blocks from Kensington to Kingsessing. 

Unlike residents who live along one of the city’s long-standing daytime routes, people in these pilot neighborhoods have not had to move their cars on designated street sweeping days. 

The pilot has hit a few snags. Crews have struggled to keep pace with the program’s weekly schedule. Less than two months into the pilot, the city realized it spent millions on trucks that couldn’t squeeze down some streets

The city will evaluate — and possibly tweak — the program in the coming months. 

The pilot was launched as an addition to the city’s existing street sweeping program, which has also proved to be problematic. A WHYY/PlanPhilly investigation revealed that street sweepers only cleaned a designated list of daytime routes 25% of the time. 

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