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Posts about Street Cleaning


Here's where they cleaned the streets in 1898

In 1898, streets in downtown DC got cleaned by hand every day, while many streets in Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, and what's now NoMA got cleaned 3 times a week.

Georgetown BID head Joe Sternlieb has this old map hanging in his office. It shows the street cleaning system for the "City of Washington," which at the time was distinct from though by 1898, there wasn't still a formal distinction between the city and the surrounding Washington County that had made up the rest of the District.

The city did "daily hand cleaning" of roads for a few blocks around the White House, while downtown roads got "daily hand cleaning under contract." Other streets got "machine cleaning" 3, 2, or 1 time per week.

Today, many of the BIDs do have people doing some form of daily cleaning, such as picking up trash, while city cleaning is at most once a week. But probably the street sweeping trucks are more sophisticated today.

Oh, and there were public dumps ringing the city, along Rock Creek, in Columbia Heights, Near Northeast and along the Anacostia. Some of those sites seem to be on the grounds of schools today (such as Francis-Stevens and Meyer), while it looks like the one to the northeast of the city is where the NoMA Harris Teeter is today.

What do you notice?


Street cleaning tickets have a real purpose

Sometimes, the most heroic of politicians get fooled by proposals that sound like they'll save the world but turn out to be terrible policy. The political organizers-in-training running mock superhero campaigns for DC Mayor fell into this trap, as many of them hastily jumped on a proposal from Adam Green Goblin to eliminate street cleaning tickets in DC.

Photo by Wayan Vota.

The noble Adam Green was transformed by a chemical serum, adrenaline, when DPW "courtesy towed" his car around the corner to make room for snow removal. The new space had a different street cleaning day than the place he'd parked, leading Adam to get a street cleaning ticket. DPW also couldn't tell Adam where they'd put the car.

From that day forward, Adam Green Goblin began roaming the city trying to stamp out street sweeping tickets. He created a Facebook group arguing that the tickets are just a revenue generator for DC. He also added that Georgetown has no street cleaning (nor does Ward 3), making the tickets an unfair burden on residents of other neighborhoods.

It is indeed unfair for some neighborhoods to have sweeping and not others, but the solution isn't to stop cleaning the streets. Residents of the areas with street sweeping originally petitioned DC to start it, due to high volumes of trash and chemicals on their streets. Residents would certainly not like the way their neighborhoods looked if DC stopped cleaning. And when we don't take debris off the streets, it washes into storm drains and rivers, or blows into trees and parks. On my street, after DPW does not clean the streets for the winter, the gutters are full of tree material and some trash, and many streets nearer businesses accumulate a lot more trash.

The new street sweeper cameras, which have enraged some drivers, are also making a difference to DC's trash and pollution. According to testimony from DPW head William Howland at a January 2008 hearing, cars parked illegally during sweeping hours significantly impede DPW's ability to get trash off the streets. Each car forces the sweeper to go around, making it miss three parking spaces worth of gutter. Cleaning vehicles collect 10 pounds of oil and grease per mile swept, and 3 pounds each of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Photo by TCM Hitchhiker.
Without these facts, Adam Green Goblin's campaign instead made sweeping sound like a nefarious attempt to squeeze revenue from suffering drivers. The campaign corrupted the Green Lantern, who created a petition for neighborhoods to request an end to street cleaning. This came despite his strong advocacy for green jobs and green roofs. Batwoman also endorsed the campaign, as did Batgirl, despite her major policy plank of "cleaning up our streets," which she must mean only in the crimefighting way. The Atom came out against street cleaning tickets, while advocating for cleaning up the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and city parks, "crack[ing] down on illegal dumping" and prosecuting polluters. Wonder Woman talked about the issue, too, but confined her comments to the unfairness between Georgetown and other neighborhoods, rather than attacking street sweeping itself.

Of course, the DC government could definitely make the street sweeping system more user-friendly. For example, right now each neighborhood generally uses the same two cleaning days for every street, like Monday on one side and Tuesday on the other side. Drivers often have to drive to an adjacent neighborhood to find a usable space. DPW could reorganize the routes to stretch across most of the District on each day, sweeping one street across neighborhoods Monday, a different street Tuesday, and so on.

DC could allow drivers to register their cell phone numbers or email addresses to receive a text message or email if they're ever ticketed or towed, to avoid someone getting multiple tickets within a few hours of each other or tickets after a courtesy tow. And they should absolutely make sure they don't lose track of cars entirely due to bureaucratic mistakes.

It's true that we ought not to see ticketing drivers as a nice way to raise revenue. The ticketing system's goal, first and foremost, must be to promote the right behavior, like not parking in rush hour restricted areas or blocking street sweepers. But ending street cleaning and coping with trash-strewn, chemical-coated streets isn't the answer.

What about Georgetown? Why don't they have street cleaning? So far, I've asked many people, and gotten numerous as-yet-unconfirmed answers. Some have said that the streets are too narrow for sweeping vehicles, or that Georgetowners just didn't want to have to give up parking on one side of the street some days. All neighborhoods with street sweeping did originally opt in. Maybe the BID spends its own money to keep the neighborhood clean, or neighbors do the work themselves. At one point, the Citizens' Association of Georgetown recommended instituting street sweeping.

One source said that DPW does some manual sweeping. If they do, and if it costs DPW more to keep Georgetown clean than other neighborhoods, that's unfair. Someone else told me that they heard that as part of DC's water quality settlement with the EPA, DC will be expanding street sweeping to all neighborhoods. Either way, I'll keep investigating to get real answers. Adam is right to ask questions about the apparent inequal treatment of Georgetown and nearby neighborhoods, but wrong to recommend that we eliminate cleaning entirely, or tickets for those who don't move their cars.

I call on Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and the environment-loving members of the Facebook group to rescind their support for the Green Lantern and Adam Green Goblin's plan. Instead, they should cast their votes for Wonder Woman (my recommendation), Cyborg, Superman or Spider-Man, the candidates who weren't corrupted by Adam Green Goblin's populist-sounding but dangerous proposal. If these Mayoral candidates were serious about fixing this inequity, they'd instead push for reasonable street sweeping reforms and investigate the real reasons Georgetown has no street cleaning. Since they're actually just fictional superheroes with campaigns run by national community organizers in town for a boot camp, Greater Greater Washington will investigate and push on this issue instead.


Lunch links: It's not the communists who're trampling on freedom today

Senators to DC: spend your money on us, not yourselves: You've probably already read that Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Bennett (R-UT) are talking about blocking the recently passed bill to allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol until 5 am on Inauguration Day. They said that "could seriously strain law enforcement resources that need to be focused on the large crowds and security requirements of the Inaugural." While they want DC to devote its police resources to the inauguration, the feds aren't paying for it, nor did they last time.

Organizers strike back: Feinstein and Bennett mess with the fun of a city full of political organizers at their peril, though; some have created a petition and Facebook group to ask Fenty to stand firm against Congressional meddling. Cary Silverman suggests the DC Council pass a symbolic law meddling in Utah's ridiculous alcohol rules (which they relaxed during the Olympics, without Congressional interference).

What happens when you keep building transit: In just the last year, Beijing's Metro has expanded significantly, writes The Atlantic's James Fallows. In other countries, they really do keep building transit as cities grow. Tip: Marc Laitin.

Alternate side parking freezes up some streets in winter: Victoria McKernan points out (scroll to the second story) a flaw in DC's street cleaning parking restrictions when cleaning is suspended for the winter. Some streets, like Irving in Columbia Heights, allow parking on only one side of the street. During cleaning day, that switches. But when DPW suspends cleaning in the winter months, the signs still allow people to park on the other side one day a week while still allowing parking on the usual side. That narrows Irving to one lane. My street has this problem too, as a matter of fact, and becomes too narrow for large vehicles, including emergency vehicles, every Monday in winter.

And: DDOT may have some plans in the works to improve safety at Florida and R; you can exchange your incandescent lightbulbs for flourescents, but only in Columbia Heights at an inconvenient 2 pm; let's bring back Truxton Circle.

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