Philly officials say pilot street sweeping program is a success

Pat Loeb
February 20, 2020 - 12:00 pm
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia officials say their pilot project to sweep trash from streets was a success and they plan to expand it by the end of the year. 

The $2.3 million pilot launched last April in six neighborhoods that were deemed the most in need of cleaning, identified by a "litter index" survey. Street cleaning services were previously curtailed in some areas after they were cut from the city budget during the 2008 recession.

Over six months, city Policy Director Anjali Chainani said both the amount of litter swept up and the time it took to do it decreased.

“That suggests that not only were streets getting cleaner, but we were increasing our efficiency so that trucks could get through the neighborhood faster,” she said.

The litter index did not show any improvement, but residents who were surveyed said the streets looked cleaner.

“Overwhelming support for this program from the residents who are living in the pilot areas and improved perception of cleanliness,” Chainani added.

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The program was criticized for its approach of using blowers to force the litter into the street, making it easier for collection by mechanical brooms — a strategy that also avoids asking residents to move their cars. However, officials quickly found some of the sweepers were too big to fit down narrow streets, so the litter had to be swept all the way to an intersection. 

Despite these initial glitches, Chainani said most indicators suggest the streets got cleaner.

“We consider this a success because we hypothesized that we would see a decrease in tonnage over time and we did see that, and we also see so many residents overwhelmingly support the street cleaning pilot, wanting to see it expanded,” she explained.

The expansion likely will be more conventional, with no parking on streets on the day they're swept. 

Mayor Jim Kenney has promised to put an end to the nickname "Philthadelphia." Chainani thinks it can happen, but not with mechanical brooms alone.

“Behavior matters,” she said, noting that residents across the city will have to do their part, too.

The city hopes to begin adding more neighborhoods by the end of the year with the goal of making it citywide by 2023.