City street-sweeping expansion to rely on cooperation, not enforcement

Neighborhood streets far from downtown will receive regular street sweeping for the first time starting next month.

But residents won't see signs telling them when to move their cars off the street. They also won't face fines or towing for failure to do so.

As officials roll out a long-planned expansion of street sweeping from downtown and central Baltimore to more than 90 percent of the city beginning in April, they say they will rely on cooperation from residents rather than enforcement.

"We are doing everything we can to say this is coming, why this is coming, and that we want to work with [residents] to make sure we get it right," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who is scheduled to announce details of the plan Thursday.

City officials have shared the plan's broad details at neighborhood meetings, where residents raised questions about parking by nonresidents and where they will be able to park on sweeping days.

About 80 percent of the questions have been about parking and enforcement, ranging from concerns about not being able to find a parking place to sweepers not being able to clear trash if people don't comply, said Jeff Raymond, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works.

Raymond said the city will continue to communicate with residents as the project moves forward.

Many Federal Hill residents are excited about the sweeping because trash is "a systemic problem" in the neighborhood, said Eric Costello, 33, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association

Parking also is a problem. Costello said he's thinking about posting fliers a couple of days before each monthly sweeping to give residents and visitors a heads-up that they will need to move their cars.

"The city should be responsible for putting signage up, but if they're not going to and they're going to provide an amenity that we don't already have, a service that we don't already have, I think the community should do whatever it can" to raise awareness, he said. "I think that's a no-brainer."

City officials say they will re-evaluate whether to post signs after the program gets underway, but there are good reasons not to. For one, more signs would diminish the impact of cleaning by cluttering streets further.

More significantly, installing signs would cost more money and resources than the entire expansion program; the expansion is a budget-neutral improvement to city cleanliness, health and environmental sustainability paid for by efficiencies rather than increased spending, officials said.

No new sweepers have been purchased, no additional operators have been hired and no increases are expected to be made to the city's annual $3.4 million street-sweeping budget even though the expansion will add more than 76,000 street miles to the coverage area, officials said.

"The program has always worked well," Raymond said. "We're just figuring out ways to make it more efficient."

Until now, mechanical street sweeping has been limited to downtown and central Baltimore, major thoroughfares, and city blocks where residents have petitioned to receive the service.

To sweep the noncontiguous petitioned blocks often requires sweepers to drive from one location to another, wasting time along the way, officials said. The new comprehensive sweeping program, based on computer programs that mapped the most efficient routes, will reduce idle driving time.

"The efficiency factor is pretty significant," said Mark Wick, chief of the city's solid waste environmental services.

"My administration has always been fighting to create more efficiencies in government, and this is an example of that," Rawlings-Blake said. "For those who say, 'Well, why weren't we always doing that?' that's the question I asked."

The expanded program will leave the downtown and central district sweeping schedules intact. It will split the rest of the city into four quadrants, where sweeping will occur between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., when many residents are at work.

In the northwest and southeast quadrants, sweeping will be conducted on the first Wednesday of each month on odd-numbered sides of streets and on the second Wednesday of each month on even-numbered sides.

In the northeast and southwest quadrants, sweeping will be conducted on the third Wednesday of each month on odd-numbered sides of streets and on the fourth Wednesday on even-numbered sides.

Streets without curbs and those that can't be accessed by the sweepers, either because they are too narrow or are dead ends, won't be swept.

As the program moves forward, sweepers will establish regular schedules and residents should be able to determine a narrow window of time when their neighborhood will be affected on sweeping days, officials said.

Rawlings-Blake and other officials said the expanded street sweeping will help the city meet new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards aimed at protecting waterways by removing pollutants at the street level before they seep into sewers and storm drains.

In 2010, the city's vacuum-powered sweepers collected nearly 7,000 tons of dirt, debris, trash and pollutants, according to city data. That amount has risen each year since, with the city sweeping up nearly 10,200 tons in 2013.

The mayor said the program will extend a valued service beyond the city's central districts, into neighborhoods where taxpayers deserve clean streets.

A cleaner Baltimore will keep residents here, she said, and will help attract new residents — a long-term goal of her administration.

"This is about making sure that we look for ways, innovative ways, to keep our waterways clean and our city streets clean," Rawlings-Blake said, "and everything we can do toward that effort makes us better."

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