Filthadelphia no more? Kenney seeks to ‘vastly’ increase street sweeping

Mayor Jim Kenney announced a new anti-litter proposal in his budget address that could bring the city a step closer to shedding the unwanted sobriquet “Filthadelphia.”

Kenney said he would seek to nearly quadruple funding for the city’s skeletal street cleaning program.

“This budget includes $2.3 million next year and $11.7 million over the life of the plan to implement street sweeping in more neighborhoods,” he said, in a Thursday budget address.

Philadelphia is currently the only large municipality without a comprehensive street sweeping plan. This funding bump is the first substantial increase to the city’s street cleaning efforts in decades.

Decades of budget cuts and complaints from residents over street cleaning-related parking enforcement led the city to reduce cleaning operations to only certain major streets. By 2004, the Streets Department was devoting just $400,000 to litter collection.

Despite campaign pledges from Kenney to take on the city’s litter problem, by 2018 the department was still spending just $850,000 of its $90 million budget on sweeping.

A WHYY/PlanPhilly investigation last year found that even though the Philadelphia Parking Authority was still ticketing cars parked in street cleaning lanes, the city was rarely performing even these nominal duties.

Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams said the new funding increase would allow for “vast” improvements to the current cleaning program.

“It will double the size of our current fleet. This allows us to add another 15 broom (trucks) and 40 laborers,” he said. “We’ll be able to expand the program vastly as a result of this budget increase."

Still, the Streets Department’s internal estimates state that it would cost $3 to $5 million annually to maintain citywide cleaning, along with tens of millions more in upfront costs to augment existing street cleaning equipment.

Williams said the initial funding boost would bring restored cleaning to six targeted neighborhood –– to be announced later this spring –– as part of a previously announced pilot program.

Both the mayor and Williams acknowledged that parking is still a touchy subject. Sweeper trucks require unobstructed access to parking lanes to clean trash out of the curb line, but residents gripe about weekly tickets that come along with these restrictions.

The commissioner said the city would only ask residents to avoid blocking parking lanes on designated sweeping days –– at least at first. In an unconventional move, the city had announced that it would seek to use street crews armed with leaf blower-like devices to push detritus from behind parked cars and into the roadway.

“We’re going to be using mechanical blowers to minimize the requirement that people use their cars,” Williams said. “But we will encourage residents to move their cars. And when they don't, we’ll use blowers to blow the trash into the street where the trucks can be effective.”

The Mayor’s Office said the new budget includes an additional $250,000 to enhance a separate cleaning program managed by the Commerce Department along certain business corridor.


About the author

Ryan Briggs, Data Reporter

Ryan Briggs is WHYY's data reporter.  He works on the PlanPhilly team and across the WHYY newsroom on investigative features. Before joining WHYY, he covered politics, criminal justice and government policy since 2011. He has worked as a staff reporter for Next City, the Philadelphia City Paper, and City & State PA, while contributing stories to a variety of other news outlets as a freelancer, including WHYY.

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