Sweeping changes: Street cleaning program expands

by Kendra Franklin
Posted 5/23/24

Mayor Cherelle Parker has vowed to make Philadelphia the cleanest big city in America. A key component is the expansion of street cleaning.

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Sweeping changes: Street cleaning program expands


The City of Brotherly Love has long grappled with the challenges of urban cleanliness. Once crowned the world's cleanest city from 1949 to 1959, Philadelphia has since acquired the reverse of its once spotless reputation – and is now one of the only major cities in the nation without a comprehensive, city-wide street cleaning initiative. 

That’s a circumstance newly elected Mayor Cherelle Parker – who has vowed to make Philadelphia the cleanest big city in America – seeks to change. A key component of this ambitious plan is the expansion of the mechanical street cleaning program, which kicked off its fifth year on April 1st.

First launched in 2019 under the Kenney administration, the program focuses on the city's most vulnerable communities – including Germantown. Spanning from Chelten Avenue to Berkley Street and Pulaski Avenue to Wakefield Street, the program deploys advanced mechanical broom vehicles to tackle litter, debris, and general street cleanliness. 

Now, Parker seeks to increase the frequency of these cleaning schedules as part of her promise to address long-standing concerns about unsightly trash accumulating on neighborhood streets.

Emaleigh Doley, executive director of the Germantown United Community Development organization, which sweeps sidewalks and curbs in the central business district, said she’s noticed a big difference.

“It’s really noticeable just how much cleaner Germantown is. I see a big difference, just as a business that’s located on Germantown Avenue, in the amount of debris that we have to sweep up outside our door,” she said. “It also just looks more fresh. You can tell when litter is new. It’s not caked in. It looks more like someone just dropped it from the sky.”

But Doley wishes the city would get sweepers small enough to fit in the neighborhood’s smaller streets. 

“Take my childhood block, for instance,” she said. “It’s between two streets that do get swept, but it’s too small. And you can really see that difference. So they are missing some important areas.”

Implementation has not been without challenges. For instance, five years into the initiative, many Germantown residents remain unaware of it. There is also the need to strike a balance between the clear need for cleaner streets and the practical concerns of residents and businesses who are not accustomed to the new routine. 

"A poster would've helped," remarked Marlena Rodrigues, a local resident. Others, like Marisa Kos, have yet to notice a significant difference in cleanliness since the program's inception.

In Germantown and many other neighborhoods, parking disruptions have emerged as a point of contention. With mechanical brooms operating Mondays through Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., residents must navigate a maze of "No Parking" signs and risk fines or car relocation if they fail to comply. "Especially on residential blocks," said Kos, recounting nights spent driving around for over 20 minutes in search of parking.

But that’s far from universal. Local businesses, like the Park Manor Deli at 240 W. Chelten Ave., appear to be taking parking restrictions in stride. Employees there reported no significant impact on foot traffic or cleanliness.

“It’s no problem. You just can’t park across the street anymore,” said a cook.

In the first-year report's Litter Index, resident perceptions were overwhelmingly positive, with 96 percent of people who live in pilot areas recommending that the program be expanded city-wide. And according to city reports, 91 percent of program respondents express support for moving their cars to facilitate neighborhood cleaning. 

Community leaders and advocates argue that the city's future success will likely hinge on its ability to communicate effectively with residents and address their concerns. The city is responsible for ensuring that residents are well-informed about the program's schedule and requirements, they say. 

The city has planned several virtual community meetings to discuss the street sweeping initiative and address concerns, providing a platform for residents to offer suggestions for improvement.