Monday, January 11, 2010

Street Sweeping

I recently had a citizen ask me what the purpose of street sweeping is. From his house, the street doesn't look any cleaner, but it certainly is clear that it is a cost to the city--owning fancy equipment, maintaining and operating that equipment, and paying someone to drive it. Why do we spend that money?

My most distinctive thoughts about street sweeping, personally, come from my days living in Cambridge, MA, where twice a month I awoke to the sound of a loudspeaker on a car driving down the street announcing, "Street sweeping! All cars parked on the odd/even side of the road will be ticketed and towed." (Remember to read that with the requisite Boston accent....) In Cambridge, street sweeping seemed to make sense--there was just more litter from folks living densely.

Pensacola, though, is a relatively clean little city, so why should we have to sweep out streets? That is a very good question that deserves a good answer. The answer is that street sweeping is one of the best tools we have for maintaining the health of our waterways.

The City's street sweepers collect over 3000 tons of sediment a year. This is sediment, mostly sand, that does not end up in our bays and bayous. And the less stuff that goes into the water, the cleaner it is. This collection accounts for almost 70% of the total sediment we collect--the remainder is collected primarily by retention ponds and baffle boxes.

In addition to the sediment, the sweepers annually remove nearly 400 tons of organic debris. Organic debris is stuff like leaves that have fallen off a tree. Ordinarily, those leaves would wash into the bays and bayous. Decaying grass and leaves can decrease the oxygen in the water, leading to algae blooms and fish kills.

Since we don't have someone driving by with a loud speaker at some early hour, most of us don't even notice the sweepers coming through. We miss the weekly sweepings downtown and the monthly sweepings in residential areas. In the fall and spring, we also miss the bi-weekly sweepings near Bayou Texar.

Of course, the sweepers can't catch everything on that schedule. But each of us can do our part to help keep our waterways clean. For example, during the fall and spring, make an extra effort to rake up fallen leaves. Then bag them up (in a paper bag) for the sanitation trucks to take for composting at the landfill. There are some other tips on the city's website. [One other tip from that site I'd like to highlight: cleaning up after your dog. We typically think of this as a polite thing so others don't get a mess on their shoes, but the larger-scale reason is that animal waste can end up in our waterways, also contributing to the algae blooms and fish kills.]

I hope that this has helped clear up the mystery of why we sweep our streets. If there are other questions you have about city activities that you would like answered, please let me know. During the last year during council meetings, conversations with staff, or in an effort to find the answers to citizens questions, I have had many mysteries cleared up. I'd like the opportunity to help share this information with you or work to find the answers to your questions.