Are mechanical brooms about to become extinct in South Philly? That’s the first question that needs answering, especially after the street-sweeping program recently endured its most radical change since its inception.
Last month, the Philadelphia Parking Authority stopped issuing tickets to motorists who failed to move their vehicles on cleaning day, at the request of First District Councilman Frank DiCicco.
The decision, he explained, was a response to negative feedback the councilman received that included angry calls to his office and letters printed in the Review.
DiCicco suspects most of his dissidents are politically motivated, but still has no intention of reinstating the ticketing — even though, he said, some constituents have called his office asking him to do so, and he told the Review last month that he felt ticketing was a necessary enforcement.
"I am not going down that road again because I didn’t get the support publicly that I thought the program deserved," DiCicco said.
One woman who contacted him last week complaining that a couple of people on her block were not moving on cleaning day was told that it was now up to the neighbors to work it out.
So it appears the street-sweeping program’s future east of Broad Street — the only place DiCicco’s three-year-old initiative has survived citywide — depends on the community pride and good faith of residents.
"You can’t have it both ways," the councilman said. "Either you move your car so the broom can come by, or you don’t move it."
Another question: How long will the city continue to spend taxpayers’ money on mechanical-broom drivers if no one is moving the cars?
Currently, the budget for street sweeping accounts for $400,000 of the Streets Department’s $32-million budget, DiCicco said. That cost represents the expense to clean streets throughout the entire city; however, the program remains in effect only in the First District.
It’s possible that the program will be ditched entirely if most residents stop moving their cars, said the councilman.
Nothing has been decided yet, he said, because a "pretty decent level of cooperation" remains, particularly on blocks that have supported the weekly cleanings.
The Review decided to estimate for itself how many people continue to clear a path for the brooms. A sampling of residents Monday morning expressed mixed reaction to the program.
In general, Mondays are dedicated to cleaning the roadways running north and south. A reporter caught up with a mechanical broom on the 900 block of Wolf Street.
Residents on the block had moved their cars, as had those on the 800 block of Wolf. But several parked cars created obstacles on the 700 block.
At least one resident had not heard the news that the city was no longer ticketing the unmoved vehicles.
"Oh, they have [stopped]?" asked a man who would identify himself only as Tony, as he hosed down the facade of his house on the 900 block. "I really haven’t noticed."
Signs posted on Tony’s side of the street notify residents that the block is scheduled for cleaning between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Monday. Tony said he thinks the street sweeping is great, adding he plans to continue obeying the rules of the program.
Other neighbors in full compliance included those on the 1000 and 1100 blocks of McKean Street and the 700 and 900 blocks of Snyder Avenue.
Meanwhile, there was no shortage of unmoved cars. The 800 and 1000 blocks of Snyder remained full, as did the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Mifflin Street and the 900 block of Moore.
Two men from the 1700 block of South Ninth Street — where streets are cleaned Wednesdays and Fridays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. — said the program invited indiscriminate ticketing. Neither would give his name for print.
One of the men was unaware the ticketing had stopped, but was pleased at the news: This summer, he received eight consecutive tickets when he spent two months in the hospital recovering from open-heart surgery. He explained he lived alone and had no one to watch his car.
"I couldn’t move my car," he said, tugging at the neck of his shirt to flash a fresh scar on his chest to prove his hardship. "I got eight [expletive] tickets. Is that right?"
The other man said he longed to return to the "old days," when crews of men cleaned the streets with push brooms and water trucks washed away the debris.
"I think [ticketing] is very unjust. They ticketed cars in a funeral here once [at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church]. The people were in church."
George Black, 61, of the 300 block of Catharine Street, also said he preferred when the streets were cleaned by hand. It is a popular opinion among residents who are old enough to remember those days.
In Black’s Queen Village neighborhood, ticketing has not been suspended, DiCicco said. The street-cleaning program there predates the one he implemented in the rest of his district. In Queen Village, each side of the street is swept only twice a month instead of four times, like the rest of the First District.
Among Black’s other complaints, he said, the streets are not effectively cleaned and the scheduling is inconvenient.
"If you tell the people to move at 9, they have to be gone until 11 or 12 o’clock. It is really a hassle."