A clean sweep [Commentary]

Expanded street sweeping is a win-win for neighborhoods and the environment.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake deserves a lot of credit for the recently announced expansion of Baltimore's street sweeping program (City street-sweeping expansion to rely on cooperation, not enforcement, March 20). Beginning this week, 90 percent of streets in Baltimore will be visited by a street sweeper at least once a month. If you live on a street without a posted schedule, the city is asking you to voluntarily learn the schedule and move your vehicle accordingly. While there are no financial penalties for not moving your vehicle, failure to do so could prevent your street from being swept and negatively impact you and your neighbors in ways you might not expect.

The cleanliness of a neighborhood is actually connected to many other quality of life concerns, including crime and physical and mental health — especially the health of children and the elderly. This is known as the "broken windows theory," but it applies to litter and other indicators of urban neglect as well. While expanded street sweeping is not a cure-all for these problems, it is the type of system-wide change that the city must undertake with more frequency and enthusiasm if we are going to clean up Baltimore and attract 10,000 new families in less than a decade.

More street sweeping is not just an improvement for neighborhoods; it's an improvement for local streams and the Baltimore Harbor. The impacts of litter last long after trash first hits the pavement. After providing food for rats, litter on our streets is transported by rain into storm drains. These drains connect directly to local streams, the Baltimore Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay. You can witness the impact that litter has on our environment by visiting the Inner Harbor after a large rainstorm and seeing the trash in the water.

These floating islands of trash are predominantly made up of bottles, food containers, cigarette butts and plastic bags. This trash will end up not just on the nearby shores of Fort McHenry or Middle Branch Park but will also make its way out to the Chesapeake Bay, where it pollutes natural habitats and threatens wildlife that mistake it for food. More street sweeping will help prevent this cascade of negative social, economic and environmental impacts, though fully addressing this problem requires a comprehensive strategy. Such an approach would include an education and marketing plan, a legislative agenda and the rapid expansion of current pilot programs like the residential trash can program announced by the city last November.

The city has developed litter reduction plans in the past; in 1979 Mayor William Donald Schaefer had the BATAL Plan (Baltimore Against Trash and Litter), and more recently Mayor Sheila Dixon lead the Cleaner, Greener Baltimore initiative. There are enough plans on the shelf that you could be forgiven for thinking that the city should just pick one and run with it, but new political realities and advances in technology mean that it's time to create a new plan based on what is feasible today and that incorporates Mayor Rawlings-Blake's goals for attracting new residents and cleaning up the environment. We urge the citizens of Baltimore to support this very worthy effort.

There is no question that keeping our city and harbor healthy and clean will require creative solutions from both the public and private sectors. By implementing a program that will sweep more than 76,000 additional miles of city streets without adding to the annual street-sweeping budget, Mayor Rawlings-Blake has shown a refreshing propensity for innovation that should be applauded and encouraged. Moving your car twice a month so that your street can be swept is a minor inconvenience. As people who live or work in Baltimore, we should all be asking ourselves what more can we do to help clean up our city.

Michael Hankin is President and CEO of Brown Advisory and chairman of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. His email is mhankin@brownadvisory.com.

Street sweeping schedule

The Northwest and Southeast portions of the city will be swept the first and second Wednesdays of each month (odd sides of the street will be swept on the 1st Wednesday; even sides on the 2nd), while the Northeast and Southwest portions of the city will be swept of the third and fourth Wednesdays of the month (odd sides on the 3rd Wednesday, even sides on the 4th).

SOURCE: Baltimore City Department of Public Works


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