To know it's summer in the city, you don't have to listen for the tinny song of the ice-cream truck, or smell tar melting in the sun. Just look up your street on, say, the third Thursday of the month, and watch the street-sweeping tickets fluttering on the dashboards of the forgetful.
You'd think the city budget crisis would've taken out this public service. Last year, Public Works Director Guy Costa predicted that street cleaning would be reduced due to budget cutbacks (News Briefs: "Sweep Stakes," Sept. 11, 2003). Apparently, though, you can't stop a sweeper; Public Works Assistant Director Rob Kaczorowski says his department is actually hitting more streets than last year.
Before you celebrate or excoriate, know that the trade-off has been to cut sweeper passes on other residential streets, mainly by reducing some weekly cleanings to twice monthly. Business districts still see the big square scrubbers once a week, and citywide mileage on those beasts is about the same as last year, more than 37,000 miles annually.
While the city sold four sweepers and reduced its budget (by not filling three vacant sweeper jobs), no one was laid off. But the twice-monthly schedule -- say, the first and third Thursdays for one side and the first and third Wednesday for the other side of your block -- has even city councilors like Doug Shields perplexed. "Now everybody's confused about what days they're coming," he says.
"It's a little confusing. OK, it's a lot confusing," admits parking enforcement Director Judy DeVito. "My officers carry calendars."
If you go on vacation, believe it or not, you can call ahead (412-560-2534 or 412-560-2255) and DeVito's people will tell the officer not to hit you with a ticket while you're gone. Windshield notes will hold no sway. "People put notes on the car and soon as we pass they drive away," DeVito says.
Sweeping still adds to the city's gross receipts. Last fiscal year, the city wrote 59,006 street-cleaning tickets, just under 20 percent of all parking tickets. If all of them were paid, the city would get $885,000, which is $500,000 more than sweeper wages.
This year, though, collections are down somewhat, DeVito says.
Confusing schedule or no, Councilor Shields isn't sympathetic to sweeper scofflaws. Keeping garbage out of the storm sewers, he says, is good for the environment: "So we can have clean beautiful rivers were the eagle can swoop in and grab the tuna."
Meanwhile, the other important duties of Public Works employees continue to demand the attention of fewer employees. It's Public Works, Kaczorowski points out, that makes it possible for the more glamorous police and fire crews to respond via well-maintained streets.
"Public Works is vital to the government body," he says. It is, he concludes, "a vital organ."
"We're not the heart maybe, but maybe it's like we're the liver."