Littered with debris

With city street sweepers on a winter hiatus, sidewalks and gutters throughout the Hub are becoming a gathering ground for trash

Email|Print| Text size + By Tania deLuzuriaga
Globe Staff / January 10, 2008

Like receding glaciers, the piles of snow that towered for a month along sidewalks and in gutters have now melted and revealed a treasure trove of artifacts. Walk the streets of Boston, and you can spot some: broken televisions, crushed bottles, decaying leaves, an orphaned sneaker, a soda crate.

"It's hideous; it's terrible," said Michael Drinan as he surveyed the pizza boxes and an empty case of Bud Light that sat on the sidewalk across the street from the house he is renovating for his parents in South Boston.

"When the snow melts, this is what's under it," said Valerie Kenneally of South Boston. "What really bothers me is that people leave their bags of dog poop all over the place like they think there's a poop fairy that's going to clean up after them."

The picture gets worse: With city street sweepers mothballed until spring, the plastic bags, tin cans, and egg cartons littering the streets can only multiply.

"All this trash is going to sit around until April," said Chico Rodriguez, 30, as he assessed the area around his Roxbury barbershop, "unless some good Samaritan comes by and cleans it up."

Rodriguez said he tries to sweep the expanse of sidewalk and gutter in front of his shop on Humboldt Avenue, but down the street, where businesses sit empty, flattened cigarette packs, broken plastic spoons, a trampled milk jug, and discarded latex gloves sat waiting for the sweeper.

"I'd rather see it get cleaned up than have the snow cover it," Rodriguez said. "It's still going to be there. We pay taxes to have the street cleaned."

Even in Beacon Hill, one of the most photographed neighborhoods in the city, the streets are pocked with Starbucks cups, Clif Bar wrappers, and orange peels.

"It's always worse this time of year; there's no question," said Rick Burnes, a longtime resident. "I've never quite understood why they stop cleaning in winter."

City workers regularly clean the streets from April through November, but during the winter months, the focus is on snow removal and pothole repair, said Dennis Royer, who heads the city's Public Works Department.

"The guys doing the street sweeps are also the guys driving the snow plows," he said.

Residents can get fined for not shoveling the snow off the sidewalks in front of their homes, but litter is a no-man's land of responsibility.

Private yards have to be kept within code, but it's no one's problem when plastic bags roll down the street like tumbleweeds or crushed soda cans, broken sticks, and wadded up newspapers cause street drains to back up.

"We appreciate any assistance we can get from residents," Royer said.

Although main streets are cleaned throughout the winter, parked cars make it difficult to get to residential neighborhoods, Royer said.

Especially filthy areas might have a special winter cleaning, but some streets will go four months without a visit from the street sweeper.

"When I lived in Paris, the streets were swept everyday," said Joe Massik of Beacon Hill. "I wish they did it here year-round."

While such cities as New York and Chicago manage to clean streets throughout the year, Boston is still trying to figure out the logistics, Royer said.

"It is a future consideration," he said. "We still have to work out the details. . . . There are cost considerations."

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