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New York City’s streets are notoriously dirty — but a car-oriented initiative by Mayor de Blasio during the pandemic allowed even more filth to pile up, with much of it winding up in sewer drains as the remnants of Hurricane Ida left swaths the five boroughs underwater.
De Blasio in March 2020 slashed the city’s alternate side parking rules, requiring motorists to move their cars once a week instead of twice to make way for street sweepers. He likened the move as an olive branch to New Yorkers who were asked to stay inside during the darkest days of the pandemic.
But nearly 18 months later, the reduction remains in place. Streets are cleaned half as often as before the pandemic — and many notice more loose trash and dirt in their neighborhoods.
“Our streets are much less clean now,” said Howard Yaruss, transportation chair of Community Board 7 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “I’m not speaking for the community board, but the way NYC maintains its prominence is through great public space, and there’s a decision to not keep it as clean as it used to be.”
While Ida walloped New York, many of the city’s 153,000 catch basins became clogged. In some cases locals were forced to run out and clear them to keep their blocks from flooding. Those drains are managed by the city Department of Environmental Protection, which dispatched crews to inspect and clear them as the storm approached.
But clearing those drains didn’t keep trash on the streets from clogging them up.
City Department of Sanitation spokesman Joshua Goodman said crews use mechanical brooms to clear out the catch basins — but said New Yorkers are also asked to volunteer for dirty work.
“Even on days where alternate side parking is suspended... we send our DSNY mechanical brooms out to help, and ask residents who have one in front of their home to clean them if they are able to, as well,” said Goodman. “We have been hard at work balancing the need to clean the streets regularly with the need to keep New Yorkers from having to repeatedly move their cars during the pandemic.”
Jon Orcutt, advocacy director at the nonprofit Bike New York, said the city’s lack of enforcement around alternate side parking rules has made street sweeping less effective — and streets trashier.
“There’s been an overall abdication on parking enforcement. People treat it like a joke,” said Orcutt, who was policy director at the city Department of Transportation under Mayor Mike Bloomberg. “They’re sweeping the ground where there’s no trash because nobody’s moving their car. There’s a general knowledge the city is barely enforcing or ticketing.”
Representatives from the city DOT, which manages alternate side parking rules, declined to say when the old regulations on parked cars would return.