Local Street Sweeping Service Slows to a Crawl

The creek-friendly effort sees a staffing shortage

An unswept Austin street (Photo by John Anderson)

After suspending residential street sweeping in February and then operating on a limited basis since March, the city of Austin recently acknowledged that, though it increased sweeping of major streets two years ago, it has also lowered expectations for how many times a year residential streets will be swept.

Street sweeping doesn't just keep roads free of debris and litter – it's designed to prevent automotive fluids and other contaminants from polluting Austin's creeks and waterways, said Austin Resource Recovery spokesperson Paul Bestgen.

To achieve that, ARR, the city department charged with street sweeping, previously cleaned each residential street six times a year. ARR will now clean residential streets "up to" six times a year, according to Bestgen. Five months into 2023, most Austin streets have only gotten a single sweep. Residential sweeping schedules are based on City Council districts, and despite Districts 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 having only been swept once so far in 2023, ARR estimates it will sweep all residential streets three times by the end of this fiscal year (in September). Meanwhile, major streets, along with protected bike lanes, will be swept twice a month, up from the previous once a month.

"The last few years we have had challenges with staffing levels across the department," Bestgen explained, "which has required us to sometimes shift our resources to core services like trash, recycling, and composting collection."

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends municipalities increase the efficiency of street sweeping programs by "creating (and following) a schedule." Although it took only nine days to clean District 8 in ARR's previous schedule, D8 was scheduled for two months of cleaning in February and March of this year. As Bestgen explained it, ARR projected sweeping would take longer because of Spring Festival Sea­son (which lasts 10 days) and the resulting limited staffing available during that time. ARR's previous schedule indicated that crews swept each district for an average of eight days – the lowest being five days and the highest being 16 days. "There are times in the year where there is more road debris, such as leaves in the spring, or other staffing commitments during events, which can increase the time it takes to sweep an area," Bestgen added.

Austin residents can call 311 to make service requests for streets that need cleaning. See street sweeping service maps and schedules at austintexas.gov/streetsweeping.

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Austin Resource Recovery, storm water, street sweeping, Paul Bestgen

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