In my last installment, I wrote about some of the pedestrian elements of having a tree cover and usable sidewalks. Today we’re going to talk some about parking, various City street maintenance functions, and how to knit all of it together into a functional policy.
One of the services that the City has brought back in the past few years is street sweeping. At some point in the 2000-2010 time frame, the City just didn’t have the resources to clear out the gutters. Technically, the property owners have the responsibility to keep them clear. During that time that street sweeping wasn’t a thing, Detroiters would hear from the City that it was our responsibility to clear out the gutters, and, legally, they were right. What they were neglecting to mention, however, was that they, as the owners of 92,000 parcels in Detroit, they should have just done it. I digress.
But street, sweeping is back, and that’s a good thing. In speaking with the Street Maintenance Division in the Department of Public Works, I’ve learned that the total amount of waste removed has leveled off. Like many initial deployments of added services, there was a lot of learning in that process. And that initial deployment had wins and setbacks. In any maintenance practice, if you don’t do it for years, just trying to do it like you’ve been doing it all along does not work.
In this instance, the City should have gone through each block of the City and scooped it out with a skid steer to begin with. After years of not doing street sweeping, lots of debris accumulated. So much, in fact, that it was an amount that you can’t just run a sweeper through, and pick it up. It needs to be scraped down to the pavement. Because, right now, DPW’s street maintenance division is going over years of matted dirt, decayed organic materials. So, to recap, street sweeping is good, it just needs to be done differently.
One of the other challenges with street maintenance is how we park. Street parking is going to be increasingly challenged in the coming years in Detroit. When you have neighborhoods that have had demolition, depopulation and blight, you lose residents. Parking wasn’t an issue in that time frame. Now it is. With neighborhoods gaining in development and population, competition for street parking is becoming more intense. More people, more cars, more demand, same amount of space. Supply and demand. You get the drill.
There is a way to combat this. It’s called residentially zoned parking. And it’s being considered in Detroit. Other cities have it, and it goes something like this. If you live on a certain block, you get a permit to park there. You can get permits for guests for street parking. It’s essentially rationing parking on a preferential basis for residents.
In the past, I’ve written about alleys here and here. In order to give residents another venue for parking, alley restoration gives motorists access back to their detached garages in the back, in many instances accessible only by alleys. There’s a lot of neighborhoods in Detroit that were so densely constructed that there’s no actual driveways. Restoring alley access is like release valve on the increasing parking pressure.
One intervention that we’ll probably begin to need to make in order to effect residential street cleaning and garbage pick up is to embrace alternate side parking on certain days. Meaning, look at the picture above. How would you conceivably run a street sweeper through that block? Or how could you pick up garbage cans? Or how could you get an ambulance or fire truck or police car over to a 911 call? The fact of the matter is that you can’t. And that in order to relieve some of these pressures, for many of the residential streets in Detroit, you are going to have to come up with plan to restrict parking to one side of the street, and alternate which side it is depending on the needs of trash pickup, street sweeping and first responder routes. That’s going to be very unpopular, but it’s going to be very, very necessary.
We have a Municipal Parking Department. The director was Norm White. I never met him, wasn’t able to ever get a return phone call or email from him. He left for New Orleans a while back, and I can’t find out who the new director is. This is an opportunity for the City to put together a plan to begin integrating some of these residential parking and transportation concerns. As of now, there may be work going on with respect to this. I’m not aware of it, but perchance to dream. Next up: traffic flows, traffic calming and getting rid of one way streets.