Test starting in April tows only repeat offenders for being in the way of monthly street cleanings
Cars in the way of crews on street-cleaning days in Cambridge this spring will now be ticketed $50 for the first two offenses instead of towed immediately. The City Council asked for a plan in December and accepted one Monday from staff saying cars will be towed on a third offense.
Street cleaning, which runs from April through December, occurs once a month on each street in Cambridge, weather permitting. Until this year, cars had to be moved off the side of the street being swept or risk being towed.
The measure follows years of complaints by residents about towing on street-cleaning days and how it can disproportionately pain families experiencing economic hardship, who are suddenly without their vehicles after a tow and must also pay to get them back. The pilot was researched and presented by the Department of Public Works.
“I mean, I love a good pilot. It sounds like this one is well researched and well thought out,” vice mayor Alanna Mallon said. “I did live in Charlestown for seven years. We did not tow, and the streets got clean. Nobody likes getting a $50 ticket, either.”
Councillors Paul Toner and Dennis Carlone were not convinced.
Toner was especially skeptical about how clean streets would get if residents don’t move their vehicles without the threat of towing. “We’re in a battle with rats. The dirt in the streets and curbs have to do with the rat population,” Toner said. Another reason street cleaning was important: “We do this is to prevent backup and flooding in our sewers and water system.”
Increased costs also concerned Toner. Additional cleaning around vehicles and in shoulders with leaf blowers or other tools could increase the $500,000 street cleaning budget by 10 percent to 20 percent – roughly $50,000 to $100,000, said Kathy Watkins, commissioner of Public Works. Cities such as neighboring Somerville sweep each side of a street twice a month, essentially cleaning a street four times a month. If Cambridge had to change to such a schedule to keep current levels of cleanliness, that could raise the budget by up to as much as an additional $500,000.
“The big challenges are really early in the season and late in the season, when you have a particularly large volume of leaves. We identified that as needing additional mechanical needs,” Watkins said.
Carlone expressed concern about using additional equipment such as electric leaf blowers to clean around unmoved vehicles and the noise they create. The effectiveness of electric leaf blowers – chosen for their lower environmental impact and noise impact – wasn’t yet known, Watkins said.
Finally, toner said he was concerned about impact on the local towing industry.
“We got at least one email from one of the tow companies saying that if they’re not going to have a towing program here in Cambridge, that’s probably going to put them out of business, or at least out of business in Cambridge,” he said. “One of the complaints is about having to get your car at the tow yard – well, I’d rather get my car at the tow yard in Cambridge than in the future have to go to Everett, Malden or Revere because there’s no tow companies left in Cambridge. We’re impacting local businesses. We’re impacting the workers for those local businesses.”
Less towing, fewer turns on red
Councilor Quinton Zondervan pointed out that towing contracts for the city expire in August, regardless of the street cleaning pilot, and will need to be renegotiated.
Towing contracts of about $700,000 are used for more than cars blocking street cleaners, Watkins said, including in snow emergencies or if people have a bad crash on a city street. “We would rebuild the contracts regardless of what happens with street cleaning,” Watkins said. A 10 percent fee on each tow comes back to the city, and Watkins said that companies under contract don’t get a guaranteed minimum number of tows.
In the end, Toner and Carlone, along with councillor Marc McGovern, were unconvinced and voted against the pilot. Councillor E. Denise Simmons voted present.
Mallon, Zondervan, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and councillor Patty Nolan voted “yes.”
“I am really thrilled the city is willing to try a new approach,” Nolan said. “It is really a sign of us being willing and showing that we want to learn from other cities’ innovative programs. I also recognize this could be challenging. Some residents [worry] streets wouldn’t be cleaned. I recognize that city staff and we don’t know.”
A midseason assessment of the pilot should be done, Nolan said.
Council also discussed how best to warn people of the change and of impending street cleanings. The schedule is posted online, and notifications are available; 15,000 people are signed up for automated street-sweeping alerts.
“I love getting them,” Nolan said. “I signed up. Everybody should be signed up.”
Although the council couldn’t agree on support for the street-cleaning program, a program to raise the number of no-turn-on-red intersections – an estimated 80 percent already have such signs posted – was welcomed unanimously Monday.
Councillor Toner got it right. Thank you.
What is going to happen is something this city doesn’t need… filthy streets.
The article says:”how it can disproportionately pain families experiencing economic hardship, who are suddenly without their vehicles after a tow and must also pay to get them back. ”
Why are we singling out certain groups? People have to stop playing the victimization card all the time, when something rational doesn’t fit their desire.
Move your cars and you won’t be towed. Is that so difficult? Some of us want clean streets. If cars are in the way, streets will not be cleaned properly.
Councillor Mallon, what you are proposing is just not logical. Cars hinder the cleaning of streets. It’s a fact, not fantasy.
Only 50$? This is great, I’ll just leave my other car on the street while I’m in the Berkshires all summer!! Thank you councilors, only 1$ a day to park the whole summer long! Maybe I’ll rent my driveway out to zipcar and take in a profit!
The Council voted to accept the report at the last meeting but I filed a policy order to continue our current policy of towing which will be discussed at the next meeting. Please reach out to your councillors to express your opinion on the towing issue.
Exactly q99…My god dumb and dumber running this place.
Cambridge Mass where woke went broke!
Cambridge Mass so progressive we turned regressive!
I mean you can’t make this up. And at a time rats are at an all time high!!
Yes people will just leave cars all around, pay the fine and not have a care in the world. The adults besides seems Toner are not in charge. Shocker lmao.
Watkins and O’Riorden showed an amazing amount of restraint. If I were a betting man I’d say that 20% cost increase is more likely to be 50% or greater. I’m also not sure how folks will take to a small militia of leaf blowers hitting the streets or where the DPW will find the people to do the work. The council seemed more interested to know whether the blowers were electric rather than being concerned about the impracticality and disruption they’d cause. Kudos again to Watkins for sticking to her guns as it is more than likely that the leaf blowers will need more power to push heavy debris out of catch basins and will likely be gas powered and loud. It’s odd that sometimes we are asked to act as one city working for all and then in instances like this we break something that isn’t broken in the name of equity.
Mr Toner it is widely recognized you are the only serious adult on the council. To reach out to the other “city councilors” ummm for real? Seriously?
The other “councilors” are so misguided to propose and try to implement this mess. It’s akin to speaking with the school committee as to why half the city’s children can’t read proficiently in 2023…
Thank you for bringing reason to the discussion – you must feel like one person trying to stop a dam break. Good luck!
Cycle/walk/scooter/drive down garden st if you want to see what you are up against!
Councillor Toner, Carlone and I voted against this plan. It’s going to lead to unclean streets. The City also said that they will use leaf blowers to clean around parked cars. That will be fun at 8 am.
I will admit that I have been towed for street cleaning before, so I understand how it can happen, but you have to ignore the street sign, ignore the truck telling you to move your car, you can sign up for text messages, you can put it on your calendar. You kind of have to try hard to be towed. This is a solution in search of a problem.
Marc, if you’ve lived in Cambridge with a car for more than 10yrs which we both and most have we’ve all been towed at least once. Yes it’s a terrible experience but something most of us have in common.
I’m thrilled to see you are still making sensible decisions for the citizens of Cambridge. Yes my goodness adding leaf blower crews to keep the city streets clean – wow can’t make it up.
A Sincere Thank you!
Folks, it is a *pilot*! There is zero chance it will lead to less clean streets because our excellent city staff would never allow that to happen. If the pilot doesn’t allow them to clean the streets sufficiently they will go back to towing. How can we learn new things without trying them out? We live in the city of science and innovation, yet even a simple experiment like this gets shouted at because people somehow already know the answer? Anyway the manager is fully authorized to do this, and he will. Hopefully it works! Imagine the reduction in inconvenience, expense and wasted energy. Why on Earth would anyone root against it?
You said;”Hopefully it works! Imagine the reduction in inconvenience, expense and wasted energy. Why on Earth would anyone root against it?”
We’re not rooting against it. If the streets can be cleaned if there are no cars on them, why would you want to change the system? Hope is not a
Below is what I said in my first post. Please stop treating certain people in a way that harms others. I thought you wanted all residents of Cambridge to be treated fairly and equally.
What does disproportionately paining families
experiencing economic hardship economic hardship have to do with the ability to move a car to the side of the street where street cleaning is not done that day? If residents live in Cambridge, shouldn’t they want clean streets? Perhaps you don’t believe that should be the norm, but most of us do.
“The article says:”how it can disproportionately pain families experiencing economic hardship, who are suddenly without their vehicles after a tow and must also pay to get them back. ”
Why are we singling out certain groups? People have to stop playing the victimization card all the time, when something rational doesn’t fit their desire.”
I’m not sure which takes the cake:
A. Plastic pylons with red war paint (that is eating up the pavement) “roads for all” design
B.People with leave blowers cleaning the streets
C. 47% of children can’t read proficiently grades 3-8
D. All the pot shops
E. Level up math (aka remove algebra) in the middles schools
So when the obvious happens and citizens rightly start complaining of clogged drains, rats booming, noise from the leaf blowers then we can:
Give the workers rakes to rake it all or long extension cords for electric leaf blowers or maybe the fire dept can ride around and hose underneath all the cars? I mean why not try it!? give it a chance, geez people. My goodness Quinton.
“How can we learn new things without trying them out?”
I’d argue we do not need to break that which is not broken. Trying something out just to see what happens isn’t fiscally responsible or an example of leadership.
“We live in the city of science and innovation, yet even a simple experiment like this gets shouted at because people somehow already know the answer?”
I agree that this is a place of “science and innovation” please tell me what is innovative about this policy? The increase in cost and use of leaf blowers sounds more disruptive than innovative. There seems to be a lot more waste in paying the additional costs, a burden we all shoulder, and further waste is the usage of leaf blowers to address a a problem of individual responsibility. Also I cannot agree more that Cambridge is a place of innovation and science … why are you trying to ban labs?
This “Pilot” will cause dirtier streets (and more rats), more noise, more greenhouse gas emissions, and increase costs. This sounds like a lose, lose, lose, lose proposition to everyone except those who do not pay attention to city regulations. This will not be a net positive result for the city or our world.