D.C. issued 86,000 street sweeping tickets in 2017 — a total of $3.8 million — plus late fees and additional charges when cars were towed. So WAMU took a deeper dive into the issue by asking: does street sweeping really do anything? Is it really just for the ticket revenue?

Not Just Aesthetics

A map from 1880 shows many downtown streets were swept weekly, while Pennsylvania Avenue was swept every day. Back then, the streets were filled with horse manure, but these days, it’s about getting trash off the streets. It’s working, according to the District Department of Public Works, which swept up 4,361 tons of waste last year - enough to fill 159 tractor trailers. After the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, people started thinking about how street sweeping could help clean up waterways. The Anacostia River has so much trash, the Environmental Protection Agency has declared it in violation of the Clean Water Act. Jurisdictions in the watershed are on a “pollution diet,” and must show the EPA they’re making progress towards reducing trash. Starting at the top of the waste chain, “We can think about using compostable products, or even reusable products, or choosing not to use a product, “says Laura Cattel Noll from the Alice Ferguson Foundation

Tire Wear, Oil Leaks and Exhaust

Trash isn’t the only pollutant on the road. The D.C. Department of Environment estimates street sweeping keeps almost nine tons of sediment out of waterways each year — enough to fill a large dumpster. Sediment is one of the main pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed ,which Neely Law, with the Center for Watershed Protection, says isn’t just harmless dirt. “We’re finding not just dirt in street, but a lot of other contaminants, including toxins. In addition, Much of the bad stuff on roadways comes from cars, such asTire wear leaky oil spills, nitrogen, and other chemicals from car exhaust settling on the pavement.

Why Don’t The Suburbs Sweep?

They do! Just not as aggressively as the District. “In urban jurisdictions, street sweeping is rewarded as a very efficient and effective way,” says Adam Ortiz, director of the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment,. In D.C., though, officials say ticketing is necessary. There are about 15 street sweepers roaming city streets day and night, with about 30 city workers assigned to the task. William Houston, a sweeper operator for the past 16 years, says the hardest part of the job maneuvering around cars parked in the way of his sweeper. “We have a lot of people who just say they don’t want to move their cars.“ Christopher Shorter, director of the D.C. Department of Public Works, says what works in Arlington wouldn’t work in the city, since “D.C. is a much more densely populated area, so we face different challenges when it comes to parking and curbside management. We would not be able to have a successful program if cars were still parked on the street. It would be very difficult for us to get around a whole block full of vehicles.”

But Isn’t It Really About the Ticket Revenue?

To answer the question about revenue: last year, although the city wrote a lot of tickets ($3.8 million worth) the sweeping program cost much more ($4.8 million). So not exactly a great way to make money.