The Chirp

Street Sweeping


So you may have heard the news. This past February, my car received a street sweeping ticket while parked in my neighborhood in Harrisburg, PA. The thing was, street sweeping was paused for the winter by Capital Region Water, who performs the sweeping. Despite this, Harrisburg Parking Enforcement continues to issue $30 tickets over the winter even though street sweeping is paused due to winter conditions.

As you could imagine, I was not happy to receive a street sweeping ticket under these circumstances. I decided to not pay the ticket and go to court to fight it on principal. This past spring, I had my date in court and I won. My saga was amusingly chronicled in this must read story from the June 2019 issue of TheBurg. My argument was simple: my ticket said STREET CLEANING, suggesting my vehicle obstructed this critical city service, but street sweeping was not actually performed, therefore my car was not guilty of said infraction. The wise Honorable Barbara Pianka agreed with me and I thank her for the fair judgement.

My evidence in court, a screenshot of Capital Region Water's news page

My story does not end there. While I won the court case and had my street sweeping ticket dismissed, I still find the citywide policy of issuing street sweeping tickets while no actual cleaning service is rendered to be unfair and, in some instances, dangerous. To me, this practice violates the social contract between government and the people they serve. It fundamentally irks me to my core. So for me, I have decided to fight the only way I know how: using data and reason to sway public opinion and change the policy within the city of Harrisburg. I know I am not the only concerned citizen. In fact, Philadelphia has recently grappled with absentee sweeping and heavy enforcement leading to disgruntled citizens as well. In western PA, Pittsburgh has a more rational approach to street cleaning and doesn't enforce street cleaning from the end of November to April. This is a smart and safe policy that the city of Harrisburg should consider adopting.

A Pittsburgh Street Sweeping Sign

Shortly after I was vindicated by the court system, I filed a Right-to-Know request with both the Harrisburg Office of Parking Enforcement and SP+ Municipal Services for 15 months' worth of street cleaning enforcement data. Interesting fact: both the city and SP+ (Park Harrisburg) enforce street sweeping in different parts of the city. I requested ticket data for all twelve months of 2018 and the first 3 months of 2019 to hopefully provide a comprehensive understanding of parking enforcement in the city. SP+ gave me the runaround and did not grant my request, but the city did comply with the Right-to-Know request.

This past summer I received 15 months' worth of street sweeping enforcement data, telling me the date and the block where each ticket was issued by Harrisburg Parking Enforcement. In total, over 18,000 tickets were issued over the 15 month period from January 2018 thru March 2019.

To begin my data analysis, I wanted to take a closer look at street sweeping tickets issued during the street sweeping pause. Specifically, I wanted to know where, when, and how many tickets were issued from January 1 to March 8 (the timeframe when CRW was not performing street sweeping, as stated on their website). During this 10-week window, Harrisburg Parking Enforcement issued 3,519 street sweeping tickets. At $30 per ticket, that would generate over $105,000 if they were all paid on time. If the ticket is not paid in 4 business days, the fine increases to $50. The below map shows where tickets were issued during the winter street sweeping pause.

View the full Interactive Map to explore this map and all of the data

During the 2019 winter street sweeping pause, the top 2 most ticketed blocks were the parallel blocks of 1900 Chestnut Street and 1900 Bellvue Road with 49 and 43 tickets per block respectively. Old Uptown was also highly ticketed neighborhood along 2nd, Green, Peffer, and Muench Streets. View the interactive map I made to explore the details.

Both of these neighborhoods have designated street cleaning on the 2nd & 4th Thursday & Friday of each month between 8am-12pm, as seen in the street sweeping schedule map. If the parking enforcement data during the winter sweeping pause is presented as a calendar, you’ll notice that the 2nd & 4th Thursday & Friday experience the bulk of tickets. When I received my ticket on Thursday, February 28th, I was one of 186 tickets issued that day by Harrisburg Parking Enforcement. Breaking down tickets issued by day of the week, Thursdays experience the highest volume of tickets. Thursdays, when compared to Tuesdays or Wednesdays, experience about 3 tickets issued for every 1 ticket on those days.

I am not sure why neighborhoods with the designated sweeping schedule on the 2nd & 4th Thursday & Friday from 8am-12pm experience the greatest number of tickets issued. It may be the early morning start of 8am, before people wake up or depart for work. Part of it may also be neighborhood residential density, car ownership, number of street parking spaces, or business locations nearby. In reviewing recent Census estimates, Harrisburg has approximately 20,000 vehicles amongst the 50,000 people who live here. Over the 15-month full dataset, the 200 block of Muench Street had a whopping 210 tickets issued, taking home the title as the most ticketed block in the city. A popular neighborhood coffee shop just happens to be located right in the middle of the 200 block of Muench Street and is visited heavily from 8am-12pm.

Next up, I wanted to take a look at the full 15 month dataset. As mentioned, I had all of 2018 and the first 3 months of 2019. Looking at tickets issued per month, The first 3 months of 2019 saw over 2.5 times as many tickets issued as that same time period in 2018. This finding was very shocking to me and I am curious to know if this trend continued over the spring and summer of 2019.

The month-to-month trend in 2018 included an uptick during the warm months, as I would expect because these are the months with the most active street cleaning. The ticketing peak was June of 2018 with 2,152 tickets issued and the low was January 2018 with 430 tickets issued. Visit the interactive map, and toggle the Show Full Dataset button to see all of the 15 months mapped.

The top 5 blocks with the most street sweeping tickets issued by Harrisburg Parking Enforcement
  1. 200 Muench Street - 210
  2. 2000 Green Street - 176
  3. 1800 N. 2nd Street - 168
  4. 1900 Chestnut Street - 159
  5. 1900 N. 2nd Street - 142

After analyzing the data, I’d like to make an appeal to Harrisburg’s political leaders, including Mayor Papenfuse and City Council. My request is simple: please cancel street sweeping enforcement over the winter months when Capital Region Water pauses their sweeping. This will require minimal coordination and could be accomplished with an agreed upon timeframe.

I expect a counter argument might be that you use that time to remove snow along street curbs or conduct other work. I call foul, as I have never observed it or heard of it happening. In the event of a snow emergency, the city announces a timeline for residents to move vehicles. The real reason the city has been enforcing street sweeping without providing the service is money. It is the $105,000 in revenue generated over 10 weeks during this winter's sweeping pause and contracts with SP+ to help pay down the city's debts. The city and SP+ are using street sweeping to make easy money off of forgetful residents and that is not right.

Sometimes it is more than being forgetful, it is dangerous. Tickets can still be issued on days with snow or ice. I know because of another ticket I received in 2017. The officer dug through 6 inches of fresh overnight snow to place a ticket under the wiper blade of my car. Harrisburg schools were canceled that day, but street sweeping enforcement was not. This is a safety issue too.

Please do the right thing and stopping street sweeping enforcement over the winter. Please honor the social contract between government and the people.