One of the important duties of a city's Department of Public Works is to maintain the cleanliness of city streets. In most U.S. (and some European) cities, this involves a detailed schedule which covers both sides of every street in the city. At the specified hour, a steet cleaning machine (sometimes called a street sweeper) sweeps and vacuums up refuse and sometimes lays down a disinfectant solution as it passes.

Cleaning a city's streets is Herculean task: take the moderately sized city of Cambridge, MA: 925 curb miles are cleaned each month (excluding winter), collecting, over the course of a year, 5,000 tons of garbage. If your city looks clean, at least part of the credit is due to the DPW for its work and coordination.

Aside from the benefits of cleanliness, street cleaning affects us in two ways:

  • A moment's joy whenever we see one of the ridiculous oversized Zamboni-like contraptions sweeping up plastic bags from the street, clumsily rounding a corner.
  • The persistent, maddening irritation of having to move your car. In Brooklyn, as in most of New York City, each side of every street is cleaned twice a week. In our neighborhood one side is cleaned Monday and Thursday, the other side is cleaned Tuesday and Friday. We don't use the car that often, but thanks to the zeal of the street cleaners, we need to move the car at least four times a week. Of couse, if we wait too long, the "safe" side of the street may be taken, and we may have to park half a mile away. Somehow the city still looks like a dump. Sigh.
Source for City of Cambridge stats: