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In North End, a drive against trash

Street sweeping to be extended throughout year

By David Abel
Globe Staff / October 2, 2010

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During the four months that street sweeping pauses for winter, the city accumulates mounds of dirt and junk, often making streets and sidewalks a dining room for hungry rodents.

The problem, perhaps, plagues the North End more than any other city neighborhood, given its high density of residents, the many restaurants, and the constant foot traffic from thousands of tourists.

To try to fight the build-up of trash and the glut of rats, city officials this week began posting notices throughout the community that they plan to begin a pilot program — the first of its kind in any Boston neighborhood — to extend street sweeping throughout the year.

The additional sweeping means more tickets and more towing of illegally parked cars, news that sparked mixed feelings in a neighborhood where parking is at a premium and meter maids often seem to be as abundant and wily as the rodents.

“That’s tough news to take,’’ said Al bie Figaratto, 58, who has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years and has spent that long fighting for parking. “The one consolation of winter, you could say, is that it’s easier to park. This is going to hurt the residents.’’

City officials said they are responding to complaints from residents, who last winter deluged City Hall with reports of rats and pictures of pizza boxes, cups, plates, and other refuse, which all too often freeze to the ground.

Joanne Massaro, commissioner of the Public Works Department, said the program will begin Dec. 1, when street sweeping normally stops until April 1. She said city officials plan to meet residents in the next few weeks and hang signs to make them aware of the change.

“The impetus for this was the neighborhood’s concern about cleanliness and rodents,’’ she said. “We don’t have many tools, but one is street sweeping. We thought we would try a year-round approach to see if that would help. We’ll see how it works.’’

She said the city will use its own staff and sweepers for the job, so it would not affect the budget. The department contracts the work out the rest of the year.

She said her staff will evaluate in the spring whether the program was successful and worth expanding to other neighborhoods.

Some residents see the additional street sweeping as a source of revenue for the city. (Tickets for illegally parking on street-sweeping days run $40, but the towing costs range from $110 to $150, depending on who tows the car.)

Massaro said the city is not looking at this as a money-making venture.

“It’s the last thing I’m thinking of,’’ she said. “No one has to get a ticket. It’s not like we’re going to surprise people. It’s not a revenue generator. This is about cleaning the streets.’’

She said there are difficulties in sweeping the streets in the winter, such as large snow banks along street curbs. She said there will be some days when the sweepers will not be able to do the job, and on those days, her department would e-mail residents who sign up on the city’s website to let them know they don’t have to move their cars.

Another complaint was that the city often tickets cars after street sweepers pass through. “That shouldn’t happen,’’ she said. “We have to coordinate that with the transportation department.’’

Neighborhood activists and representatives said they’re happy the city is taking action.

Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who represents the North End, said he understands residents’ parking-related frustrations.

“Parking is very difficult, but when people come home, they want clean streets,’’ he said. “And the problem is that for four months, the streets are filthy. I would like to see this expanded throughout the city, if it’s possible.’’

Naomi Paul, co-chairwoman of the North End Waterfront Residents Association’s Clean Streets initiative, described the wintertime litter as horrible.

“Should we be living in filth for the inconvenience of moving a car?’’ she asked. “I don’t think so. It’s the inconvenience of some for the betterment of everyone. There should be no difference in cleanliness if it’s January or it’s June. If we want a clean neighborhood, the cars have to be moved.’’

Along Hanover Street yesterday, residents wrestled with what was more important to them: clean streets or less stressful parking.

Guy Martignetti, 47, whose family has owned the Salumeria Italiana shop for 50 years, said he thought it seemed a tad “far fetched’’ to move sweepers through the neighborhood’s narrow streets after snowstorms. He would be content if the city plowed more regularly in the winter.

“It’s good that this is just a pilot program,’’ he said, noting he pays $800 a month for two parking spots in the neighborhood. “We’ll see what happens.’’

Joe Swankowski, 60, who has worked at Modern Pastry for the past five years, said he watches cars get towed all the time.

“It’s true that this place gets pretty nasty during the winter,’’ he said. “They’re going to make a lot of people unhappy here doing this, but you know, this place needs to be cleaned. It gets really dirty.’’

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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