Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spring Takes its Lumps

Spring in Princeton, and though the flowers are slow to bloom, the first few warmish days have brought a bloom of little lumps of yardwaste out onto the streets. Spring can really hang you up the most, as the song goes, that is if you have some persistent notion that public streets should be attractive, or at least not a three season dumping ground for yarbage. That's my new term, conflating yardwaste and garbage. Trademark pending.

Remember those old movies where the shopkeeper is sweeping the sidewalk in front of his shop? It's almost as if people used to take pride in keeping the shared public space they fronted on clean.

Question: So what are these strange tracks in the street?
Answer: A street cleaner trying to clean streets that can't be cleaned because they're littered with yarbage.

Pick up of loose yarbage is once a month in the spring in our section of town. The next pickup for this particular street is three weeks from now, and already there are five or six little piles of leaves foiling the street cleaner's attempt at street cleaning. All of this violates the town ordinance, but to follow the ordinance, a homeowner would have to track down and closely inspect detailed instructions as to when to put yardwaste on the streets. There are five different zones in town, and each has its own individual 2-page long schedule. What these ill-timed piles are saying is that 1) people desire simple, consistent service like we have for trash and recycling collection, and 2) rather than follow directions, people tend to imitate whatever they see their neighbor doing.

So, two things aren't working here. One is the loose leaf/brush pickup, whose complex schedule homeowners show little interest in following. The other is the self-defeating nature of the current approach for both homeowners and municipal government. Homeowners sabotage the look of their tidy yard by messing up the street directly in front of it, and the perpetual presence of piles of yardwaste sabotage the street cleaner's mission.

It doesn't have to be this way. Princeton could be a leader in New Jersey in finding a solution to this widespread dilemma, and likely save hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

Question: What is that long white scar running the length of the block?
Answer: The mark left by the metal blade of The Claw that picks up all the loose yarbage.

But The Claw doesn't pick up all the organic debris, as is apparent in the photo. All that crud--residue from the dumping of yardwaste on the street--adds to the volume of stuff the small street cleaner has to pick up, thus causing the street cleaning machine to need to be emptied more often, thus slowing down the street cleaning. More manhours, more gas, all because loose organic yardwaste keeps getting dumped on the streets year-round. One can make the case for loose leaf pickup in the fall, but there's got to be a way to avoid having to look at messy, scarred pavement for the other nine months.

There is, in fact, a solution, one that will bring Princeton into a new era of clean streets while giving people the simplicity and consistent service they want. It's presented in a highly entertaining form here. And presented in an informative form here.

See beyond this mess and imagine. Though loose leaf pickup could continue in the fall, keep the streets clean the other nine months out of the year. Containerize, or compost, or both.

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