Montrose District’s Street Sweeping Program Celebrates Its Fourth Year
Dr. Randy Mitchmore, the owner of LifeSmiles Dentistry on West Alabama, was tired of Montrose’s dirty streets. Tired of having to steer his bicycle around pieces of debris while riding through the neighborhood. Tired of dirt so thick along the curbs that weeds had taken root. Tired of the streets’ general look of neglect. But when he complained to City Hall, he learned, to his amazement, that the City of Houston doesn’t conduct street sweeping.
“They don’t even own a street sweeper,” Mitchmore said. “It’s just incredible.”
Mitchmore decided that if the city wouldn’t clean up Montrose’s streets, the community would have to do it on its own. As the vice chairman of the Montrose District, he helped launch an ambitious street sweeping initiative in 2012. The Montrose District contracted with Waste Partners Environmental (aka Mr. Dirt) to provide weekly sweeps of the neighborhood’s major thoroughfares, including Westheimer, West Alabama, Richmond, and Waugh/Commonwealth.
On its first full sweep of Montrose, Mr. Dirt’s sweeper trucks collected an astonishing 92 cubic yards of trash. “It’s remarkable the change since we’ve started doing it,” Mitchmore said. “They kept giving us the statistics on how many tons of debris they would haul off, and it was staggering. They’re doing a great job.”
Mitchmore said that cleaner streets make the neighborhood more attractive to businesses and residents. “We want to look vibrant, we want to look like we have pride in our neighborhood,” he said. But the benefits extend beyond aesthetics—clearing debris allows better drainage during major rain events like the one last week. And it has a less tangible effect as well: discouraging crime and vandalism.
“I’m of the philosophy that if there’s litter and garbage on the streets, the neighborhood not only looks dirty and run-down, but it also begets more litter and crime,” he said. “People think twice about vandalism if it’s a nice community. If it’s a neighborhood that looks bad, they don’t worry about trashing it more.” (The Montrose District also has a highly successful graffiti abatement program—businesses or residents can report graffiti at this link, or read past graffiti abatement reports here.)
In a sense, the street sweeping program has become a victim of its own success. Because Montrose community members have become so accustomed to clean streets, some of them have complained to Mitchmore that the sweeper trucks (which come through on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) don’t seem to be doing anything; that they’re just moving the dirt around rather than picking it up. This misperception may stem from the fact that Mr. Dirt’s trucks always make two passes, one to sweep dirt and debris from the curb into the street, and the second to actually pick up that dirt and debris. Each week the trucks remove approximately 15 cubic yards of dirt from Montrose’s streets and deposit it in the company’s main yard.
Another common question Mitchmore hears: Why don’t the street sweepers work at night, when there are fewer cars on the road? The answer is safety—Mr. Dirt doesn’t want its drivers working in poor visibility, when there’s a greater chance of accidents. Instead, street sweeps are generally conducted in the early afternoon to avoid the morning and evening rush hours.
As for the program’s effectiveness, Mitchmore said there’s an easy way to see the difference between a swept street and an unswept street: “If you drive down West Alabama and cross Shepherd, where the district line stops, you’ll see dirt and weeds in the gutter, even though that’s River Oaks. You can actually see the difference when you get outside the district.”
Of course, there’s a limit to what weekly street sweeping can do—it can’t repair potholes or repave crumbling asphalt. “We don’t have the money to fix all the broken streets, but we can at least have clean streets,” Mitchmore said. “My momma always told me, you might not always have money to buy new clothes, but you can at least buy soap.”