Denizens of Russian Hill made a choice almost 40 years ago to sacrifice well-swept streets in exchange for hassle-free parking. And they still don't have to move their cars on street-sweeping days, but things are kind of a mess and some residents are trying to reverse course, all these years later.
Once upon a time, San Francisco's streets were swept by hand, block by block, by some long-suffering employees of the Department of Public Works (DPW). That all ended in 1985, when city residents voted to introduce mechanical street sweepers citywide — ushering in the era of alternate-side-of-the-street parking that most car owners have to contend with to this day.
Russian Hill residents, as the Chronicle explains, fought back, and an apparent majority of them won out, leading to the street-sweeping map you see below. That little square in the upper right part of the city is Russian Hill, where sweepers don't dare travel — Telegraph Hill has a similar exception. Residents of Russian Hill now say that the hand-sweeping that's supposed to happen instead doesn't happen often enough, and there's a ton of leaves and debris collecting around the tires of cars that don't have to re-park once a week.
"Even with a broom trying to sweep here and underneath the stuff, you know, it just all accumulates," says resident Phoebe Douglass, speaking to KPIX. Douglass is among a group of Russian Hill neighbors now working on a signature drive to get mechanical street sweeping into the neighborhood for the first time.
That signature drive was a demand of Public Works, which says, essentially, the neighborhood made its bed back in 1985 and they have to lie in it until they demonstrate a critical mass of support for the change.
"We don't have the resources right now to have a regular route [in Russian Hill]," says DPW spokesperson Rachel Gordon, speaking to KPIX, "but we are actively looking at doing that, particularly in the high-need areas, perhaps the Hyde Street Corridor where there are a lot of businesses and a lot of trees that are dropping leaves."
Gordon says the signature drive is the first step.
Barbara Bella, another neighbor working on the signature drive who moved to Russian Hill from New York in 1980, tells the Chronicle that signature gathering has been "a fool's errand."
"I myself worked on getting signatures six months back for Hyde between Greenwich and Union, but was met with all sorts of obstacles, such as no access to apartment buildings, difficulty finding people home, people moving in and out the neighborhood and, every so often, a hostile interaction," Bella tells the paper.
Bella also works with a group to hand-clean the 12-block-by-12-block neighborhood, working on a specific section each month with pickers and trash bags.
"It’s just endless. It’s impossible to keep up," says one of Bella's cohorts, Susan Gage, speaking to the Chronicle.
Will the shunned street-sweepers ever come to Hyde Street and the surrounding area? That could take years, and as Gordon tells the Chronicle, it will require the city to buy another sweeper truck, install all the necessary parking signage, and hire more staff. So, good luck, Russian Hill.
Top image via SF Department of Public Works