Call for alerts (and fewer tickets) on street sweeping

Neighborly reminder of street sweeping at Hearst and Milvia put up in April last year. Photo: D.H. Parks

If you own a car in Berkeley there’s a high chance you will have experienced the frustration of being ticketed, or even towed, for being parked in the wrong place at the wrong time on a street-sweeping day. Would a reminder, sent to you on your mobile phone, have prevented the mishap and saved you some money?

Councilmembers Jesse Arreguín and Gordon Wozniak think so. And they believe the city could take a pro-active role in sending such alerts to its citizens — or at the very least providing better information on street-sweeping and tow-away zones, as well as residential parking permit-only zones. They are taking their suggestions to City Council tonight.

“I get calls on a regular basis about this,” said councilmember Arreguín. “Signage is often not visible enough, or confusing, and the city could be providing more readily available information which would avoid unnecessary ticketing. It would save residents some money and save city resources.” Arreguín cites the “guerrilla” signs put up by helpful neighbors to warn of upcoming street sweeping as evidence of the need for better communication.

Arreguín said he would also like to see the city take this opportunity to become more tech-savvy and launch itself into social media. “Berkeley is behind the curve. It doesn’t use Twitter or have a Facebook page. This is one of many initiatives where we could use social media and technology,” he said. [See our March 2011 story Why doesn’t the city of Berkeley have a Facebook page?

City's street sweeping signs are not always visible, said councilmember Arreguín

Arreguín said he was inspired to propose the changes by reading an article in the Chronicle which reported on how San Francisco was looking into developing a smart phone app that could provide alerts for street sweeping days or other parking restrictions. He says he would like to see the city take advantage of its local technology resources by partnering with the Computer Science Department at UC Berkeley to develop such an app for Berkeley.

In their recommendation to the city, which is on tonight’s Consent Calendar, Arreguín and Wozniak say cities such as Denver and Boston, as well as San Francisco, are exploring or implementing methods such as email and phone app alerts, as well as online information resources.

The Plaza Drive in Berkeley’s Claremont neighborhood is one Berkeley street that has opted out of street sweeping entirely after its residents voted on the matter — perhaps out of frustration at having to remember to move cars — and submitted a request to the city. Arreguín said it’s not the only street in Berkeley to have done so. But he believes with the enhanced information he is proposing, this type of decision might be redundant in future.

Berkeley’s residential street sweeping schedule can be found on the city’s website.

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  • berkopinionator

    Perhaps the Berkeleyside could publish a column with a red hotzone map of daily streetsweeing streets.

  • Bruce Love

    Solution a – for people mainly worried about street sweeping on the street where they live or work:   If you have a smart phone, probably it has some kind of reminder system on it.  Go to the city’s web site and look up the street sweeping schedule.  Find the streets in question.  Set up some reminders on your phone.   Additionally, you can use any of a very large number of available — even free — calendar and reminder services.   Cost to taxpayers: $0.

    Solution b – for people who park on many, many different streets and for whom it isn’t practical to set up all those reminders:   Well, you’re in a tiny minority.  Download and save a copy of the street sweeping schedule for your convenience, in case you can’t find a sign.   Tape a neatly lettered reminder on your car dashboard to double check … “street sweeping?”   Cost to taxpayers: $0

    Solution Berkeley – make a lot of hype about social networking and 21st century magic hehaw can’t be behind Ess Eff in such critical matters let’s spend 5 or 6 figures of city budget on staff time and software development and / or software or software service acquisition while making the world safer for smart-phone-owning berkeley residents using general fund money.  Cost to taxpayers: at least 5 figures, possibly 6 by the time we’re done.

    Solution progressive – Hey, city IT staff…. you publish the geo-coded street sweeping data only in a machine-unfriendly PDF format;  what’ll it take to publish the raw data in a useful format?   Somebody might want to write a smart-phone app or similar that uses that stuff if you can make the data available.   Can you get it done in, like, a week or two?  Thanks.  Cost to tax payers: at most 5 figures, possibly 4 … partially offset by winding up with a sounder IT infrastructure (by an increment).

  • Bruce

    Creating an easy to use online resource with free tools would make a good project for students.

  • Bruce

    Sorry, I forgot a link to the download page on the city’s website.

    It would take a while, but putting this in Google Maps would be a start.

  • EBGuy

    Sigh… I just want to know when the street sweepers do their special ‘leaf runs’ in the fall…

  • Bradley Froehle

    I’m not terribly sympathetic to those who get the violations — the ability to park your car on the street for little to no cost is already a pretty amazing deal.  Nonetheless it is in the cities interest to have the cars cleared (so that the street sweeping is effective) so any sort of technology which works towards this goal would be a positive.

    I wonder if the city makes money on street sweeping like SF does:

  • Cost to taxpayers: at least 5 figures, possibly 6 by the time we’re done.

    Cost to tax payers: at most 5 figures, possibly 4 … partially offset
    by winding up with a sounder IT infrastructure (by an increment).

    Please show your math, Thomas.
    I’m interested in seeing the information you’re using to calculate those figures.

  • Back when I parked on the street I would watch out my window until the sweeper went past and then move my car tout de suite because I liked being able to park right in front of my house. Apparently this was civically uncool because even though I never blocked the sweeper I somehow managed to amass five or six tickets. Of course, Berkeley sent them to an old address where I hadn’t lived for years instead of DMV’s address of record for the vehicle or its driver so by the time I found out about that little scam I owed something like $600.

  • The signs list hours during which you can not park in the area.
    They do not say that you can park there as long as a street sweeper isn’t on the block.

    Just because you were unable to follow the posted rules regarding parking does not make the street sweeping system a “scam.”

  • I believe your interpretation of the sign flawed, as it clearly justifies the parking prohibition through the “street sweeping” postscript. It is reasonable to expect that once the sweeper has passed that parking is again allowed. Of course, this assumes that you believe the city should not knowingly abuse the letter of the law to, for example, increase revenues in an economically difficult time. It might also require parking enforcement to display basic judgment capability, such as evaluating whether the street sweeper has already passed, is it reasonable to expect it to return in the 15 minutes until the end of the prohibited window, etc.

    Given the scornful tone you adopt with my story I assume you would not support such a flexible interpretation of the law. In this case perhaps you would support the city setting wholly arbitrary parking hours on residential streets even without street sweeping. Just think of all the free revenue Berkeley can collect from dumbasses like me who can’t follow posted rules!

    As far as “scam” goes: I do in fact regard the city sending notices to stale addresses to be a scam, especially since the address in question was destroyed for renovation and undeliverable for and extended period of time.

  • Anonymous

    Revenue generation or not, the sign is clear:

    0:00 to 0:00”

    I don’t see a footnote that says “or until you think we’re finished.”

    The fact of the matter is, that entire block might as well be a red-curb zone for the listed hours.  Just because you think it shouldn’t apply to you after a certain period of time doesn’t mean the city is unjustified in enforcing its ordinances.

  • I love my iPhone and have many apps, but I’m not convinced there is enough of a positive ROI to develop a parking app for a city of less than 110,000 people.

    I do think that this issue is one that can more cheaply resolved by trimming city trees so that signs are visible and by posting signs more regularly so that people are clear about street sweeping days.

    Also, I’ve been doing something someone already suggested…for the past few years I’ve had a Yahoo calendar reminder that sends me an email the day before street sweeping and since I’ve had an iPhone, that alert also beeps at 0630 on the sweeping days so I can move my car if I didn’t take care of it the night before.

    I do recognize the power of Social Media for many things, but the city should face up to the fact that it has one of the worst web sites in the history of the WWW. It’s a confusing maze of outdated pages & is exceedingly difficult to navigate when you are trying to find something and haven’t already book marked the page from a previous search.

    It’s absurd for the city to take the leap into Social Media when it’s proven that it can’t master good information communication via its web site. Social Media and web sites have something in common with each other, which is — Garbage in, garbage out.

    If the city really wants to get it’s house in order to communicate properly (on this issue and others), it should:

    1. trim the trees away from important signs so they can be read
    2. Purchase modern enterprise content management (ECM) software to properly manage the city web site
    3. After the website is revamped & tested for user friendliness by residents, THEN Social Media can be examined.

    Since the city can’t effectively communicate with the same tools millions of people successfully use every day, it doesn’t make sense to waste taxpayer dollars to add more communication tools to the mix at this stage. Before spending money on new forms of communication, there should be a thorough examination of why the city can’t effectively communicate with the tools that is already has. Until that happens and solutions are put in place to correct the current dysfunction, new communication tools will exacerbate the problem rather than alleviate it.

  • Annie Painter

    In twenty years of Berkeley residency, I have never seen any visible improvement after the sweeper’s visits. The amount of water spewed is roughly one gallon per three feet, as far as I can tell, so the rotary brush only whisks dust into the air so it can resettle in a wider arc. And for what it’s worth, as a curtain-twitcher I often move my car to the prohibited side directly after the sweeper passes and — again in twenty years — I have never been ticketed for doing this. Finally, I’d estimate that my one block usually yields about 4 citations per sweeping day.

    Who do we call to opt out of this program?

  • No, the sign says “no parking time day street sweeping.” I’m not sure how you left out that last part since there’s even a picture of it in the article. Absent that, I absolutely understand I wouldn’t have anything to complain about. With it in place, I do in fact have a problem which is that the city says no parking for a purpose and then charges me hundreds of dollars for… not interfering with that purpose.

  • Anonymous

    Frankly, it doesn’t matter what “reason” the sign gives. It doesn’t say “or until street sweeping completed” it says flatly “No Parking”.  The sign doesn’t prohibit parking for and until an activity is complete, it prohibits parking during a set period of time and gives you a helpful hint as to why.

    Clearly we’re never going to agree on this, so it’s not worth arguing about. I would point out, though, that my interpretation is the one used by the city.  If you don’t like it, ask the city council to change the underlying ordinance.

  • Bruce Love

    Rules of thumb.   A small number of IT “staff-days” (meaning a few people, each a few hours)  gets you to low four figures in wages and benefits.   If the city winds up doing any additional non-trivial business transactions or other forms of contract — add another four figures staff time and purchase prices and we’re quickly and easily into 5 total.   If this thing gets way out of hand and now we’re going to have dedicated staff time fussing around with “social networks” we’re now pushing into the upper 5 figures in wages.  If they go looking for some “helpful” consultants and contractors or external suppliers to build out a complex system, now 6 figures come knocking (why, just look how much they spent coming up with a failed pools plan).

    Meanwhile, the link that other Bruce made to the city’s web site contains the PDF files of street sweeping schedules.   It’d sure be nice if city IT made that data reliably available in a nicer format — and that should be a tiny task — a few staff days.

    I really like Arreguin’s reaching out to external parties — such as Cal — to partner up here.  It’s just a question of cart before the horse.  That organizing could take place short of council approval using just what is there already.   Once it took off, council could endorse it and still not be on the hook for much taxpayer-funded work or purchases.

  • Why not simply admit that you’re guesstimating the costs, Tom?

    And if you’re going to guesstimate numbers like this, maybe next time you shouldn’t attack others (like Berkeley Accountable Schools) for doing the same?

  • Charles_Siegel

    As I understand it, street sweeping is required by federal law to reduce water pollution.  Though you don’t notice it, cars leave oil drips on the street.  Without street sweeping, those drips would be washed out to the bay when the first rain came.

  • You are free to interpret the law however you want.

    You’re the one who ends up with tickets to pay when you ignore the clearly posted times, not me.

  • Well Sharkey, that’s the main problem: I wasn’t actually able to pay those tickets because the city kept sending them to an address that wasn’t there, and at which my vehicle was no longer registered. Consequently, by the time I actually received a notice a year or so later, the fines had tripled in amount. From this I concluded that the city apparently doesn’t bother to reconcile with the state registration or update its books when the post office notifies them of a change in address, something even those dirtbags at Citibank can do.

    In fact, if I had had the option of just paying the base fee on the tickets I would’ve done so right away and probably forgotten about the whole thing. Unfortunately they also include a clever notice that after a certain amount of time you are no longer allowed to present an appeal. 

    This is a fantastic racket for the city.

  • Bill

    A “No Parking 9AM to 12 Noon” sign every 50 feet isn’t enough?  At least that’s what I see in the several blocks around my house here in the flats.  So will getting a text or e-mail help you remember?  Do you want the city to have all that information too?  

    One question, who cleans Plaza Drive or do they care?

  • Bruce Love

    Go find a better hobby.

  • In other cities I have lived in, cities simply declare a specific day for each block for street cleaning. Then, everyone knows exactly when they can’t park because it is a street  sweep time period. Whether the city actually sweeps or not wouldn’t matter:  if you know you can’t park from noon to four every Thursday, you just know that and you don’t park from noon to four on your block on Thursday, or on any block you regularly use, on the designated day. It should be easy to create a rhythmic system that is applied consistently to parking bans, while retaining flexibility to perhaps lower street cleaning costs by not always sending out a crew. Consistency with the rules would solve many uncertainties.

  • Bruce Love

    Actually, Berkeley works that way too.  The only difference is a “side of street” difference.  Each block (typically) has one side done one day, the other side done another day.   Like clockwork.  So, if Wed. is the day you can’t park in front of your house, at least you can park across the street if you can find a space.  (Probably other cities where you’ve lived have the side-of-street difference, too.)  It is already completely predictable.   It is a totally fake “issue”.  People could set their own alarms to remind themselves.   It is nevertheless kind of lame when/if the city tickets after the sweeping since they usually have a parking officer riding directly ahead of the sweeping.  Still, it is mystifying how this non-“issue” has now escalated to a proposal that the city take initiative to get into social networking and arrange to provide smart-phone apps.   It’s downright surreal in its absurdity.

    It’s good to send out the crews to actually clean the streets — not just to reserve the time slot in which street sweeping might happen.    In addition to the water quality issues Chucky mentioned, it also helps to keep the drainage system mostly kinda sorta almost working in spite of a huge backlog of needed maintenance and improvements postponed for no good reason while council squandered money on silliness, assuming that their sins would be covered if the pre-2008 market bubble would keep going for a lot longer than it did.     But I digress.

  • Robert

    I’ve always assumed that the city of Berkeley makes a profit on street sweeping, as well as on other forms of parking enforcement.  Unfortunately, the city doesn’t have a way to make a profit reducing more serious forms of crime.  Maybe the citizenry should rise up, and refuse to pay for parking tickets, but instead, offer bounties for the arrest and conviction of the property crime perps we read about in the  Police Blotter?

  • Jennysings

    Yeah, Plaza Drive’s got it together.  On our street,  Everyone usually remembers to move their cars (and we remind each other), but we haven’t actually seen a sweeper for months and months.

  • Resident

    How about getting some MIS students from the Cal School of Information on this? The nifty Transporter app, which tracks AC Transit, BART and MUNI, was a School of Info student project, so why not a parking/street sweeping alert app? 

  • Anonymous

    Mon/Wed or Tue/Thu sweeping (or whatever it was in NYC) was easier to remember than one morning or afternoon once a month if you travel around town. My guess is that many people have month calendars on their phone – that’s the only way for me to tell if it’s the Nth weekday of the month.

    I often use the parking space metric – if there are several spaces on one side of the street be sure to check the signs.

    Calendar alerts are easy to set up if you live on a street with sweeping.


  • John Holland

    A cheaper option would be for the city to take their spreadsheet and create .ics files for each individual street:

    Step 1. Look up your street.
    Step 2. Click on the .ics file
    Step 3. The event is added to your calendar, whether on your smart phone, or your computer.

    Here is an example for College Ave.

    What do people do if they can’t afford smart phones and computers though?

  • Sue

    What do people do who can’t afford smart phone or computer?  OR, they don’t trust their computer to not. crash and sometimes lose valuable info?  They go through their annual PAPER calendar and write STREET CLEANING on the first Monday of each month etc. Then when they look at their calendar like they do every day, they write a note and leave it on the dining room table, or wherever they will see it to be reminded on the day of said street cleaning.  Pretty high tech, huh?   Not for everyone, but it is free and the incentive is not getting one of those pesky tickets.

  • John Holland

    Agreed. I was just point out we don’t need a social media initiative for those with smart phones. We just need a simple file I created in less than 5 minutes.

  • Elmwooder

    Thankfully, our Bateman neighborhood association sends out street sweeping  reminders to all the members. Even so, I have occaionally forgotten to move my car.   I wouldn’t mind paying these tickets for my forgetfullness, if I thought the service was needed as frequently as the city performs it.  I would love to hear more information  about how many streets in Berkeley opt out, exactly what the # of annual street sweeps the federal mandate requires, how much we spend on streetsweeping, how much we collect in fines, and most importantly, whether streetsweeping itself, as practiced by these big expensive machines is indeed the best management practice for mitigating stormwater contamination.  

  • Bruce Love

    And about the only improvement I can think of for that is if the city IT staff  reliably made that file themselves, insuring it is up-to-date when it changes — and maybe have some systematic way of publishing those changes in an easy to notice way (like an RSS feed).    It’s a little flimsy if we have to “screen scrape” the data.  This would fall under the category “making the city’s web site more useful and keeping it reliably up-to-date”.   It’ll be more interesting if later this can be done for more than just street sweeping data.

  • Annie Painter

    Thank you, Charles. And now I’m also concerned that the money dedicated to this project is not best spent. I’d like someone actually to look at the amount of water those trucks put out — just sweeping dried engine oil around on the pavement isn’t going to help the run-off situation.

  • Annie Painter

    Oh! and another thing….in our neighborhood, at least, a good percentage of residents are forced to park on the street because driveways have become gardens and garages are studio apartments for visiting scholars. What if you want to leave the area for a couple of weeks, or a month, and leave your car parked on the street in front of your house? Weekly sweeping would mean four tickets, wouldn’t it? Two a month is bad enough!

  • Bruce Love

    Berkeley uses vacuum street sweepers:  They spray water and brush and vacuum.  So it isn’t just moving dust around — it’s pulling stuff off the streets.   These sweepers do pick up a lot of the stuff you don’t want in the storm run-off.

    Berkeley’s run-off water quality is measured and Berkeley is subject to federally mandated, state implemented standards.   Street sweeping is part of how Berkeley achieves compliance.  In coming years, the standards will be getting tougher.

  • Right back atcha, Thomas Lord. Right back atcha.

  • Interesting! I wonder, if you had updated your address with the US Post Office and if you had updated your vehicle registration, where was the City getting the old address from?

    And why were they mailing you tickets instead of putting them on your windshield?

  • Danmoja

    avoid street sweeping tickets.  Know when your street will get swept!

  • Here’s a google map that has the street cleaning information for Berkeley. Mobile apps will be available soon:

  • Danmoja

    avoid tickets  Find out when your area will be swept.

  • Avoid Berkeley Street Sweeping tickets
    Find out the next time your street will be cleaned to avoid these tickets.
    go to

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