Like much of the city, a stretch of Ninth Street in South Philadelphia that includes the Italian Market and the Pat’s and Geno’s cheesesteak joints has a litter problem.
One grassy lot there on Friday sported plastic bottles and bags, an empty Chick-fil-A drink carrier, Dunkin' Donuts and Wawa cups, a phone book, concrete blocks, and a Styrofoam takeout container. Strewn on another lot down the street were soda and beer cans, planks of wood, empty cigarette packs, even a pair of shoes and a sweater.
As of Friday, the area is officially a “litter enforcement corridor" — one of 84 blocks and larger stretches of street the city has identified as habitual dumping grounds and where litterers are likely to face new levels of scrutiny and punishment.
More than 50,000 residents complained to the city last year about trashed vacant lots, illegal dumping, and trash and recyclable collection. Streets and sanitation topped the list of services that residents say the city most needs to improve, according to a survey.
State lawmakers last summer began allowing municipalities to designate “litter enforcement corridors," where fines for throwing trash from vehicle windows can be doubled and fines for illegal dumping can be tripled. Current fines range from $300 to a few thousand dollars, depending on the offense.
In the new year, the city will begin installing cameras and signs that warn of the increased fines.
“There are spots people have known for years: This is where you dump,” said Nic Esposito, director of the city’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, an interdepartmental effort to reduce waste and combat litter. “We know we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of this problem. But we do need to make a statement and say: This is not going to be tolerated in Philadelphia."
Many of the newly designated litter corridors are familiar hot spots — blocks and stretches where people gather to shop, eat, or be entertained. They include Ogontz Avenue from Stenton Avenue to Cheltenham Avenue in West Oak Lane and East Mount Airy, and Broad Street from Pattison Avenue to the expressway, between FDR Park and the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.
In October, City Council passed a bill making it easier for approved community groups to place privately maintained trash cans along city streets. The city is using the litter index launched this year to target hot spots for monitoring and cleanups.
City Councilman Bobby Henon, who introduced the bill designating the city’s litter enforcement corridors, said he and neighborhood groups in his Northeast Philadelphia district have removed hundreds of tires and enough debris to fill several sanitation trucks during periodic cleanups. Popular dumping spots include Pennypack Park and along Frankford Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River.
Henon said a resident left him a voicemail over the Christmas holiday demanding to know what he was doing about illegal dumping. His constituents, Henon said, “have no problem saying it’s long overdue.”
“They don’t want their blocks being dumped on, their alleyways being blocked, the values of their homes going down,” he said. "They’re almost demanding that we do something. They are encouraged, but we have to show them” that the city is serious about addressing the problem.