ArcGIS Story Map of LA’s Clean Street Index

LA is using ArcMap, dashcam, GPS and cameras to develop detailed street cleanliness index. Click this link to see an interactive Story Map of this innovative use of GIS to tackle a pressing urban problem.


Cleanliness Indexes are available by 39,915 street segment and are summarized into operational grids.

Philadelphia, like LA, has a serious street trash problem.  We need to dramatically improve our street cleanliness efforts. Following LA’s Clean Streets Index would be an excellent start for the Mayor’s Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet.



LA Cleanliness Index More Effective Than Philadelphia’s Litter Index

Philadelphia has been using a litter index to assess street trash conditions since 2007 (link). Here is the most recent litter index, downloaded from OpenDataPhilly.  The actual dates for the litter survey data is not provided.


Philadelphia’s Litter Index provides a 1-4 composite score for 111 trash collection day area in the City. The City’s meta data file states:

The Litter Index is used to compare the relative cleanliness of different areas of the city of Philadelphia. he relative cleanliness of different areas of the city of Philadelphia.

Originally created in 2007, the Litter Index is used to compare the relative cleanliness of different areas of the city. The Litter Index is scored on a 1-4 scale with 1 being minimal litter and 4 being extremely littered.

The City’s Litter Index has a number of shortcomings which limit its usefulness as a City trash hot spot identification and management tool.

  • Data collection is based on relatively large areas, with an average of 2.2 square miles. Seriously trash street segments are masked when the data is averaged over such a large area.
  • Street Litter Index Values for specific areas vary widely from survey to survey, raising concerns about the reliability of the underlying methodology (link).
  • There is no relationship between 311 Illegal Dumping Service Requests and Street Litter Index.


Los Angeles has developed a Street Cleanliness Index (link) which provides detailed street segment by segment data not available in Philadelphia’s index.

Here is a short video describing how LA used a dashcam, smartphone camera and ArcGIS to score each street segment in LA.

LA  uses assigns a  1 to 3 cleanliness score for Loose Litter, Illegal Dumping, Weeds and Bulky Items as well as a composite score.  Here is an example of the LA Cleanliness Score Map , showing segments with Clean, Somewhat Clean and Not Clean scores.


With the LA method, the Not Clean (red) segments standout.  Philadelphia needs to adopt a detailed street litter index score system like LA so that we can pinpoint the badly trash street segments and begin getting our trash problems under control.

Why Didn’t TV Dumper Use One of PHL’s 6 Sanitation Convenience Centers?

A vigilant 311 reported submitted this image at 01/05/2017 07:33:19 AM showing a dumped TV at 5800 Kemble Street.


Lets look at this dump site and the City’s Sanitation Convenience Centers.

san_conv_centers_5800_kemble_dumpThree of the 6 Centers are sjhown on this map along with the TV dump site to show the distance between teh dump site and a proper disposal site.

The Strawberry  Mansion and NW Center are about 6 miles from this TV dump site. The dumper had a choice, he/she could have taken the old TV to one of these stations 6 days of the week, yet chose to dump it on the street corner. Why?

There are 2 main reasons why TVs get dumped on our streets:

  1. Many, if not most, Philadelphians are not aware of the City’s Sanitation Convenience Centers and their acceptance of old TVs and other electronic 6 days  a week as well as mattresses, tires and other typical dump materials..
  2. The Dumper knows about the City’s Centers but simply chose to dump, rather than take the little extra time to bring it to one o fhte Centers.

The City’s San Convenience centers are an excellent program to try and help City residents handle trash between trash collection days.

Here are 4 simple recommendations for how the City can increase use of these Centers and reduce illegal street dumping:

  1. Public Service Announcements by all elected (City, State, Federal) officials in Philadelphia advising their constituents of the location of the nearest Convenience Center, days of operation and list of materials accepted.
  2. All Philadelphia Community Development Corporations and Neighborhood distribute public service announcements to their participants about the city’s Sanitation Convenience Centers.
  3. Mayor Kenney’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet review the success of the 6 centers and assess whether additional centers in high dump areas could help reduce illegal dumping.
  4. Mayor Kenney’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet conduct pilot study to see if a  neighborhood based services can be provided to collect materials from eligible residents and transfer this material to a Convenience Center.  This could help in those situation where resident needs help to get the trash to one of the 6 Centers.


Philadelphia’s Illegal Dumping 311 Requests increased 35% from 2015 to 2016

Many Philadelphians say that our streets are littered, we now have the numbers to back up that opinion. Here’s a comparison of 2015 and 2016 311 Illegal Dumping Service Requests City-wide and by Council District. We had 17,384 in 2016, 35% more than we had in 2015. While Illegal Dumping reports went up in all 10 Council Districts in 2016, Districts 2 and 5 saw 65% and 42% increases, respectively.  District 3, on the other hand, only increased 11%.



2900 Block N 19th Street Trash: Sept., 2016 and Jan., 2017 Views

Google Street View and Philly311 are 2 sources of photographs of street trash in Philadelphia.  A concerned Philadelphia resident submitted an illegal dumping service request for 2953–2999 N 19th St to 311 on Jan 2nd.  They included this photo.2900_bl_n_19th_st_311_photo

Here’s the Google Street View of the same location taken in Sept., 2016, just 3-4 months ago.2900_bl_n_19th_st_google_st_view

Yes, things have gotten worse in the past 3-4 months.  The tires and furniture have been dumped since Google passed by in Sept.

One of the key facts I have observed about trash dumpers, they return to the same dump sites over and over.

here are the same photos side-by-side for those who want to make a more detailed comparison.

311 Trash Request – 8000 Grovers Ave.: Example of Construction Debris Short Dumping

This 12/29/16 311 Illegal Dumping Service request for 8000 Grovers Ave shows extensive construction debris, likely from residential home remodeling work, as well as other trash. The work may have been done by a do-it-yourself homeowner of small contractor.


While the dumper had options for proper – legal disposal,  he/she chose to dump the debris. This dump site is within a few miles of 2 Philadelphia Sanitation Convenience Centers and 2 commercial trash haulers.


Philadelphia’s 6 Sanitation Convenience Centers (link) are a great resource for residents  that need to be more widely advertised. My experience is that many/most Philadelphians are unaware of this free service.

The Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet needs to closely examine how we handle home remodeling construction debris and develop strategies prevent dumping of this debris in our streets and vacant lots.

311 Trash Request – 6627 N 6th Street: What Can We Learn From It?

311 handles 10s of thousands of trash complaints each year (link). 311 records trash complaints under 5 categories depending on the exact location and nature of the trash situation:

  • Street – Sidewalk right-of-way (SR-ST02), Streets Dept.
  • Rubbish/Recyclable Material Collection (SR-ST-03), Streets Dept.
  • Vacant Lot Cleanup (SR-CL02),  CLIP
  • Maintenance – Residential or Commercial (SR-LI21), L&I
  • Vacant House or Commercial (SR-LI27), L&I

Here is an example of a Maintenance Residential or Commercial 311 request at 6627 N 6th Street on December 28, 2016.


Since this trash is on private property, the 311 service request was entered as a Maintenance Residential or Commercial. The 311 data record shows that this service request must be addressed by 1/16/17, it does not provide any details on the type or quantity of the trash or any explanation on why the property owner has accumulated this material.

Philadelphia has 4 agencies involved in the trash issue: Streets Dept., L&I, CLIP and 311. It is clear that these agencies have significantly improved coordination and communication in the past few years and are working to address street and vacant lot trash. The 311 OpenDataPhilly initiative is a great step forward.

To effectively manage the City’s overall problem, it will be critical to consolidate and characterize the trash information from these 4 agencies so that we can get an overall picture of the trash  types, quantities and trends in our City.