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Keeping Downtown Streets Clean During Holidays A Full-Time Job

Neil Giardino

New Year’s Eve celebrations are almost here, and that means more litter on city streets. After the countdown, somebody has to clean up the mess on New Year’s Day, and every other day of the year.

Ever wonder what resources go into keeping Seattle’s streets clean during the holidays and throughout the year?

Steve Pratt is the director of street maintenance at the Seattle Department of Transportation. He’s in charge of a fleet of nine mechanical sweepers that scrub downtown streets clean of litter, leaves and debris. He says it’s a big job.

“We are out there 365 days out of the year, doing street sweeping. It’s a very vigorous program,” says Pratt.

In addition to machine-driven sweepers, Pratt also manages a smaller fleet of flusher trucks that scrub down alleyways in downtown and the International District during most nights.    

Pratt says Seattleites are litter-conscious, which helps lighten the workload. But another factor has proven useful to street cleaning operations in Seattle — the rain. It helps wash dirt and debris off the streets and into the gutters.

Still, there’s quite a lot of sweeping to do and money’s tight. SDOT’s street sweeping program works with a $2 million budget, and they spend every nickel of it. Here’s where the Metropolitan Improvement District comes in.

Funded by downtown property tax, the MID provides street cleaning services in six neighborhoods throughout downtown, including the retail corridor along Pike and Pine Streets, the Denny Triangle, Pioneer Square, Waterfront, and most recently, in Belltown. 

You might have noticed men and women in the downtown core with navy jumpsuits and bright yellow vests marked “MID.” These are MID ambassadors, and they’re critical to street-cleaning operations.

Patrick is an MID ambassador native to Jamaica. As he describes his street cleaning duties, he conveys humor, a sense of responsibility, and even a sense of pride. He says MID ambassadors are on hand to create a safe environment downtown, among other things.

“We make sure that everything is aesthetically proper,” he says. “Also needles — we make sure that they are out of the way of the public and stored away safely. It’s always an interesting day in Seattle."

Over the winter holidays, MID ambassadors are out in full force in the 285 square blocks in downtown Seattle. And if your celebrations happen to spill out onto the streets on New Year’s Eve, look for a nearby trash can to ditch your paper hats and kazoos.