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Randy Leonard/MEDILL

Aldermen object to zone-based services, especially for snow removal.

City beats candidates in move away from ward-based trash and street services

by Randy Leonard
Feb 16, 2011

On the campaign trail, mayoral candidates brandish the idea of a zone-based, instead of ward-based, system for providing city services as if it is a novel concept.

But Chicago is already implementing grid-based operations, despite aldermanic objections.

This spring the city will expand a test program of grid-based garbage collection. The Department of Streets and Sanitation announced last week that a zone system was implemented last year in three wards.

Recycling is already collected by zones but garbage has been collected by ward.

“We believe expanding this effort is important as ward boundaries are set to change later in the year, and reconfiguring routes based on a grid instead of new ward boundaries just makes sense,” the statement read.

But some aldermen aren’t happy.

“This is an issue that’s been kicked around a while,” Ald. Brian G. Doherty (41st) said. With ward-based services, aldermen are responsible for ensuring that constituents’ needs are met, he said. “Everyone’s very skittish of giving that authority away.”

Mayor Richard M. Daley proposed switching street cleaning to a zone system before sweeping began last year, eliciting an outcry from aldermen.

In the end, the city stuck with the ward-based sweeping pattern, with some additional spot coverage, Smith said.

He could not provide information on the city’s plans for street sweeping for the upcoming season, Smith said Wednesday.

Zone-based street sweeping removes some of the flexibility such as asking for an extra cleaning after block parties, Doherty said.

He is more opposed to a zone system for snow plowing. 

He said that with central control of a zone system, supervisors would be less familiar with intricacies of different streets, which would be more of a problem during snow removal than garbage pickup.

“You have to have an intimate knowledge of the ward to do snow,” he said.

Without that guidance, plow and tractor operators are going to run into a lot of problems, he said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) opposes zone services for sweeping, garbage and snow because, he said, it means less aldermanic control.

“I am totally against going to any type of a grid system,” he said Wednesday.

With the current garbage collection routes, he can coordinate with his ward superintendent to have sanitation crews clean vacant lots while the garbage truck makes a run to the dump, he said. Another issue, he added, is that under the current system he can request special cleaning runs after the annual 40 to 50 block parties in his ward each summer.

“It’s just a personal touch that we basically are going to lose,” he said.

But whether the city sweeps by zones or wards, one aldermanic spokesman said if an alderman makes a special request, it will be heeded.

Bailey, a spokesman for Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), said zone collection could save the city money. Concern for aldermanic control is “kind of an old-school way of looking at things,” he said.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) first brought up the idea of a grid system for garbage collection and snow removal as a cost-saving measure more than a year ago, according to spokesman Tom Gradel.  

Citing an October report by the inspector general, Gradel said the grid system would save at least $29 million.

Doherty said he was skeptical of the figures in the inspector general’s report.

“I don’t know how much money they are going to be able to save,” he said.