Feb 8, 2024 - Health

Uptown isn't going to clean itself

Uptown special services crew at work

The special services crew at work, dumping businesses' trash receptacles. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Did you know Uptown has a 24-hour clean-up crew?

  • I recently went on a ride along with Darnell Dandy of the city's Solid Waste Services and noticed just how many orange-vest-donning crew members were out, sweeping litter and dumping bins.

Why it matters: As the city grows, it's harder to keep clean. Unkept streets and sidewalks not only make Uptown just look bad, but they also pose health issues. Case in point: Rats are drawn to downtowns because of rail lines, where they seek shelter and scraps from businesses' trash.

  • Residents and visitors often complain about how much trash there is Uptown. But the city has an entire unit dedicated to cleaning the area, from the outskirts along North Tryon, through the city's banking core and into South End.
  • By the time I joined Dandy on a Wednesday morning, crews had already been out for hours while the rest of the city slept.

Details: Charlotte's special services department sweeps cigarette butts and broken glass. They dump businesses' cans and clean up the graffiti that appears daily.

  • They show up in all conditions, shoveling snow in the winter and blowing leaves in the fall, Dandy says.
  • They're also in charge of pressure washing sidewalks, bus shelters, garbage cans, recycling bins and benches. The light rail platforms are washed daily.

What they're saying: "Everything's looking like tip-top shape," Dandy said during our ride.

Yes, but: But city crews don't handle cleanup everywhere around the city center.

The N.C. Department of Transportation is responsible for some areas, like underpasses, around I-277. That means they're out of the city's jurisdiction, and they're cleaned less frequently.

  • An interstate maintenance unit comes out just once a month to the I-277 corridor, an NCDOT spokesperson tells me. Outside of the mowing limits, large crews pick up debris as issues are reported.

By the numbers: In 2023, the N.C. Department of Transportation spent $1.27 million collecting more than 1.2 million pounds of litter in Mecklenburg County.

  • That's up from 2022's total of collected 978,630 pounds — a $1.06 million burden.

Be smart: More than 185 trash cans are spread across Uptown. Use them.

  • If you spot problematic trash, call the city's line at 311, so Dandy and his guys are aware.
  • If you feel called to make our state cleaner, volunteer for NCDOT's Spring Litter Sweep this April. Over two weeks recruits clear roadsides of litter. They are equipped with trash bags, gloves and vests.

Fun fact to go: Dandy and his colleagues at Solid Waste kept referring to a place in the city center called "The Hole." They're not sure where the nickname came from, but it's been called that for years.

  • To me, this sounded rather cool and secretive. Honestly, I thought about keeping it to myself — but fine, I'll tell you.
  • Turns out, it's just a door at the transportation center where they keep equipment.
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