1. Opinion

Guest column: 'Alley traffic' a weak excuse for denying alley pickup for recycling

As a longtime St. Pete resident, I, along with many of my neighbors, are thrilled the mayor and our City Council rolled out a recycling program after years of debate. But despite our enthusiasm for recycling, why has there been such an outcry from our neighborhoods and residents about the program's implementation? How hard could this be, and why didn't the mayor discuss details with his staff prior to widespread rollout of the program?

The preparation for moving ahead with recycling did not need to be as complex or convoluted as the preparation for a new Pier. However, we now know there is a huge difference in expectation between the city and neighborhoods on how the recycling program should serve us. The city assumed (both literally and figuratively) a "one size fits all" approach would be a suitable solution for our diverse neighborhoods. The 40 percent of residents who live on alleys have responded by showing this is not a viable way to recycle in the city's urban and historic neighborhoods.

In June, Mayor Rick Kriseman heard the message and said St. Petersburg's new recycling program would be monitored and modified in its first few months, if needed, to increase participation — a key to the program's success. This was promising news to residents residing in more traditional neighborhoods, where trash has traditionally been picked up in alleyways; many residents have voiced concern about this very issue at the program's onset.

However, it appears as though the mayor's administration has evolved its argument against alleyway recycling, where the city's large trash receptacles are already housed, arguing it will "impede traffic," as reported recently by the Tampa Bay Times. This latest reasoning, as relayed by Kevin King, the mayor's chief of staff, shows yet again how the administration is attempting to justify its "one size fits all" approach" regardless of the impact on our neighborhoods and residents. This approach seems to be rather weak considering:

• Hardly any vehicles travel through the alleys on a day-to-day basis, thus there is little concern for traffic impediments. This is unlike many of our narrower streets that often can actually be narrower than alleys when factoring in on-street parking.

• These neighborhoods have garbage trucks routinely going through our alleys without problems to pick up our trash.

• Many other neighborhoods, from across the bay to across the nation, have successfully rolled out alley recycling.

• The city designed this program without talking to neighborhoods, as well as implementing a test phase to gauge the feasibility of alley recycling in our area (despite recommendations to do so by other cities).

Despite my support of recycling, the current program is simply not working for almost half of the city's population, and I contend that some action should be taken to address it instead of coming up with faulty reasoning as to why it will not work.

So, why is it important that some traditional neighborhoods do not want "street-side" recycling collection?

Many residents must walk our recycling bins down an entire block just to get it to the curb.

Some residents are senior residents and have to lug a 94-gallon recycle bin around their property to get it to the street. The bin is unwieldy to begin with, but when full, can be a huge struggle no matter what age the resident. Consequently, the current street-side recycling program disenfranchises the elderly from participating.

Some residents simply have no place to stow the large bins but in front of their homes when not in use, so they remain an eyesore.

Since March, residents have lobbied concerns to the city about this issue. In April, traditional neighborhoods have sent letters but have been met with no response other than monitoring the situation. The City Council addressed their concerns of not having alley recycling in June. Even a joint letter signed by the neighborhood associations of three large neighborhoods (Historic Kenwood, Old Northeast and St. Pete Downtown) was sent to Mayor Kriseman on July 7 regarding this issue. Now, into August, residents have still received no response that the problem will be fixed. The longer Mayor Kriseman waits on affirmatively stating he will resolve this issue, the angrier neighborhoods will be, and in turn, people will lose confidence in his administration's ability to address issues of importance to residents.

Jay Marshal is a past president of the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association and serves on the St. Petersburg Commission on Aging.