Hey, Who’s Gonna Clean Up This Wreck?

If you want those stray bumpers, broken glass, and automobile remains cleaned off the street, get ready to do some sweeping.

Residents at the pinnacle of West Seattle's Pigeon Point live atop a very steep hill. Tires spin out in the rain, undercarriages scrape pavement on the bumps going down, and if there's any ice, you might be better off leaving the car at the bottom of the hill and hoofing it. It's not all that surprising that there's the occasional accident or two, and over Thanksgiving weekend there was a doozy at the corner of Andover Street and 22nd Avenue Southwest. The Monday after the holiday, I walked down the road to find the remnants of a bumper and hunks of metal and plastic at the foot of a dented utility pole. Tiny shards of what had once been a windshield were scattered another half-block or so down the road and sidewalk. Two weeks later, the mess was still there. So it might have gone completely unnoticed, except that a week after the accident, city road crews set up blockades and repaired a section of road and a curb about 20 yards up from the accident scene. (This previously scheduled work had nothing to do with the accident.) They even put a sign directly on top of the broken glass to warn oncoming traffic of the construction. Yet two days later, after cleaning up the road-work detritus, remnants of the accident still remained. Having no idea who should be responsible for this mess, I started with the cop who attends local neighborhood-watch meetings. He forwarded my message to the Seattle Department of Transportation. A couple of days later, someone there sent me an e-mail saying they were looking into it, and in the future I should feel free to just call 684-ROAD. Eventually I pulled out the big guns, calling up city roads department spokesman Rick Sheridan. He said he would look into the situation on my corner (this is where I live, if you haven't figured that out by now), and, impressively, the day after the call the bumper was gone—though the glass and a few other car bits still sparkled on the ground. It turns out cleaning up streets and sidewalks is a little complicated. For the most part, Sheridan says, property owners clean up anything on the sidewalks, be they leaves, cigarette butts, or other naturally occurring or manmade messes. The city takes care of the roads, but the rules change for an accident: If it's reported to the cops, the city takes care of any fluids, while the tow-truck companies the city contracts with to take the cars away are responsible for cleaning up the glass and car parts. Got all that? But no one called the police to report the accident, so no tow truck—at least not a city-contracted one—responded to the scene, meaning the cleanup is pretty much no one's responsibility. Hence, last weekend I went out there myself with a dustpan and broom. On a cold night walking home, I have to say, the shattered bits of bluish glass gave the sidewalk the effect of being covered with sparkling snow. It was all quite lovely until the shards got stuck in my shoes.

 
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