The NYC Marathon is a Big Event with a Big Collaboration

Michael Bellew is Chief of Cleaning Operations for New York City’s Department of Sanitation. He started his career in 1981 as a Sanitation Worker and rose through the ranks at a steady pace, serving as Supervisor, General Superintendent I, Deputy Chief then Assistant Chief of Cleaning, until he was promoted to his current position as Chief of Cleaning Operations.

His day-to-day responsibilities include the cleaning of New York City’s 6,000 miles of streets, collection of 25,000 litter baskets and cleaning of City-owned and private lots, coordinating the removal of derelict vehicles from City streets, and analyzing ‘scorecard’ data to manage citywide cleaning resources.

In addition, Bellew is responsible for special event clean-up for occasions such as the Times Square New Year’s celebration, Thanksgiving Day Parade, and other parades and festivities throughout the five boroughs, one of which is the annual ING New York City Marathon.

The NYC Marathon spans 26 miles through the five boroughs of New York City with the starting line in Staten Island. Runners first cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and then wind their way through the narrow streets of Brooklyn. From there, runners cross into Queens and then onto the Queensboro Bridge and into the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Running north on 1st Avenue through Harlem, runners enter the fifth and final borough on their trek, the Bronx. Central Park is the finish line, reached after a final loop through the park. Although the event takes place on paved terrain, the NYC Marathon is not without challenges. The marathon’s many turns, bridges and crowded field of runners puts the NYC Marathon in the top spot as the marathon to run in the country.

The first NYC Marathon, which took place in 1970, had 127 entrants. The 26.2 mile course consisted of several loops within Central Park. Six years later, the race was redesigned to span all five boroughs, and 2,000 runners participated. Now, it is a race full of world record breakers, athletes and runners with a strong sense of neighborhood spirit, as well as amputees and people with disabilities. Held the first Sunday in November, up to 200,000 people now participate, and the more people who participate, the more there is to clean-up.

“We usually pre-sweep the whole route a few days before,” Bellew says. He and his team then monitor the course during the race, and then, as soon as the runners cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island, the clean-up begins. The bridge is closed during the race so speed to clean is key so the bridge can reopen and drivers can get back out on the road.

Bellew says collection trucks for those working with hand brooms, as well as pick-up trucks with plows mounted on the front handle the bulk of the bridge clean-up work. At the start of the race, runners need to stay warm and are encouraged to wear clothes that they are willing to donate. Once the race starts, runners shed those layers of clothing that kept them warm relying on their own body heat as the race gets going. All those clothes then need to be picked up off the street, so a plow pushes them into a collection truck and its ready to be sorted, sifted and donated.

Primarily, the NYC Dept of Sanitation uses approximately 38 Johnson mechanical broom sweepers. “We have about 160 people assisting with the clean-up,” Bellew estimates. In addition to the mechanical sweepers, people walk the route pushing hand brooms, “It’s like a little prep before the mechanical broom comes down,” he says. Typically, Bellew says, people with push brooms will work two at a time, sweeping between barricades and sweeping up debris that the larger mechanical sweeper is unable to pick up.

Making the NYC Marathon run smoothly is very much a collaborative effort. While the Department of Sanitation handles the cleaning, there are other agencies involved in making sure the race occurs without incident. The NYPD places signs along the route a week prior to make sure the runners’ paths are free of cars. The Department of Transportation monitors potholes and street conditions along the route before and during the route, much like the Department of Sanitation monitors and cleans the route before and during the race.

“The Department of Sanitation works in conjunction with other agencies,” department spokesperson Matthew Lipani says. If the Department of Transportation sees an issue that should be handled by the Department of Sanitation, for instance, they will alert them of the location and problem, and vice versa. “It’s not just one agency monitoring the race,” Lipani says. In typical New York City fashion, the NYC Marathon is just one more example of everyone coming together to help out.

Story by Megan McClure