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Seattle will purchase skinny bike lane sweeper machine

The Broadway Bikeway opened the same week leaves fell
The Broadway Bikeway opened the same week leaves fell

Bike Portland reported this week that their city has purchased a special street sweeper vehicle that fits into the city’s new protected bike lanes.

Protected bike lanes are appealing and safe for people on bikes because a barrier of some kind separates the lane from motor vehicles. This extra protection is vital to creating space that people of all ages and abilities feel safe using, but it also creates a problem: Street sweepers are often too big to clean them.

This problem became immediately clear when a short section of the Broadway Bikeway opened in mid-October, the same time the street trees decided to lose all their leaves. The result was, well, you can see in the photo above.

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But Seattle is not going to be out-sweepered by Portland, and has plans to purchase a bike-lane-compatible sweeper of their own in early 2014. In the meantime, crews will handle clearing the city’s few protected bikeways. From SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan:

As protected bike lanes are a new type of facility for the city, SDOT is establishing a maintenance program specifically for them. We don’t have a sweeper suited for their narrow space and surface type, so we are currently evaluating several regenerative air sweepers to address this need.

Our goal is to complete the equipment purchase by the end of the first quarter of 2014. Until then, we will use our maintenance laborers to keep the cycle tracks clear.

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34 responses to “Seattle will purchase skinny bike lane sweeper machine”

  1. merlin

    Great news, Tom! Too bad we couldn’t be first … but at least we beat Portland with Cranksgiving!

  2. Sea

    Fine for the bikeway but what about the many bike lanes across the city choked with leaves? The eastbound (uphill) lane on Pine has had leaves deliberately raked into it and piled a couple feet high for some time now.

  3. Peri Hartman

    Can they be encouraged to use this in regular bike lanes, too? Sure, a full size sweeper would fit there, but this might be lower overhead and faster to operate. How about the sidewalks on the Aurora bridge?

  4. Gene Balk

    Has anyone else noticed that the bike lane northbound lane is prone to forming big puddles?

    1. Zach Shaner

      Yeah, there’s a standing puddle that’s been there ever since it was opened, northbound on Broadway just south of Pike.

      1. Gene Balk

        Yeah, Zach, I was riding northbound when it was raining and there were a lot of big puddles, so I just wound up using the southbound lane since nobody else was in the bikeway. But seems like drainage is an issue…or maybe I need buy a set of full fenders.

      2. Tom Fucoloro


  5. george

    This is great. Would love to see highly-trafficked lanes throughout the city get a bit more street-sweeping love; Dexter is often treacherously covered in leaves and debris. I’ve thought about even just buying some push brooms to stage near bus stops….

    1. Mike

      I was just noticing this morning that the lanes on Dexter were swept clean. Huzzah for small victories!

  6. Zach Shaner

    When I was in Portland 3 weeks ago I saw them spraying regular old bike lanes too. The truck could clean the bike lanes while going 15mph…it was impressively quick work.

  7. Mark B

    The bike lanes look as wide as the traffic lanes, why do they need to purchase another sweeper?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The Broadway lanes vary in width, but they are about 10-feet wide. That may be too skinny for our existing machines. But even if that’s not the case, the city has some protected bike lanes (and many more planned) that are one-way lanes and, therefore, much skinnier.

  8. ScandalMgr

    This street sweeper solution is sure to fix the problem for a very limited geographic area that squeaks the loudest. Keeping your solutions limited in geography does nothing unless you live there, and I would object to the sweeper expenditure because of that.

    For outlying areas, i.e. Burke Gilman, North Creek, Interurban (where there are just as many cyclists and far more leaves) which are very likely to get ZERO or very limited sweeper coverage, I would urge alternate solutions be considered. The idea I had would be far cheaper: dragging a rake behind a bicycle to clear a path. Rake stands could seasonally be positioned where needed with rakes that have a hook to attach to a bike rack. There are other solutions, but if this were to be tried, there are details that would need to be worked out.

    1. Peri Hartman

      Seattle has some 300 miles of bike lanes, depending on what you count as a bike lane. At 10mph, that’s 30 hours to sweep the whole city. Add overhead from getting to the various starting points and maybe double it. That’s certainly not too large a job for one sweeper.

      By the way, try sweeping wet leaves with a lawn rake. I’d be surprised if you can do 50′ in an hour.

      1. ScandalMgr

        The idea would be to pull up to a rake stand, attach one to your bike, then pedal through a leaf covered area, clearing a single path of 12-18 inches, not clearing the whole path. Repeated passes by commuting cyclists (or even pedestrians) would keep accumulation down or

    2. RTK

      The Interurban in Snohomish County is maintained by a patchwork system of public entities. It is frequent covered with glass, just figuring out who to contact for any given section can be frustrating.

  9. SGG

    The bike lane on East Marginal is constantly filled with massive puddles. Wish that would get addressed. I think they put these things on lists, and then visit in July noting that everything looks fine.

  10. NorthEnder

    Perhaps the county can borrow it and clean the Burke/Gilman trail of it’s debris!

  11. Sea

    Interlaken Park!

  12. JRD

    Another piece of expensive equipment that will be used for a few weeks per year. There are numerous private sweeping companies in the area that already have the type of sweeper needed to do this job, and they could do it at half the cost of a city employee driving it.

  13. Biker Bryan

    In the fall the northbound side of Fremont Ave between 39th and 41st gets these large golf ball sized seeds from the trees that have thorns all of the way around. I’ve had a few flat tires on account of this. Maybe the city could sweep that section of road just a few times during the fall?

  14. […] not to be outdone, Seattle is getting one, too. And after they’re done sweeping up leaves, they’re going to […]

  15. RTK

    Send them down the Duwamish Trail and East Margin while you are at it. These locations seem to see little cleaning.

  16. Jeik

    Good news especially after that recent fatality due to wet pine needles. Fremont Ave downhill is terrifying this time of year. It’s enough to make me divert to Stone Way. Why spend millions on bike lanes only to leave them unsafe for a few months of the year? The car lanes are always clear!

  17. a different Eric

    Is there a snow plow attachment available? Snow is infrequent enough here that it probably doesn’t make sense to have a dedicated plow, but if an existing machine can be adapted that sure would make getting around a whole lot easier when it does snow.

  18. I am going to ask SDOT to check into the standing water (puddle) issue on the north- bound Broadway cycle track at Pike. Are there other areas on the track where this is a problem? Let me know by e-maililng me at: [email protected].

  19. Michael K

    It looks like no one is using this feature… busy streets/roads/trails, are usually cleared out organically by traffic that is passing through… I do see 3 vehicles in the picture and no bicyclists. is the demand really there? The roadway is a different story. Vehicle traffic is already building up due to narrowing of the street and extra traffic lights on Broadway… Don’t forget the shiny expensive street car will be stuck in that traffic too…. While there is still no direct bus route to the eastside without detouring and transferring in downtown. For the most dense neighborhood in the region, this obsession with bicycle lanes is a little insane… Looks as if they are building a theme park for the very rich… but it’s useless for regional commuting, and it’s not a secret that most jobs on Capitol Hill do not pay enough to afford life on Capitol Hill, so most residents will have to commute to Bellevue, Renton, and Redmonds where most of the high paying jobs are today…

    1. Josh

      This is a local-access facility, not a regional commuter trail. Seattle commuters can bicycle to Bellevue or Renton just like they did before the new sidepath.

      Bicycles don’t produce the wind of larger vehicles, which is what self-cleans the leaves from general purpose lanes. You can see the same thing with on-street bike lanes, bikes pack were leaves into slippery muck but don’t blow them clear of the lane.

    2. Gary

      To get to the Eastside from Capital hill, take 18th, then 19th, then 20th jogging East as you prefer. The roads are narrow, no traffic to speak of and a fast easy way to the I-90 path at Jenkins Park. The broadway cycle path is for broadway shoppers and for commuters, I’d avoid it at all costs.

    3. Chris L

      Amazon, here in Seattle, employs more people than Microsoft. Regardless, since when was the First Hill Streetcar (the reason for the existence of this cycle track) made for eastside commuters? It was made to appease First Hill residents mad that they got skipped for a light rail station.

      And either way, since when is there not a direct bus to the eastside? Walk to convention place, get on a 550 or 545 (this stops on Olive outside the below ground part of convention place) and bam, suburbia. The 545 even stops on Capitol Hill on weekdays for those who can’t handle walking/cycling a bit farther.

  20. Josh

    Sadly typical that SDOT waited until after the new side path filled with wet leaves to address an issue that has been brought up repeatedly in public comments since the project was first proposed. Perhaps, since it’s posted as an off – street path, they aren’t as concerned about the liability for poor maintenance?

  21. […] are also getting the benefit of a spiffy new $225,000 street sweeper the Seattle Department of Transportation is acquiring to help keep the Broadway Bikeway and Seattle’s growing network of cycle tracks open and […]

  22. […] While it’s big news that we’re getting a fancy cycle track cleaner for Broadway, it’s more telling that it never occurred to the city that they’d need the […]

  23. A year later… Where is this in use? I’m seeing some lanes that could use sweepin’!
    Can we Find It, Fix It request the sweeper?

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