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Tired of leaves in bike lanes, this Portlander made a pedal-powered sweeper

Posted by on November 8th, 2018 at 3:30 pm


*Many major bikeways in Portland are covered in leaves this time of year. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Bill Stites of Portland-based Stites Design likes to create human-powered vehicles that can do amazing things.

Bill Stites

His most successful product so far is the “Truck Trike” which has been used to re-balance bike share fleets and by delivery giant UPS to deliver packages.

And like many of you, Bill is tired of having to ride through the slippery leaves that often block or narrow many Portland bike lanes this time of year. As we saw last week on SW Terwilliger, the presence of leaves in bike lanes isn’t just a minor inconvenience, it can put people at risk and it contributes to already-frayed nerves. At a time when we must do everything possible to promote cycling, this is just one more hazard people face.

We’ve heard from readers who’ve slipped and fallen this year, and several who fear they might. The issue comes up every year, and while PBOT eventually cleans most of it up (they’ve already swept Terwilliger, Willamette, and many other bikeways in the past week), there’s got to be a better way to deal with it. And it’s not just the leaves. Soon it will be snow, then ice, then gravel. People who ride bikes deserve better.

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PBOT’s smallest sweeper (seen here on Williams Ave last week) is still too big for some of our new protected bike lanes.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortlanD)

In 2013 the City of Portland added a mini-sweeper to its maintenance fleet with the expressed intent of using it to clear bikeways. But that’s just one sweeper. And at 7 1/2-feet wide, it won’t be able to squeeze into some the newly protected bikeways PBOT has built in the past few years.

Enter Bill Stites’ latest creation: A trailer outfitted with swiveling brushes pulled behind his electric trike. It’s simple and effective.

(Photos: Bill Stites)

Here’s a video of it in action on SE Morrison…

Bill tells us it’s still just a prototype. His ultimate goal is to create a “human scale, appropriate energy consumption,” solution at a reasonable cost.

About a year ago, before he started to work on this sweeper trailer, Bill met with PBOT maintenance staff to talk about the problem. “Our discussion revealed a sticking point,” he recalled via email today. “They insisted that the detritus needed to be picked up for liability reasons. Pushing to the side without picking up was not acceptable (the only exception being snow).”

Bill says designing a system to capture the leaves would up the cost, complexity, and energy consumption. He wants to keep things simple so he plans to keep refining his trailer design. “Personally, I think the design is pretty close,” he says.

Bill’s sweeper creates a clear path about 36-inches wide by pushing debris to the curb. He estimates he could make them available for about $1,500 a piece (the heavy-duty brush-heads alone are $200 each). With a modified hitch that could attach to more types of bikes, perhaps neighborhood associations, local tool libraries, and other organizations could purchase one of these and loan it out to volunteer sweepers.

In the spirit of bike-powered trash-hauler Danny Dunn, we salute Bill Stites and hope to see a fleet of his sweepers on Portland streets in the very near future.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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J_R
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J_R

While I appreciate Bill’s actions, pushing the leaves into the gutter is not a solution.

I live on a corner parcel with one of the streets featuring a moderately steep hill and lots of street trees on both streets. A compounding problem is that my uphill neighbors blow and sweep their leaves into the street. Leaves in the gutter end up washing down the hill where the clog they storm drains and create a puddle that inundates the entire intersection. Just this week, my spouse and I spent 30 minutes in our rubber boots wielding shoves and pitchforks to clear the storm drains and shovel the leaves from the gutter so the water could drain. We’ll be out there doing the same several more times in the next month.

The solution is removal of the leaves along with a prohibition against putting leaves into the street more than 48 hours in advance of the city’s schedule leaf collection.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

I’ve been composting all my leaves for years (3 street trees plus 4 more, all sizable at this point, on a single city lot), it’s not that hard to do. Blowing leaves into the street is just plain lazy, and they just don’t magically disappear, I don’t know what the property owners and yard maintenance contractors are thinking when they do this.

mark
Guest
mark

“That is likely illegal to begin with (leaf day excepted — but they’re not meant to be stored there for weeks!) and definitely unsafe.”

It certainly is illegal. This link is hidden on the leaf day FAQ page from the city:

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/article/379409

It’s interesting that the leaf day FAQ suggests this link to folks who do not live in a leaf zone, but they don’t admonish those who do live in a leaf zone not to push their leaves in the street early. I actually called the city last year and mentioned that they really need to make that information more prominent, and not just to those outside the leaf zones. It appears that my pleas were ignored, or deemed unimportant.

BikeSlobPDX
Subscriber
BikeSlobPDX

I rake mine and put them in the green compost bin. I can only do one bin a week, but that limits how much raking I have to do every week, and by the time all the leaves are off the trees (mid December) my yard is cleared.

9watts
Subscriber

Hats off to Bill!
So fun to see how your mind works. I look forward to further iterations.

Tim
Guest
Tim

Pretty cool. I have been thinking about how a bike sweeper could work, but in my design fantasy the leaves are transported back onto the property that blew them into the street in the first place. Blowing leaves into the street so they are somebody else’s problem is just unimaginably rude.

jered
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jered

Yeah Bill good to see you still making thought provoking stuff!!

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

I passed it heading south on Vancouver, just before Russell. It seems like a perfect size for unprotected buffered bike lanes like that, personally I wish they had more of them and could run them more frequently. Those areas have trees overhanging the entire bike lane, so there’s no groundskeeper to blame – the only solution is running more sweepers like that.

Julie Hammond
Guest
Julie Hammond

We live on Rosa Parks and are received no special information about where to rake our leaf day leaves now that the bike lanes are curbside. For folks who commute along Rosa Parks, heads up that on Nov 26 and Dec 18 the lanes will likely be filled with leaves. It seems unsafe for us to rake our leaves into the bike lane (obviously) but also unsafe and ineffective to rake our leaves into the traffic lane (there are no parking spots in front of our house).

Does anyone else have experience with this? I’ve reached out to the city but have yet to hear back.

Fred
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Fred

I would like to be able to look at a Google map that shows which streets were swept on which dates. Unrealistic?

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

I would still like PBOT design staff put a moratorium on creating new physically protected bike lanes until they have a signed document of understanding on road surface maintenance for these designs. If that cute little sweeper doesn’t fit, they need to have buy-in from maintenance that they are going to get out there with brooms and shovels and clear the road by hand according to an acceptable schedule – or how ever they decide to do it. These protected bike lanes are hazards with no mitigation other than possible citizen intervention. And, they are much worse for debris than simple buffered bike lanes. Perhaps the PBOT designers should take every Friday and grab a broom and shovel and go sweep their latest bollard-lined or curbed construction. Or, perhaps Lime/Bird should be forced to clean these as they profit on them (although, this would be a slippery slope to the future of tolled corporate bike lanes).

Opus the Poet
Guest

Just an FYI, you can buy a cordless leafblower/vacuum at Harbor Freight for about $80 that would suck up the leaves from the sweeper and dump them in a bin on the trailer. I’m not sure how much spare batteries cost but I think you will probably need several.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Well, I must admit, I have learned something new. I had no idea that blowing the leaves into the street was illegal. I was “taught” by my father that you do that so the cars grind it up. I live on the corner of a neighbor hood greenway and will change that behavior immediately (luckily I have a teenage son :)).

hotrodder
Guest
hotrodder

Hey, check it out! This invention made it to the GCN show! Go to about 14:40 to see Sy and Dan talk about the street sweeper!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi5bX9UU3Zs