*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.
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.
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.
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.
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