Portland has a tiny bike lane sweeper. We should use it a lot more

Keeping Portland’s bike lanes clean is a major problem. Even today, many weeks after the last leaves have fallen off the trees and three weeks after the city’s official “leaf day” pickup, many major bikeways are still full of a dangerous mix of slick leaves, water, and debris. It’s maddening!

Can we get to 25% bike mode share by 2030 if we can’t even offer people clear and safe bike lanes on a consistent basis?

Just today I biked on the new protected bike lanes on SW Broadway and one block was so full of leaves and water that I had to leave the lane and merge into a shared lane. My stress levels went up not just because I was suddenly in front of a car driver, but because I feel like our city should do better at this. Dirty bike lanes have been a perennial problem and the Portland transportation bureau has yet to offer a strategy or plan to tackle it.

From the owner’s manual.

In 2013 I thought we’d make big progress on the problem when PBOT purchased a small sweeper with the expressed intent of cleaning bike lanes with it. That model was much narrower than other models and at just 7.4-feet wide it was billed as something that could fit into some of Portland’s protected bike lanes. But the problem persisted. And with many of our protected lanes still too narrow, we needed an even smaller sweeper.

Bike for scale.

Now we have it: The new Mathieu MC 210 is a diminutive 50.4 inches, or just over four feet wide (without mirrors). That means it can fit in nearly all of Portland’s protected bike lanes (which range in width from about five to eight feet). PBOT shared a video of the MC 210 when they first bought it in 2019, but I hadn’t seen it in person until Monday.

As you can see in the photos, it’s tiny! It’s just a bit wider than the wheelbase of my bike (a Tern HSD, about 45 inches wide).

It’s great to know PBOT has such a narrow sweeper. It’d be even better if we had 10 more of them so we could actually get all the bike lanes swept in a timely manner. Asked why — especially with at least two bike lane-specific sweepers in the fleet — they still haven’t swept many bikeways, a PBOT official told me yesterday: “As you know, we have a lot of bikeways in Portland and it takes time to sweep them all.”

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bjorn
bjorn
1 year ago

Portland has 162 miles of bike lanes according to the city website. The smaller of those sweepers has a working speed of up to 10 miles per hour. Even at only 5 miles an hour with 2 sweepers you are talking about 2-3 days worth of sweeping to hit every bike lane in Portland, if it was a priority. There are also only 7.2 miles of protected bike lanes which are the ones that really need the narrow sweeper to get cleaned, which I understand they aren’t all in a row so there is some travel time in between, but clearly all the protected lanes could be swept in a single day.

Bjorn
Bjorn
1 year ago

I got 7.2 miles of protected bike lanes from a factsheet on the city’s website: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/407660

Bjorn
Bjorn
1 year ago

The real problem is that in a lot of these so called protected lanes the protection isn’t enough to help if a driver veers into the bike lane but it does keep the regular sweepers out. I took a couple photos by the rose garden last week, same street, similar tree coverage, the wand “protected” lane was filled with wet leaves and the painted lane was clean. I think that the city needs to think harder about if installing wands is a good use of funds and part of that discussion is are the wands creating additional hazards for cyclists that the city isn’t willing to mitigate with things like an increased street sweeping budget that focuses on areas that are a problem because of the wands. I’d also like to see them stop using the term “protected” when there is no actual protection. The wands are supposed to survive being hit dozens of times, but so many are missing, that tells me that the wands aren’t keeping vehicles out of the bike lanes in a way that I would call “protected”.

Ted G
Ted G
1 year ago

“Again, please consider what the PBOT and public response would be if a similar situation was happening on car-oriented lanes. It would be front page of every local media outlet and Hardesty would have had a press conference to announce an emergency plan.”

Isn’t this the situation every time it snows?

Car lanes are pretty much self-cleaned, right? The cars push/blow debris to the edges, which is where the bikes are. For this reason there is always debris in the shoulders/bike lanes that must be navigated.

“Leaf Day” pick up is limited to a specific group of neighborhoods with high densities of trees/leaves. I would think the primary driver for that effort is to help keep storm drains clear.

As for why there isn’t more of an effort to clear bike lanes, I imagine it is the same reason as the other slights that are discussed here…the City has other concerns that are more pressing. So with a limited amount of time/money/resources they pass on the things that people who ride bikes think they should do. Clearly they have trouble even accomplishing the tasks that a large portion of the City thinks they should do so it’s hard to imagine they would choose to focus on issues that are a concern of a small sub set of the population.

soren
soren
1 year ago

…was so full of leaves and water that I had to leave the lane and merge into a shared lane

I do this ~50 times a week because there are 4 stretches of bike lane clogged with slushy wet leaves on my near daily commute.

Christopher of Portland
Christopher of Portland
1 year ago

They’re probably afraid of getting stuck behind illegally parked cars and having to get out and move garbage cans and construction signs every few minutes.

James Hook
James Hook
1 year ago

I am reminded of this excellent video on the importance of winter bike lane maintenance: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Uhx-26GfCBU

Cooper
Cooper
1 year ago

Sweepy McSweepface

Mark Remy
Mark Remy
1 year ago

That’s adorable!

EP
EP
1 year ago

I saw a larger ODOT sweeper on the 205 path by Gateway Transit Center a few months back. Yet another unicorn! I would be curious to know how many hours are on the run meters on these smaller PBOT sweepers. I’m guessing it’s low and they don’t use them much. It’s probably labor intensive as they’re small and likely have to have the hopper emptied a bunch, which requires another truck. So probably two employees minimum working this.

It would be great to wave hi to the “Bike Lane Crew” on the regular…wish we had one!

joan
joan
1 year ago

I did my Traffic & Transportation class presentation on this just two weeks ago. I’ll send you the presentation…

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

A PBOT official told me yesterday: “As you know, we have a lot of bikeways in Portland and it takes time to sweep them all.”

What a maddening non-explanation from PBOT! I’ve tried for *years* to get PBOT to sweep bike lanes in my neighborhood, and quite frankly they refuse to take responsibility for it. I’ve suggested they create a web page with GPS maps integration, showing which streets/bike lanes have been swept every day and every night, but they are just not interested. The root problem at PBOT is that no one wants to be held accountable for doing a good job of sweeping bike lanes – if someone is held accountable, that someone could get in trouble for NOT doing a good job. So you get BS answers like “It takes time to sweep them all” which bakes in the lack of accountability.

Jeff S
Jeff S
1 year ago

IDK, maybe a failure of imagination on my part but I think: small pickup, rakes, shovels, brooms and a couple of people…it’s not rocket surgery.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff S

Exactly. Or use a leaf blower, and blow leaves into the adjacent lane to get swept up by a standard street sweeper. Or if you can’t do that, blow them to the next cross street to get picked up. Or if there’s undeveloped right-of-way outside the bike lane, blow them into that and leave them…These (and the methods you mention) are all variations of what’s done all over the city in parks with bike paths and on private property with parking lots and private streets/driveways. The small sweeper seems ideal but certainly isn’t the only option.

John C
John C
1 year ago

I used to work down the street from PBOT yard on Mississippi, back when we all went into work… I remember the day that PBOT bragged about buying this little sweeper, and then I thought about it every time I rode past the yard and saw it parked next to the fence.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  John C

It’s like the MIB, nobody wants the iddle sweeper

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  John C

In fact, the reason you see the narrow sweepers parked every day is because they only use them at night. Protected bike lanes are one type of lane that is only swept at times of low use to avoid inconvenience to users.

It still seems like they could cover the ground at least every couple of weeks.

Alan McDaniel
Alan McDaniel
1 year ago

Jonathan, what are the chances that they’d loan it to BikePortland for a week, so that you could raffle off shifts for those of us who’d really enjoy a chance to clean up all of these bike lanes? I think that many of us would chip in for the opportunity to be a part of the solution.

Keith
Keith
1 year ago

Although I’ve long advocated for more bike lanes in SW, perhaps I’m better off in the fall because I don’t have to deal with leaves

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago

If it’s daylight and it’s parked in the lot, it isn’t being used.