Protected bike lanes — or cycling paths that are physically separated from roadways to keep cars away from more vulnerable micromobility vehicles — are becoming increasingly demanded by a growing population of bike commuters in the US. And in one case, they’re finally being enabled by a surprising source: a cute little electric mini-street sweeper.
The pint-sized electric maintenance vehicle, known as a Westvac LS125, was the last piece of the puzzle missing for Ann Arbor, Michigan’s protected bike lane plan.
The city has hoped to create more protected bike lanes along its roadways by installing bollards or vertical separators. But the narrow lanes would have been too small for the city’s maintenance vehicles to navigate.
Bike lanes, like roadways, require frequent street sweeping to rid them of dangerous debris and obstacles. In fact, such maintenance is perhaps even more critical on paths used by two-wheeled vehicles.
The City Council voted unanimously this week to buy an approximately $250,000 electric mini-sweeper that would enable the city to finally install separators along bike lanes while still maintaining the road surface.
As Council Member Dharma Akmon explained to Michigan Live:
“The purchase is going to allow us to maintain the single-track bike lanes, and that has been an impediment to the installation of bollards. So, very quickly we’re going to be able to put bollards where there aren’t any.”
The 48″ wide (122 cm) mini-sweeper might not be fast at just 15 mph (25 km/h), but it’s built for work — not for speed.
The 62 kWh battery gives it a nine-hour operating time. That means it can work all day, then recharge at night with a standard J1772 connector for Level 2 EV chargers.
The city’s public works manager Molly Maciejewski described how the city’s recently installed bike lanes have suffered from constant encroachment by cars and trucks:
“Since installation, there have been issues with illegal access by vehicles in the bikeways. To combat this issue, the Downtown Development Authority wishes to install centerline delineators along the bikeways. Additionally, the city desires to install bikeways outside of the downtown that are narrower than 10 feet in width.”
As Akmon continued, the new mini-street sweeper is all that was preventing the city from moving forward with its current plan to create the separated bike lines that would keep cars away from bikes, scooters, and other micromobility vehicles and their operators:
“In fact, the city has already laid out many of these dedicated lanes, but hasn’t been able to install the delineators because we don’t have the equipment to properly maintain the narrower lanes. The purchase of a new small sweeper will mean we can, in pretty short order, upgrade buffered bike lanes into protected bike lanes by installing the several hundred vertical delineators we already have in inventory and ready for deployment.”
Electric full-size street sweepers exist, but despite their more environmentally friendly design, they are still too wide to fit in most bike lanes.
That’s why miniature versions are critical for being able to carve off sections of roadways for bikes while still leaving access to maintain the quality of the road.
I know it’s a fairly specific niche, but I’m already quite a fan of miniature electric maintenance equipment.
And so if my two passions of biking and mini e-machines can somehow be intertwined into a solution that benefits everyone, well that sounds like a perfect day to me.
When Ann Arbor gets their cute new mini-sweeper in, I’d love to have a go on it!
In all seriousness though, it’s great to see cities finding creative solutions for embracing safer cycling infrastructure. The fact that those solutions themselves are zero-emissions simply makes the whole thing even sweeter.
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