Good Housekeeping

Street sweepers and vacuum trucks work in concert to keep streets—and water clean.

Credit: City of Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs’ Public Works Department street sweeping and catch basin cleaning crews

The Firestone Grand Prix consists of races featuring open-wheel IndyCars, with each race staged in a different American city. Most of the races are run on tracks, but a few of the courses are on city streets.

One of the city street races takes place in St. Petersburg, FL. It’s the first race of the Firestone Grand Prix season. The 1.8-mile course includes downtown streets—some along the waterfront—plus sections of two runways at the airport and a stadium parking lot. Thirteen road races are run over four days, Thursday to Sunday.

The races bring visitors to the city and a lot of excitement for local residents. They also mean extra work for the city’s street sweeping crews. “We start preparing a month before the race,” says Scott Huber, foreman for street sweeping in St. Petersburg’s Public Works Department.

He explains what happens in the month before the Grand Prix roars into town. “The waterfront [area] gets shut down right away. We put the concrete walls up but leave the ends open so the roads can be used. In a day or day and a half right before the races start, the ends are installed. Each year it gets easier and easier,” he says.

The airport’s north-south runway stays open, but the east-west runway is closed down a week and a half before the races start.

During the races it is essential that the roads stay clear of debris. The sweepers pick up mostly shreds of rubber. “Every little piece is picked up. We sweep in the morning of each day at 4:00 a.m. and between each race,” says Huber. “During the races, I have four sweepers staged in corners on the course and one downtown.”

On the Monday after the last race day, the street sweeping crews begin the work of returning St. Petersburg’s streets to their usual state. As the concrete walls and other barriers are dismantled and packed up to be returned to the Grand Prix operations department, the streets are gradually reopened to drivers. The work takes about two weeks.

Credit: Bill Logan, City of St. Petersburg
The 2017 Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg, FL, created extra work for the city’s sweeping crews.

“We have approximately 1,000 miles of paved streets. Our total annual sweeping is 26,000 curb miles,” says Huber. He says that frequency varies by street, averaging two times a year. “We’re trying to get it to six times a year.”

Leaf season in St. Petersburg lasts from mid-January to mid-April. The leaves are primarily from oak trees—water oaks, live oaks, and scrub oaks. “We pick up 135 cubic yards of material—of leaves—a day,” he says. “Palm trees are the worst. They drop more branches, which mechanical sweepers won’t pick up. Debris from the little date palms can be swept up, but not from larger palms, like sables.”

The terrain in St. Petersburg is mostly flat. “Our biggest obstacle is brick roads. They’re uneven. It’s hard to pick up debris, especially with the regenerative-air sweepers,” he notes.

St. Petersburg uses sweepers made by the Elgin Sweeper Co. of Elgin, IL, including vacuum (Whirlwind), regenerative-air (Crosswind), and mechanical models. “We’ll get six to seven years out of sweeping truck,” says Huber. “After three to three and a half years, we send them back to Elgin for new sweeping gear.”

St. Petersburg’s salt air climate “takes its toll on machinery,” he says. “We use reclaimed water, and even though we wash the sweepers down with freshwater, it’s the same effect as sand blasting into every nook and cranny.”

He says, “Elgin sent us a prototype to try, more for the emissions. It’s a shared-power machine, sharing some power from the front engine. They want us to use it for six months, to put 3,000 hours on it.”

St. Petersburg has 18.667 catch basins, grates, and other inlets that need cleaning. Chris Allen, foreman for line cleaning and aquatics for the city’s Public Works Department, heads the team that takes care of this work.

To get the job done. Allen and his crewmembers use two Vactor 2100 trucks from Vactor Manufacturing of Streator, IL. The trucks are two years old. Allen says he likes “the new power take-off, a double PTO. We can adjust the volume of the water, if there is a blockage, from zero gallons a minute to 80 gallons a minute. They vacuum really well.”

They’re also quieter, he notes. “With the silos in the back, they’re not nearly as loud as they used to be.” The Vactor trucks’ hoses “are rated for 3,500 pounds [of pressure], but we only push to 2,000 pounds.”

He says, “The majority of these inlets are in the residential neighborhoods. We have to do those in the downtown area early in the mornings before traffic begins. We have a lot of hot spots, and they are cleaned as often as need be, some once a month.”

Both Huber and Allen say their crews are able to respond faster to calls from St. Petersburg residents thanks to a program called See, Click, Fix. Residents can download an app that lets them take a photo of a clogged inlet, street debris, or another problem that needs attention. The resident then uploads the photo to the city. The photos make it much easier for the crews to find the exact problem. A city employee monitors these reports so that work orders are set up quickly.

Improving Efficiency in Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs, CO, is distinctive among American cities. Its location provides a scenic backdrop of the spectacular Rocky Mountains. Local institutions include the US Air Force Academy and the US Olympic Training Center.

Colorado Springs is also a sprawling city. “Lane mile-wise, we are huge. People don’t realize how big Colorado Springs is. You can drive 30 miles in this town and still be in this town. Not many cities can say this,” notes Michael Shill, logistics manager for the Operations and Maintenance Division of the city’s Public Works Department.

The city has an interesting way to make the 5,688 lane miles of streets easier for residents and visitors to visualize. A city website explains that 5,866 miles is the distance from Colorado Springs to Rome, Italy. Colorado Springs also has 3,679 miles of curbs and gutters to clean.

“We hit the arterials and collectors at night, once a week, generally,” says Jack Ladley, operations manager in the Operations and Maintenance Division. “For residential streets, our goal is to go through the entire city four times a year, as standard operating procedure is now written. But with the manpower and the equipment we have it’s untenable right now. We could use half again to twice as many sweepers and operators.”

Fortunately, a couple of things have happened to improve street sweeping efficiency and deployment of resources from what the situation was in recent years. One is new equipment and additional personnel. The other is reorganization and better planning.

Ladley says that with the purchase of new sweepers, “the city has done us a great service. The sweepers’ effectiveness and efficiency is just off the charts, and we have warm storage capacity for our sweepers.”

The new sweepers are from Schwarze Industries of Huntsville, AL. Four are regenerative-air models and four are mechanical sweepers. The Public Works Department took delivery of all eight sweepers a little more than a year ago.

Ladley says the regenerative-air Twister model is “phenomenal during leaf season. It does a good job of picking up fines, such as sand.”

The Avalanche, he says, is “a really good heavy-debris machine. After fires in the mountains [the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012 and the Black Forest fire in 2013], we’ve had heavy debris. Flooding after a big fire carries it off of the mountain.” He believes that having two types of sweepers is very beneficial to the street sweeping department.

The Olympic Training Center’s presence means some extra public events in Colorado Springs. Ladley says these events are scheduled far enough in advance that preparing for them doesn’t interfere with regular sweeping. “Right before the Olympics, the headquarters put on a kickoff celebration downtown. We had the sweepers out so the streets would look nice for visitors and the television cameras.”

The 10-member dedicated sweeping team will soon have three more members. Four staff members work on maintenance. One extra sweeper driver is dedicated to the downtown area.

Ladley noticed that each city department had the streets of Colorado Springs divided into different grids. He suggested that they use a common grid for emergencies and other situations where quick communication between different departments is essential.

A Romeo grid, 2 miles by 2 miles, was adopted as the shared system for identifying sections of the city when multiple departments are involved. The various departments still use their own grids internally. The street sweeping division sometimes uses its old grid but has found the new one is often a better choice.

“During leaf season, with six inches or more of leaves in residential areas, we switch to the Romeo grid,” says Ladley. “The challenge we have is snow and ice control, trying to clean our sand routes. As soon as we drop sand, we have to pick it up, for stormwater and aesthetic purposes and air quality,” he explains.

Although city crews apply chemical deicers on the main roads, in the residential areas sand is used instead. “We’re right up against the mountains, in the foothills. It’s pretty steep terrain. Residents in these areas are more likely to have to use 4 x 4 vehicles. Operationally it makes more sense to put sand there,” says Ladley. The sweeper crews try to pick up the sand within 48 hours after a snowstorm ends.

There is another reason for not using deicing chemicals in residential areas: “We’re maxed out on chemical storage space already, so we have to dedicate the chemicals for our arterials.”

Another weather-related challenge for the sweeping crews is the frequency with which conditions change. Temperatures fluctuate and short-lasting storms swirl down from the Rockies. “We can have sweepers out in the morning and then transition to snow plowing in the afternoon,” says Ladley.

“One of the challenges with running a sweeping program is disposing of the sweepings,” he notes. “We started a barter program with our landfill. The landfill uses asphalt millings for cover, rolled with a machine. They’re dust-free.” The bartering is straightforward. “For every tractor trailer load of milling we save for them, they take in one tractor trailer load of sweeping debris, up to three loads per day, at no charge. We’ve saved $300,000 in just the last three years in disposal fees,” says Ladley.

For future improvement, “We’re trying to refine our level of service through [developing and using] a standard operating procedure,” he adds. “Without our SOP, without defining our level of service, we are just out there, willy nilly.”

Colorado Springs has 100 permanent stormwater ponds and 250 miles of stormwater drainage channels. There are 18,471 catch basins to be cleaned. The Schwarze Twister machines have a vacuum hose. “If the sweeper cleaner sees a plugged catch basin, he can clean it right there,” says Ladley.

Credit: Vince Romero, City of McAllen, Public Works Dept.
The MoAllen, TX, fleet of Tymco sweepers

Most catch basin cleaning, though, is done with three Vactor trucks, with the stormwater team members “rolling through on the Romeo grid. They do a really good job,”
he says.

The crews are scheduled according to the level of service needed. “We try to do each grid in totality once a year,” he explains. “They clear the water-quality vaults because we’re out of space for stormwater storage.

He admits that, coming from a military career, “I was surprised by what passion drives city employees. It’s really about taking care of their city. Give these guys the tools they need and they’re as dedicated and passionate about their work as anybody.”

Commuting in Tennessee
Bartlett, TN, 13 miles northeast of Memphis, has a population of about 55,000. Bartlett is a popular place to live for people who work in Memphis. It’s an easy commute and offers the congenial atmosphere of a smaller city. It’s a very clean city as well.

“We sweep 624 lane miles [going both directions] and an additional 120 lane miles of our main streets. We service them every week,” says Aaron Davidson, manager of the Grounds and Maintenance Division, part of the city’s Public Works Department.

The 624 lane miles are in the subdivisions. Davidson says it takes eight to 12 weeks to get through them, “so when we finish we start the cycle over again. These suburban streets are swept quarterly.”

Credit: Aaron Davidson, City of Bartlett
Bartlett’s new Galaxy R-6 sweeper

Two city employees work full time as drivers of the street sweepers. The sweepers operate from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. With western Tennessee’s climate, the sweepers are able to run year around. “The only time we stop is when it’s below freezing,” says Davidson.

“We have one sweeper dedicated just to the suburban streets,” he explains. Two older sweepers are used to clean the main arterials.

That suburban sweeper was purchased about a year ago, at the suggestion of Bartlett’s mayor. It is a Galaxy R-6, the larger model of regenerative-air sweeper made by the Stewart-Amos Sweeper Co. of Harrisburg, PA.

Before that sweeper was added to the fleet, the suburban streets in Bartlett were swept only “a couple of times a year or in response to complaints from residents,” says Davidson.

He says the Galaxy gets good gas mileage and that he likes the sweeper’s stainless steel bed plus the fact that the sweeper is smaller than some other models. “It drives better. It handles better. It gives a smooth ride.”

While sweeping the streets in one of Bartlett’s subdivisions, this sweeper fills up two or three times a day. Fortunately, the sweeper drivers have to travel only about 2 miles to get to a facility with a tip in floor that is operated by the Solid Waste Division of the city’s Public Works Department.

Bartlett has a lot of trees, “at least 50 to 60% [tree canopy],” he says. “It might take us three or four weeks in one subdivision during leaf season. We stay in that subdivision until the streets are clean.”

Bartlett’s Sanitation Department also runs a big leaf vacuum truck. Its regular routes through suburban streets lighten the load of the street sweeping employees.

Davidson says Bartlett’s residents take pride in their clean streets, and people driving into the city often comment on how clean it is. Crewmembers don’t have to post notices that the sweepers will be coming, because they follow the same routes that the sanitation trucks travel, so residents know when to expect the sweeper.

He says an effective maintenance schedule is essential for a well-run street sweeping operation. It’s time invested that will save future time lost to breakdowns and larger maintenance issues. “We figure 10 to 15% of work time is for maintenance. We perform that every Friday, for half a day,” he explains.

He has developed a 17-point checklist, covering such tasks as seeing that the sweeper’s filters are clean. Each driver follows the same startup procedure at the beginning of each work day. The most frequent maintenance problems are lights not working and low tires.

Every year Davidson sends a report to the city’s stormwater engineer on the amount of debris his crews have swept. While the land in Bartlett is almost all flat, after a heavy storm event runoff can accumulate on some main streets—another reason the streets are swept weekly. “Keeping the streets swept, keeping debris out of the gutters, keeping the drains from stopping up is so important for cleaner air and water. And just for the aesthetics, too—cleaner streets look better,” he notes.

Leaves and Other Priorities in McAllen
The city of McAllen is in the southernmost tip of Texas, about 60 miles northwest of Brownsville. Keeping the 1,548 gutter miles of streets in McAllen clean is the responsibility of Vince Romero, the city’s streets and drains manager, and his crew of sweeper drivers. To get their work done quickly and well they rely on a fleet of seven identical sweepers, Tymco Model 600s from Tymco Inc. of Waco, TX.

“We’ve been running them for years. They don’t require a lot of maintenance,” says Romero. “Five times a year we send our drivers for in-house training at Tymco’s headquarters in Waco. They give us BMPs and show us how to maintain everything we can work on longer.”

Romero appreciates his department’s Tymco 600s most during leaf season. “We have lots of flat land, but lots of tree canopy. We need versatile sweepers. With the leaf pickup head attached, the sweeper can drive over the leaves and sweep them up. Mesquite trees are our native tree. They have foliage and seedpods that have to be swept up. Oak trees drop leaves and a lot of acorns. Because we’re so flat, they block water so it doesn’t always drain from the streets,” he explains.

Romero adds, “We have two Vactor trucks to address this. In some areas the sweepers work as vac trucks. We put an attachment on the backs for the needed suction.”

And, unlike some other sweepers that supposedly hold 6 cubic yards of debris, the Tymco sweeper “holds the whole six yards. Others can’t fill up the whole hopper” because of their configurations, he says. “We prioritize arterials and sweep them about seven cycles a year. Residential streets are done about five times a year.”

As in many other cities, McAllen’s street sweeping crews coordinate their schedules with those of the city’s Sanitation Department. In this case, they sweep in zones on the days that the sanitation pickup trucks are operating in other sections of the city.

Another program helps the street sweeping operation be more efficient by giving Romero and his crew immediate notice of debris on the streets. Its proactive approach is one that Romero espouses. “For 16 years we’ve run four Pothole Patrol trucks daily,” he says, noting that these workers get close views of the streets in need of sweeping.

“We have a rover sweeper. He’ll pick up what was missed by the regular sweeper driver, especially if a resident calls and asks us to come back. Then he’ll break away from his regular route.”

Streets are swept in McAllen by zones. Two sweepers run on the east and west sides of the city and two on the north and south sides. With the grid they go up one side of a street and down the other side. “We don’t miss much,” says Romero.

Last year was the third consecutive year for Operation Clean Sweep. This collaborative effort involves sweeping, on the same April weekday, all of the bike lanes in six towns, with McAllen as the hub city. It’s a great public outreach opportunity and much appreciated by area bike riders. “We bring all of our sweepers and we target the bike lanes. They are interconnected—the lanes continue from one town to the next one. Texas Department of Transportation is involved, too,” says Romero.

McAllen has approximate 16,562 catch basins. The city uses two Vactor 2000 Plus trucks to clean them. Four cities, with different climates and different terrains, make for some unique sweeping and catch basin challenges. But with the right equipment for their location, these crews are equal to the tasks. SW_bug_web


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