The machine — the smaller of two brought out for the test — looks sort of like an overgrown riding lawnmower or a shrunken street sweeper. Fueled by diesel, it features an assortment of brushes and a vacuum system; and it can shred leaves and trash, even break up glass as it moves it off the sidewalk. Some of the piles of leaves proved to be a bit much for the sweeper, as they bunched up in front of the brushes; still, the machine was admired by the officials and business leaders there.
"It definitely makes the sidewalks look better," observed John Gavin of Asheville Public Works Department. "We could run them at night, like they do at beaches." One issue with running them at night would be the sound, as they make more noise than some expected, but not as much as a traditional, larger street sweeper. The smaller unit can move around trees, trash cans and plantings on sidewalks; it could also be used in some of the city's parks. The Downtown Association is exploring how to fund the units — including a larger one for streets and sidewalks, which costs $95,000 — with a possible partnership with Buncombe County, the state, the city and private funding.
"Even though we don't think it is representative of reality in Asheville, some visitors feel our sidewalks and streets are dirty," said Minicozzi. "Downtown is the playground, and we get a lot of litter left behind sometimes."
On the other side of the street, three volunteers with brooms and dust pans wore just about the same color lime green on vests —- volunteers from local nonprofit Asheville GreenWorks. In a "John Henry" stunt, the sweeper was on one side of Haywood, the volunteers on the other. Behind the volunteers and the sweeper was the same clean sidewalk, but the human-powered workers did not cover as much territory, even though, to several observers, the clean-up was more thorough by the volunteers.
So, efficient? Yes. Costly? Yes. The way of the future for our downtown sidewalks? Perhaps.
For a slideshow of images from the event click on Image Slideshow
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