Volunteers versus machines on downtown sidewalk cleanup

Joe Minicozzi grabbed a broom and started pulling leaves and trash from the gutters onto the sidewalk of Haywood Street. “More,” he called out, “I want more. I want to see what it does.” Headed up the block was a $27,000 lime green sidewalk cleaner made by the Tennant Company. The Downtown Association, Asheville Greenworks, and the City of Asheville were evaluating on Nov. 10, and Mr. Minicozzi wanted to make sure there was a lot of liter for it to pick up.

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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9 thoughts on “Volunteers versus machines on downtown sidewalk cleanup

  1. bill smith

    I think it would be a better investment to employ one or two people to keep the streets clean than to buy these expensive machines. That money would then stay in Asheville. This toy will just send money out of asheville.

    • Selene22

      I agree, it is a toy. The cost is superinflated and as it makes the street prettier it pollutes the air. The smartest move would be to get a refund and employ people to do the job.

  2. Chett Spinney

    I agree hire people to do the job of sweeping and leave the noisy machines for other cities to experiment with, Asheville would have to hire at least 1 person for each 8hour shift so hire them for broom duty instead, these sweepers are not tools they are toys and accidents waiting to happen

  3. Bill Rhodes

    I tend to agree with the other posters, and asked the city representatives there about the liability and such, they admitted they had not thought about that much.
    I don’t think the purchase of these things is a done deal by a long shot… mainly because no one group (downtown, city, county) has the money to cough up for them.

  4. Unaffiliated Voter

    ok, lets get this straight…they have cut out leaf vacuuming citywide to save $130,000, NOW, they want to buy these just for downtown?

    How about the Downtown Business Association buying them please!

  5. Marc

    Its a no brainier guys! Which is cheaper to operate, one guy in the machine or one guy out of the machine with a blower, duh. Not to mention the fact it would help keep down obesity within our city employees.

  6. dpewen

    For once I agree that this was a poor choice. Please start hiring people to do these jobs … I am sure many would love to have this job!

    • Barry Summers

      Well, I don’t know – Devils Advocate for a sec: aren’t there jobs involved in driving these things around? They aren’t like giant Roombas, are they?

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