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Seattle Puts Electric Bike-Lane Sweeper Through Its Paces

This month, the Seattle Department of Transportation debuted a program to test out the electric bike-lane sweeper. At barely 5 feet wide the machine is designed to weave between bollards and curbs.

(TNS) — In the quest for a zero-emission all-electric world, a lot about how we get around must change — including the little-known, unassuming bike-lane sweeper.

This month, the Seattle Department of Transportation debuted a program to test out the electric bike-lane sweeper, a compact vehicle barely 5 feet wide and designed to weave between bollards and curbs to suck up the leaves and rocks that can impede cyclists.

Operators will use the German-made "eSwingo 200" during a six-month trial with an eye toward how the program can expand on the 37 miles that make up Seattle's protected bike-lane network.

SDOT equipment manager Paul Roach said for the most part operating the electric bike-lane sweeper is the same as running the city's two diesel-powered bike-lane sweepers, except quieter. They're the same size and have the same leaf-holding capacity. The seats are slightly less comfortable, though, and Roach said he is still getting used to aligning the brush right next to the curb.

"I think the steering is a little more responsive," he said. "You get that instant acceleration."

The electric bike-lane sweeper is part of the city of Seattle's goal to electrify its entire vehicle inventory, around 3,650 vehicles, by 2030. It's an ambitious goal for a city that manages passenger cars and vans as well as police cars, dump trucks, snowplows, bucket trucks, certain off-road vehicles and firetrucks.

According to the city, about half its fleet consists of light-duty vehicles like passenger cars and smaller vans and pickups, and the rest are about evenly divided up among medium-duty vehicles, heavy-duty vehicles and off-road vehicles of different weights.

So far, around 460 vehicles are either electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles and SDOT is looking into renting a large electric street sweeper and testing an electric pavement roller and asphalt compactor. The city has also built a limited number of curbside EV charging stations and is offering rebates of up to $180,000 to truck drivers in the Duwamish Valley who switch to electric trucks.

Two major roadblocks stand in the way of complete electrification: adequate charging infrastructure and the availability of medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles, said Jessyn Farrell, director of the city's Office of Sustainability and Environment.

While Seattle City Light has already analyzed how to grow its capacity, officials are still discussing how to efficiently scale charging infrastructure, she said. Should the city have a centralized charging location for its EVs or have nodes throughout the city? Should the public be able to access those locations and charge their own vehicles when they're not being used for the city fleet? Should the effort be coupled with electrifying buildings?

"The planning process is happening right now," Farrell said. "And the goal is to have a plan in place by the end of this year."

As for electrifying heavy trucks and other vehicles, the market is still developing, she said, with most vehicles either being too expensive or still in prototype stages. Farrell said she hopes prices will come down in a few years due to investments from the federal Inflation Reduction Act or the state's Climate Commitment Act.

In the meantime, the electric bike-lane sweeper is chugging along. SDOT is hoping to learn how well the electric sweepers fare in rainy and cold weather and what the charging schedule should look like for use during both the day and night shifts, said SDOT operations manager Sonia Palma. The sweeper uses Level 2 charging, the same used for many electric vehicles, and needs eight hours for a full charge.

As for Seattle's steep hills? The electric sweeper is doing just fine, Roach said. Unlike the diesel-powered sweepers, the mighty machine sticks around its top speed of 21 mph even on an incline, he said.

©2023 The Seattle Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.