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Legal Issues Pertaining to Sweeping

Legal Issues Pertaining to Sweeping

Sweeping Against Traffic – Is a Single Curb Broom a Viable Option?

Posted December, 2012
by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

Iowa Flag

We recently heard about a city in Iowa that – in order to save money – was specifying a sweeper with only a single curb broom. This was being done even though the city will be sweeping some one-way streets and islands.

This investigative report looks at the advisability of sweeping against traffic instead of specifying a sweeper with curb brooms on both sides. In it, the pros and cons are evaluated and potential alternative solutions are offered.

There is no question that sweepers have become more expensive in the past few years, in large part because of evolving diesel engine regulations. However, when it comes to needed features on a new sweeper, as you will read the experts agree that it doesn't make sense to scrimp on a sweeper's needed features if doing so will create even more costs – and potentially compromise public safety – during its future usage.

Elgin Pelican The background story: a small city in Iowa narrowed its choice of sweepers to two competing machines, an Elgin Pelican and a Global Sweepers M3 model, both capable sweepers. Although both machines meet the city's specifications, in this particular instance the Global sweeper was bid at a lower price with the standard configuration of curb brooms on both sides.

However, because the Elgin Pelican requires dual steering and other in-cab componentry for sweeping both sides of the street, it became less expensive when the left side curb broom was omitted. So, the city managers' decision at press time was to purchase a single-broom Elgin sweeper, although with the knowledge that it would be used against the flow of traffic, in some instances; specifically, on one-way streets and around center islands.

Global M3 WorldSweeper was contacted to see if we had ever written an article on the topic of the advisability, safety and leagalities of sweeping against traffic on a one-way street because what you had was a sweeper with only a single curb broom. Since we had not previously done so, we decided it was a topic that needed to be covered.

First, we set out to see what other experts had to say on the topic, because we thought their answers might provide the best basis for decisionmaking for anyone faced with a similar decision in the future.

Perhaps the leading information resource for any municipality trying to decide about sweeping against traffic flow would be uncovering the state and local regulations that might cover the situation. These would, of course, be different for each state. However, in the state of Iowa there are two code sections that appear to apply:

Section 321.305 One-way roadways and rotary traffic islands.
1. Upon a roadway designated and signposted for one-way traffic a vehicle shall be driven only in the direction designated.
2. A vehicle passing around a rotary traffic island shall be driven only to the right of such island.


Section 321.366 Acts prohibited on fully controlled-access facilities.
It is unlawful for a person, except a person operating highway maintenance equipment (emphasis added) or an authorized emergency vehicle, to do any of the following on a fully controlled-access facility:
3. Drive a vehicle except in the proper lane provided for that purpose and in the proper direction and to the right of the central dividing curb, separation, section, or line.

Iowa MVE Logo The question "Is a sweeper considered highway maintenance equipment?" would seem to follow. According to a Captain with Iowa Motor Vehicle Enforcement, the answer is "No... per state code there is nothing that allows it (a sweeper to operate against traffic). The city could pass an ordinance excepting city maintenance vehicles allowing them to travel the wrong way on a one-way; however, they should probably run it by their city attorney."

Our experts in the sweeping industry believe the above opinion is questionable, though, in that both of the sweepers in this story are on purpose-built chassis. As a result, they are generally considered NOT to be a motor vehicle. However, either way that fact doesn't speak to the inherent safety issues of sweeping against traffic.

IDOT logo When we contacted the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) we learned that all IDOT sweepers to date have been specified with dual gutter brooms, even though highway sweeping would rarely be required on a one-way street. When we asked the agency representative we spoke with about the advisability of sweeping against traffic on a one-way street, or in other circumstances that might require sweeping against traffic flow because your sweeper only had one gutter broom, here is what we were told:

"In theory, the city could probably circumvent safety and other issues by setting up the proper traffic control. However, this would be both expensive and time-consuming, since it would need to be done each time sweeping was done against the flow of traffic. Over time, it would seem there would be an increased overall cost to do so. Because of the safety issues involved, the city would want to check with its attorney on the matter."

Stewart-Amos LogoWe also spoke with Frank Chulick, president of Stewart-Amos Sweeper Company. Although Stewart-Amos only sells chassis-mounted sweepers, not purpose-built machines like the ones in question, Chulick did provide us with his analysis of this topic.

"Sweeping while going against traffic is inherently dangerous," said Chulick. "Since dual-broom sweepers exist, public safety shouldn't have a price tag. If you're sweeping on a one-way street, for example, it's one-way for a reason. It would appear the only safe way to sweep the opposite side of a one-way street would be to block it off during sweeping, which would add a cost to the city.

"The #1 concern of any public works department is public safety. I do not understand why a city with one-way streets and/or center islands that need to be swept would want to consider a sweeper with only one curb broom. In fact, we've never built a street sweeper that wasn't a dual-broom machine. If a city doesn't have any one-way streets then having a single-side broom might make sense. Otherwise, it simply doesn't."

Johnston NA logoWe additionally contacted William "Bill" Ackendorf, who was a member of Elgin Sweepers' management team for 18 years and who is now the national sales manager for Johnston North America. Ackendorf said "From a legal and a moral standpoint, going the wrong way on a one-way street is never advisable.

"Your exposure from a liability standpoint definitely increases. [Even though] the Pelican is not classified as a motor vehicle, it does not make a case for dangerous operational activity. It might negate the legal aspect of having it comply with typical motor vehicle laws, but does not exclude it from dangerous operation on the streets.

"Even if the city passed an ordinance to allow it, that would just free up the driver from getting a citation from law enforcement. If you're going to do one-way streets, you need to have a sweeper equipped with dual brooms to be legally correct.

"The reality is that when you compare the two machines, you've got a couple of things to focus on. In the case of one machine compared to the other, in an Elgin Pelican you need dual steering because of the way the cab is constructed. If an operator were to sweep the opposite side of the street without dual steering installed there would be a line-of-sight visibility issue.

"By contrast, the Global M3 has a cab that offers a central driving position with considerably different lines of sight. Because of its design, the issue of single- vs. dual-steering is rendered moot. No change in driver position is needed for sweeping either side of the street.

"The question would seem to be 'What was put into the specifications by the city?' If we assume that the performance of both machines meets the specifications, then if there are one-way streets to be swept the city needs to have a dual-broom machine, whichever one they choose. It doesn't make sense, for a variety of reasons, to end up with a single-broom sweeper that isn't designed to do its job efficiently and safely."

Our intent in covering this story was not to favor any manufacturers' product over any other. Rather, we sought to focus strictly on the issues involved, which would seem to primarily be ones of safety and sensibility. Although we called both the City Administrator and City Attorney of the municipality, to date our calls have not been returned.

Green Line Sweeper Separator

Cees van der Put, of Ravo Sweepers, sent us some information after reading the above article. Here's what he said: "In Europe we have many small one way streets and shoulders in the middle of the road. Therefore RAVO developed the option of independent broom lifting. [With it] you can either lift the left or right broom when sweeping since in the end most of the dirt is in the curb anyway.

"Editor's Note: We requested more information on this and will report on it in a future article.

Green Line Sweeper Separator

If you have comments or further information on this article, please let us know.

Green Line Sweeper Separator
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