Why Does This Wisconsin City Need Street Sweeping Services So Badly?

wire brush street cleaner working after a vehicle crash
Janesville, WI, drivers may honk at the street sweepers going up and down local roads, but some residents say that without this service, things would be a lot worse.

Roughly six times per year, the city of Janesville sends its street sweeping trucks out to clear debris from roadways.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, around 200 municipalities — Janesville being one of them — are required to use street sweepers. Cities with 10,000 or more residents have to determine when and how often they do so.

For Janesville, street sweeping season happens from April to November.

The city’s stormwater engineer, Tim Whittaker, said that the process is necessary in order to avoid problems with the city’s infrastructure, which can be costly.

If pollutants get into local waterways, he said, “a lot of nutrients — phosphorous, nitrogen, suspended solids, dirt — that washes through the system… can have an impact on the water habitat for aquatic species.”

Sweeper trucks not only handle city streets, but also parking lots in order to keep all pavement surfaces clean. One study estimates that each parking space in the United States costs anywhere from $6 to $23 in environmental damages to society, so every little bit of cleaning can help.

For those who power Janesville’s street sweepers, it’s worth it, despite the honks from stressed out drivers.

Tracy Engstrom, who trains new drivers on the city’s machines, said that the vehicles top out around 19 mph, but while working she’s usually only traveling about one-fifth that speed. At that rate, an eight-hour shift usually only covers about 25 miles of roadways.

Most people in the area are appreciative of the work that she and other street sweeper drivers do.

Greg Peck, writing for the Gazette Xtra, wrote that street sweeping helps to clear the debris left from tree seeds, which take over his yard during this season. Among other issues, the seeds also clog storm drains, so when the sweepers come around, they help locals who don’t clear the elm seeds themselves.

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