Lean Mean Watering Machines

A project like the new Downtown Bike Network is a great win for Edmonton. It gives residents a convenient, safe and eco-friendly way to commute, and to boot, it’s a pretty addition to downtown — parts of the route are lined with flower planters.

But when the bike network opened last month, those planters presented a logistical problem: How to water them?

“We knew we needed to find a solution that fit the philosophy of the bike network,” says Olga Messinis, Project Manager for the downtown bike network. “ We needed something small, environmentally friendly and ideally with two wheels.”

But if two wheels are good, three are better. The bike network team worked with Parks and Roads Services to come up with a solution: a solar-powered tricycle with an on-board water tank.

Travis Kennedy, Acting Director of Parks Operations, Northwest District, is responsible for the brainwave. He realized early on in the bike network design phase that there would be conflicts between traffic and the City’s water trucks. Drip irrigation was considered as an early solution, but because of the movable nature of the network and the distance between planters, it wasn’t feasible.

“We needed the right equipment to meet the needs of cyclists and drivers,” he says. “We couldn’t find an existing product on the market, so we had to think outside the box a little.”

The real inspiration came from a chance meeting. Travis ran into the owner of local coffee shop Iconoclast, Ryan Arcand, who happened to use an electric trike to deliver coffee to customers in downtown and Old Strathcona. After speaking with Ryan and the folks at local retailer Red Bike, Travis knew he had the solution.

Travis and his team — Peter Mueller, Darren Grove and the Civic Centre Horticultural team — started with two “big bikes” by bike maker Babboe. Each has a single rear wheel, with two wheels and a large cargo box in front. Each box was then outfitted with two 70-litre water tanks, an electric pump to push water through the attached hose, and a solar voltaic attachment to charge the pump battery — just a regular car battery. The pump and irrigation system were also provided by a local business, Pumptronics. Once the trikes were complete, the street to try them out and answer questions from the public.

Not only are the watering trikes a simple, elegant and green solution — they’re also easy on the pocketbook. Typically, trucks would be leased for this purpose at a rate of $1,500 per month. The cost of each outfitted watering trike is about $8,500, meaning we can expect a return on investment within two years — and the trikes will be in use much longer than that.

Of course, any innovation comes with its challenges. Finding a pump installer and building the bikes took longer than expected, and the trikes weren’t ready for the opening of the bike network in July. And introducing a new way of doing things necessitates learning on the part of employees. “This type of watering is new in Edmonton, and from what we know, in other Canadian municipalities as well,” Travis says. “We’ve had to adapt our standard operating procedures on the fly, and adapt our safety and hazards assessments to meet the needs of this new approach.”

Fortunately, everything came together, and the product has gotten approving nods from Edmontonians. “This is really a made-in-Edmonton solution,” says Travis. “It’s awesome how City employees were able to work with local businesses to create something so unique, to service a piece of infrastructure we’re very proud of.”

Check out what Edmontonians are saying about our trikes…

The Cycle in the City Bike Party will be held on Saturday August 26, 2017 from 10am to 3pm all over the Downtown Bike Network.


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