The 'Atlanta Magnet Man' is saving our car tires, one bike ride at a time

The Atlanta Magnet Man is cleaning Atlanta's streets of metal debris, one bike ride at a time. (Courtesy of Alex Benigno)

One Atlanta resident has taken it upon himself to clean the streets of nails, screws and other metal bits that have been left to accumulate in large amounts.

Known as the “Atlanta Magnet Man,” Alex Benigno bikes around Atlanta with a hitched trailer that uses magnets to attract metal debris that poses a risk to people’s car tires. The idea is completely his own, and he does it for free.

“I can’t really find anybody that says what I’m doing is a terrible thing unless, you know, they own a tire shop,” he said.

Benigno, a native Atlantan, first identified the problem early in the COVID-19 pandemic when roads were empty.

During work commutes, his car and motorcycle tires were damaged by nails. After he realized how many more drivers would be affected when traffic conditions returned to normal, he worked to find a solution.

“I like to randomly do things to help when nobody’s looking,” Benigno said. “I’ll do just random stuff to help improve things that will benefit random people that I’ve never met before … it’s just so that I can do a little thing to fix something so somebody doesn’t suffer down the road.”

In June 2023, Benigno first equipped his bike trailer with magnets. After several months of trial and error, he found the perfect configuration for the trailer and has been riding consistently since last December.

Nearly every day, Benigno bikes about 10 miles and picks up around six pounds of debris — about the max the magnets can carry. Over the course of eight weeks, he collected over 410 pounds of metal, recently donating it to a local scrap artist.

Benigno started documenting his journeys on Instagram and has amassed over 22,000 followers since January. His most popular video, with nearly 2 million views on Instagram, shows footage of the magnets as he bikes along I-285 and S. Atlanta Road.

So far, he said the roads he’s biked with the most debris are South Cobb Drive in Smyrna and Grassdale Road in Cartersville.

Thanks to a successful GoFundMe campaign, he was able to cover the cost of a bike lane sweeper prototype. And although he’s not motivated to make a fortune, he said it’d be cool just to earn a living wage cleaning streets full-time.

“If I never got any recognition for this, I’d still be doing it anyway because it’s so effective,” he said.

Although magnetic sweepers are used for things like airport runways and at Air Force bases, it would be impossible to use them on streets riddled with metal plates, grates and manhole covers. Benigno is able to dodge those obstacles on a bike — usually. And while Atlanta does quarterly street sweeping, metal debris still falls through the cracks.

Rebecca Serna, the executive director of PropelATL (formerly the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition), said Benigno is highlighting a real need in Atlanta’s public services. 

“What Alex is doing is incredible, and we’re really inspired by it,” Serna said. “But also we want to see the city invest in the systems and the people in the equipment so that they can maintain our public infrastructure.”

The Atlanta Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works both play a part in the safety of the streets. Atlanta’s transportation department budget was cut by 12% last year. She said that about $50 million is three times less than peer cities.

PropelATL is particularly focused on keeping bike lanes clean and safe. She says the city doesn’t have street sweepers that can reach separated bike lanes, so all sorts of debris don’t get cleaned and pose a risk to people in motion.

“People using scooters and bikes, Onewheels, skateboards, wheelchairs are all affected by debris in the street, and especially in the separated bike [lane],” she said.

For now, it’s up to individuals to keep the streets clean.

“A lot of folks … they’re kind of DIY-ing it until we can get the level of public service that we really need.”