New York City Says Yes To More Cargo Bikes, Fewer Delivery Trucks

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When the epitaph for humanity is written, it may consist of one word: convenience. We willing give up any shred of personal privacy for the convenience of having cell phones, even though they track our every move and share that information with marketers. We order everything online and have it delivered to our door because it is more convenient than schlepping out to Far Rockaway and lugging stuff home on the subway.

The explosion of package delivery is changing the face of retail. There are now so many packages being delivered in New York City that 90,000 of them go missing every day — many of them stolen, others just delivered to the wrong address — according to a report in The New York Times.

New York City is particularly hard hit by the number of delivery trucks on its streets, many of which in the SoHo area were laid out when horse drawn carriages were the norm. Today’s enormous delivery vans simply don’t fit in those lanes and alleyways or if they do, they block every vehicle behind them when they stop to make a delivery.

UPS peddle electric cargo bike
UPS pedal electric delivery bike in Seattle. Image credit: UPS via YouTube

To combat the congestion, the city has decided to allow up to 100 pedal-electric delivery bikes to park in loading zones typically reserved for commercial vehicles, according to The New York Times. Smaller delivery bikes will be permitted to use the city’s 1,400 miles of bike lanes and park on wider sidewalks as well.

“Around the world, we have seen how freight companies use cargo bikes to move goods around dense urban neighborhoods more efficiently,” Polly Trottenberg, New York’s transportation commissioner, tells The Times. They will also make getting around by bicycle in the city safer. Of the 27 cyclists killed in collisions with vehicles so far this year, 13 involved delivery trucks. 90 of the 100 pedal-electric delivery bikes are operated by Amazon with the rest owned by UPS or DHL. Trottenberg says if the program proves successful, more bikes may be added to the program in the future.

Rebecca Gansert, Amazon’s vice president for specialty fulfillment, says the company’s cargo bikes in New York City were part of an effort to reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2040. “We’re starting with 90 bikes and plan to significantly grow that number in the coming months. We appreciate the City of New York and its support of innovative programs to bring more sustainable delivery options to the city.”

Of course, not everyone is pleased. Traditional trucking firms pay significant annual fees for the privilege of parking in commercial loading zones. Their drivers are not going to be happy if they can’t park because some delivery bike is taking up the space normally reserved for them. Pedestrians will complain about bikes parked on sidewalks and bicyclists are sure to be upset at having to share their hard won bike lanes with delivery companies.

Nonetheless, UPS now has an array of pedal-electric delivery bikes in use in 30 cities around the world. The trend is growing (watch the video below) and smaller vehicles are likely more efficient and less disruptive to city life than traditional delivery vans. It will be interesting to see how the new cargo bike plan is received by the citizens of New York and whether permits for more delivery bikes are issued in the future.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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