Vulnerable Road Users

Cargo Bikes in NYC

These past few weeks millions of people went online, added various items to their cart, and hit “submit order.” From Thanksgiving until the end of December, the volume of packages hitting the road will be substantial. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and holiday shopping all taking place in a short time span, the resulting packages will cause delivery trucks in heavily populated cities to disrupt road traffic more than ever.

New York City (NYC) has the highest population density of any city in the United States with over 27,000 people per square mile. Not only is NYC the most populated, it also has more packages delivered than anywhere else in the country. There are nearly 1.5 million packages delivered a day in NYC and during the holiday season that number climbs even higher. When making deliveries, trucks park in bus lanes and bike lanes, double-park, cause a significant number of cyclist accidents, and contribute to congestion. Additionally, delivery trucks pollute the air by sitting in traffic and idling its engines throughout the day.

Delivery companies and the Department of Transportation (DOT) are recognizing the rate people are ordering online and have begun to realize that large trucks may not be the most feasible option to navigate the busy streets. Recently, the city approved a new program in which cargo bikes operated by Amazon, UPS, and DHL will be allowed to make deliveries for the next six months. The Commercial Cargo Bike Program consists of around 100 pedal-assisted, electronic cargo bikes that are ready to replace some of the delivery trucks on the road.

“There’s no doubt the rise in deliveries has caused chaos on our streets–but there are plenty of thoughtful solutions out there to make our streets safer and more sustainable. I’m excited to see DOT exploring this new technology which will help bring NYC’s freight and delivery systems into the 21st Century. I look forward to seeing these cargo bikes on the road and working with DOT in the near future to take a comprehensive look at how we manage these deliveries.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson

The goal of the program is to monitor and collect data on how the cargo bikes handle the streets by looking at the cargo bike’s speed, size, parking, use of bike lanes, and effect on overall traffic in Manhattan. The data will be assessed by the DOT to determine whether a more permanent implementation of cargo bikes is appropriate for NYC. In the meantime, cargo bikes are permitted to travel on the street and in bike lanes at a maximum speed of 12mph as well as park in existing commercial loading areas without paying the meters. According to DHL, their cargo bikes can hold 300 pounds, which depending on the size of the packages, could be around 100 to 150 shipments per day. For each cargo bike put on the road, there is meant to be one delivery truck taken off.

Other large cities such as Paris, London, Dublin, and Seattle, have found success in using cargo bikes. UPS has cargo bikes in over 30 cities all over the world. In NYC, however, Amazon is at the forefront of the cargo bike movement. Amazon’s cargo bikes comprise 90 of the initial 100 bikes deployed for the program and they hope to add more soon. Amazon began putting their cargo bikes on the streets before the Commercial Cargo Bike Program was officially approved. Their cargo bikes were first put to use ten months ago for Prime Now grocery deliveries.

The convenience, flexibility, and efficiency of cargo bikes make them just one of many possible solutions for package delivery in densely populated cities. Now that cargo bikes have the support of NYC and the DOT, residents might begin to see some much needed relief to the vehicle congestion caused by too many trucks on the road.