City puts pedal to the metal with Manhattan cargo bike rollout

New York City is partnering with UPS, DHL and Amazon to launch a small pilot testing deliveries by fleets electric cargo bicycles in Manhattan south of 60th Street.
Out with trucks, in with cargo bikes. 
 
New York City is launching a small pilot with three major delivery services — Amazon, UPS and DHL —to promote the use of electric cargo bikes in a move aimed to eventually reduce truck traffic, pollution and improve traffic safety. 
 
“[With] the growth of freight, the growth of trucks on our streets, we’re looking at new ways that we can now make our streets safer, greener and less congested,” said city Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at a Manhattan news conference Wednesday.
 
Under the pilot, the three companies will operate roughly 100 cargo bikes south of 60th Street in Manhattan, with new rules allowing the bikes to be parked in commercial loading zones. The bicycles would also not be subjected to parking meters. 
 
The initiative comes as the city faces ever-worsening congestion and slowing traffic speeds stemming from a surge in e-hailing vehicles and a growing demand for home deliveries of food and other goods. About 100,000 delivery trucks travel through the city on a given day, according to the DOT.
 
Each company showcased its own cargo bike designs Wednesday–all limited to 12-mph speed restrictions. Amazon is deploying 90 of the bicycles, the lion’s share, for its food delivery service. For every cargo bicycle Amazon puts on the city’s streets, it will remove one delivery truck, the company pledged. 
 
DHL will be piloting three bikes, with UPS rolling out two of their own.
 
“We hope this is just the first phase of what promises to be a vibrant successful cargo e-bike delivery program,” said Mike Parra, the CEO of DHL Express America. 
 
As home deliveries skyrocket, cities in the Netherlands, as well as London and Paris, have already embraced the bicycles. In Germany last year, there were more documented sales of electric cargo bicycles than registrations for electric cars, according to the Guardian
 
Over the last year, American cities like Portland and Seattle have hopped on the trend as well, announcing new pilot programs with UPS. 
 
City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announces a new pilot with DHL, UPS and Amazon to roll out a small fleet of electric cargo bicycles for deliveries in Manhattan south of 60th Street during a news conference in the Flatiron district on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (Photo by Vincent Barone)

“American cities are kind of dipping a toe at this point,” said Jon Orcutt, spokesman for Bike New York, who felt the New York could be more aggressively moving to implement such bicycles. 

“If this gives people at DHL and UPS the green light to do something new that’s great news,” he continued. “I don’t see a need to make it a pilot, but it’s definitely a direction we need to be going in.”

Researchers at New York University’s Rudin Center last year called for the city to explore new delivery options like cargo bikes in a report detailing the rise of e-commerce. In Manhattan, more than half of people surveyed bought groceries online at least once a month. At the same time, online shopping hadn’t lowered car use in Manhattan or Paris, the two focal locations for the study. 

The cargo-bike rollout angered some advocates pushing for the decriminalization of a different, throttle e-bike that is commonly used by restaurant delivery workers in the city.

While the de Blasio administration rolls out pedal-assisted cargo e-bikes, those throttle-activated bikes are still illegal under state law. The mayor has directed police to crack down on the bikes with summonses and confiscations, arguing that they’re too dangerous.

Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to sign a bill the state legislature passed in June that would legalize such bicycles.

“It’s hypocritical of the city to be rolling our these bikes while still criminalizing delivery workers,” said Do Lee, of the advocacy group Biking Public Project. “It’s kind of the American democracy that is about helping corporations and not workers…and a frustration about who gets to introduce innovation.”

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on why Cuomo has not yet signed the bill. Trottenberg said, for the city’s part, it had “pulled back” enforcing against the delivery workers’ illegal bicycles. 

Vincent Barone