Thursday, November 19, 2009

Power of the Pedal

You might not think that a person could haul over 800 lbs. of produce, pies or party supplies, on a bicycle but you'd be wrong.

In an age dominated by "light trucks" and SUVs you'd be surprised by what we can haul around on a trike (thats bike slang for tricycle). The CS Monitor reports on a growing service in Boston that's taking the pollution out of delivery.
In a city choked with diesel-spewing delivery trucks, the fledgling New Amsterdam Project (NAP), a Cambridge-based cargo-hauling company, is pedaling toward profits aboard an emissions-free fleet of urban “cargo trikes.”

China, India, and other developing nations have long utilized bicycle-based delivery for many goods – but are shifting toward engine-powered vehicles. Across North America, bicycle delivery services exist in several cities. Yet pedal-powered hauling for cargo has been largely a no-show in the United States.

Times are changing. The NAP is at the front lines of a industry spreading across major urban areas in the U.S. Trike delivery services are springing up in New York , Berkeley and here in Burlington, Vermont. UPS, in a experimental holiday season test-run, ran a trike delivery program in certain Vermont townships to deal with the holiday freight rush.

You can trace the beginnings of the trike delivery service to examples like the British Royal Mail service which worked with Britain-based cycle company Cycles Maximus to develop the electric-assist allowing even the most frail person haul over 800 lbs. uphill.

The growth in bikes as a form of transportation continue to be reflected not only in the growth of the bike messenger services in cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Portland, but also in the sudden interest in bike commuting among America's urban dwellers.

New York has reported a 26% jump in bike commuting after safer bike lanes and streets were created. That effort alone has removed over 15,000 commuters from NYC. San Francisco saw a 43% jump in city-wide ridership between 2006 and 2008 (PDF of survey performed by the SF Metro Transportation Authority). Chicago saw a 30% jump in peddle pushers between 2005 and 2008 again thanks to new bike lanes, high gas prices and general interest. And nationwide, bike commuters grew by more than 43% since 2000. Heck, in the American Northwest, bike commuters outnumber farmers. Even in Afghanistan, citizens created a bike messenger service to avoid complete poverty.

I think its safe to call that a trend.

So, is Boston's New Amsterdam Project ahead of the curve? Perhaps, but there's still much to be done, including re-educating the American public on the perception of peddling in our culture. New Amsterdam Project's co-founder Andrew Brown understands that:

Whether delivering pies, chocolates, organic produce, or green building products, NAP’s ultimate motive is to show people bicycles are a great way to stay fit, as well as break the internal-combustion stranglehold.

“It’s almost like cars are the sea within which we live and we’re so attached to them, it’s so habitual,” he says. “We are trying to lead the way, to set an example about how to get away from cars altogether..." Brown admits there is “a huge cultural hurdle” to overcome in the land of the pickup truck.

“People do laugh,” he says. “They can’t understand how a bicycle can possibly function in a way commensurate with an automobile, much less a light truck.”

And business, while certainly not booming, does have incentives that clients are willing to endorse. More and more consumers are concerned with their carbon footprint, and that includes analyzing the products they purchase on a daily basis.

So, whether you rely on four wheels or three, the future is ripe for the urban cyclist.

Keep pedaling.