Cycle of Rage Joy: DOT’s New Cargo Bike Paves the Way to a Smaller Future

Does this cargo bike make me look fat?
Does this cargo bike make me look fat?

It’s a dream ride even if it doesn’t ride like a dream.

The Department of Transportation has been testing a four-wheeled cargo bike that it intends to deploy later this summer on bike lane and other roadway projects that otherwise would require a full van — and the agency gave yours truly an exclusive look at the diminutive behemoth last week in Lower Manhattan.

First, the good news: It’s narrow! At just 36 inches wide, this cargo bike fits completely inside a standard New York City bike lane and, as such, could set a new benchmark for how delivery companies like UPS and Amazon go about their business. (Indeed, UPS uses such cargo bikes in nicer places … like Europe and Asia.)

The bad news: Bikes like this are not currently legal in New York City because state law doesn’t allow for four-wheeled bikes (DOT is using this bike as a “test,” so that’s OK). Four-wheeled trucks polluting our lungs and congesting our roadways are just fine to state lawmakers, but not pedal-assist cargo bikes … for now. As a result, companies like UPS don’t use these vehicles in New York.

Nor can dry cleaners, nor plumbers, not other people making two or three deliveries at a time or carting around equipment.

The fun news: I got to ride it — though “ride” is not really the right word.

Even with its battery-powered pedal assist and even unloaded, this cargo bike rides more like a truck — to me it felt like those times when you rent a U-Haul because she kept the house and you have to move across town. Driving one of those after a life of bikes and tiny sedans is like becoming a long-haul truck driver.

But once you get up to speed, the bike maneuvers nicely and is clearly a superior alternative to big trucks and vans that are clogging the streets. And with a top speed of just 12 miles per hour, any crashes will likely cause far less damage to people or property.

At $20,000 apiece, they’re a steal (the agency is hoping for bulk discounts if this test works out).

The test will continue over the next year to determine exactly how useful these kinds of vehicles will be for the DOT. Insiders say the biggest challenge will be learning how much equipment can be loaded into the cargo bike, and how many hours it can operate between charges (only one set of replacement batteries is in the cargo hold). The other challenge will be getting DOT workers to agree to use a cargo bike instead of a van (some people feel safer inside big metal boxes that can go really fast, so for now, the DOT says it will seek volunteers who want to be part of the future … and get a little exercise on the job).

“Micromobility offers excellent potential to reduce emissions and make our streets safer, and I hope that DOT’s innovation can help drive the market to more sustainable solutions for cargo delivery,” Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez told Streetsblog through a spokesman. “In addition to testing our first electric cargo bike, DOT is also launching a microhub pilot program so delivery companies can unload their trucks in a central location and do last mile deliveries on cargo bikes. More than 80 percent of New Yorkers receive at least one package at home each week, and we need to reimagine how deliveries are made.”

Last thing: the agency wants you to help name this machine (though our staff’s nomination was not even countenanced). Voting continues through Tuesday: