Cargo Bikes: Pedal Power for the Last Mile

One of the funniest bits ever on the TV show Portlandia is Fred and Carrie attempting to move some poor family’s household goods on bicycles. Yes, it’s very Portland, but it’s also part of a new trend that’s actually kind of serious.

“Twenty-five percent of all intra-urban goods can be delivered via cargo bike,” claims Manfred Neun, president of the European Cyclists’ Federation. “More than 50 percent of urban delivery will be in small vehicles.”

Cargo bikes, many of them with electric motors, are new to America but well-established in European cities, where firms like Belgium’s Ecopostale, DHL (Netherlands) and UPS (Germany) deliver the mail with them. Others carry still-hot pizzas or cold ice cream, ferry the kids and, yes, move people. An estimated 40,000 cargo bikes are in greater Copenhagen alone.

Urban cargo bikes are a last-mile solution that keeps polluting trucks out of city centers. While bicycle messengers aren’t unusual in U.S. cities, extending the concept to goods delivery will take some education. And that’s where Liz Canning comes in. Using Kickstarter, she recently raised more than $60,000—$20,000 in excess of her goal—to finish her cargo bike documentary, Less Car More Go.

“Cargo bikes are a no-brainer,” says Canning, who uses her electric cargo bike to haul her 6-year-old twins around Marin County, Calif. “So much is being done to improve the infrastructure in cities all over the country that this is definitely going to happen.”

Canning thinks cargo bikes will really take off when firms like Whole Foods start using them for city deliveries, but they’ve already established some beachheads. Domino’s Pizza carries its pepperoni pies on three-wheeled cargo bikes, but, well, only in Portland, Ore.

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