City Supports Expansion of Electric Cargo Bikes

The Department of Transportation announced last week that they would authorize the use of four-wheeled electric, pedal-assist cargo bikes of up to 4 feet wide and 16 feet in length.

| 01 Apr 2024 | 12:47

In an effort to reduce the number of unwieldy, high-polluting trucks on the streets of New York City, the city’s Department of Transportation is green-lighting the use of electric cargo bikes to transport and deliver goods.

The pedal-and-electricity powered vehicles typically appear like a smaller model of trucks that can fit on a bike lane, but instead of using a trailer, the vehicles are directly fused to the cargo hold. Other times, the cargo hold is latched on top of the vehicle.

“Building a more sustainable city means re-imagining deliveries in New York City,” said Mayor Eric Adams in a statement. “For too long, large trucks have been the only option, bringing congestion and pollution with them. Low- and no-emission cargo bikes are one of the ways that we’re changing that paradigm, so we can get what we want, when we want it, without poisoning our air or clogging our streets.”

The finalized DOT rules expand the legal definition of bicycles to include pedal-assist electric cargo bicycles and define commercial bicycles as bicycles used to transport commercial goods, allowing the cargo bikes to use bike lanes for egress. The rules also create “Commercial Bicycle Loading Only” zones to curbside space for the cargo bikes to load and unload their haul.

Cargo bikes may be up to 4 feet wide and 16 feet in length. Each bike can also have a maximum of four wheels. This is a change from the initial version of the rules drafted last summer, which would have limited the cargo bikes’ length to just 10 feet. Logistics industry executives warned that the restrictions, as they stood, would render several existing models used by Amazon and Whole Foods unusable and also curb future vehicular innovation.

DOT said that the larger bikes would enable “small businesses and logistics companies to replace larger trucks and vans with cargo bicycle models successfully deployed in other cities and countries.”

Other changes aimed towards ensuring street safety include the creation of dedicated curbside space for the cargo bikes to unload and unload their goods (and the accompanying prohibition of parking outside those spaces), the reduction of the speed limit from 20 mph to 15 mph (the previous limit before the rules were proposed was 12 mph), restrictions on how much cargo a bike can carry, and the provision of safety training and educational resources for drivers.

According to Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi, the pandemic and post-pandemic world has seen a sharp increase on people’s reliance on delivery services. The numbers provided by DOT seem to reflect this--in 2022 cargo bikes made more than 130,000 trips, delivering over five million packages.

“This demonstrates their effectiveness for making deliveries and resulted in the reduction of over 650,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of emissions generated by 1.6 billion miles driven by an average gas-powered passenger vehicle,” said DOT in a press release.

As of the new rules announcement, around 450 cargo bikes are circulating across New York City. By 2026, the city hopes to see the number rise to 2,000.