Bikes are not just for fun, but also a legitimate, and wholly efficient, way of expediting the delivery many goods.

Cycle Logistics, an EU-funded alliance, says up to a 25% of urban deliveries could go via bike, if the necessary infrastructure and incentives were put in place.

Many European cities have space limitations, and tough rules on pollution and carbon emissions. In these cities, bikes are a cleaner, more effective way of delivering small items.

"Many cities are not built for [trucks]. They have narrow streets and usually the inner cities have traffic restrictions."

Research by the German Institute of Transport Research found that e-cargo bikes could take care of 85% of deliveries in Berlin.

Besides cargo, bikes are also excellent at carrying children.

"The problem is that a large [truck] is designed to take large pallets, but is incredibly inefficient at taking small items, which are often the majority of what’s carried."

Cycle Logistics is setting up "living laboratories" in several cities, so business can try out bike designs and become used to the idea. It is also focusing on grocery chains, asking stores to offer home deliveries and thus cut car trips.

2012-10-23

Co.Exist

Europe's Wonderful World Of Bike-Based Deliveries

Why send loud, traffic-clogging, air-polluting trucks rumbling through our city streets when we could instead employ a network of cargo bikes? That’s the plan that an alliance of activists, logistics firms, and city officials are trying to put in place across Europe.

The last mile problem is simple to explain, but daunting to fix: It’s very easy to bring goods into cities (via plane, train, or truck), but it’s much harder to then bring the one thing you want to your house from the central point to which it was delivered. That last mile represents most of the inefficiency in the process. But is the future of last-mile delivery two wheels?

It is, according to a band of European activists, logistics firms, and city officials who say bikes are not just for fun, but also a legitimate, and wholly efficient, way of expediting the delivery of many goods.

The EU-funded alliance, called Cycle Logistics, says up to a quarter of urban deliveries could go via bike, if the necessary infrastructure and incentives were put in place. Bikes, it says, are a cleaner, more effective way of delivering small items in many European cities, many of which have space limitations, and tough rules on pollution and carbon emissions.

"Many cities are not built for [trucks]. They have narrow streets and usually the inner cities have traffic restrictions," says Karl Reiter, who coordinates the group. "You are only allowed to deliver in the morning hours. But if you come by bicycle, you can do it all day, and it’s easier."

Copenhagen has 25,000 cargo bikes among a population of 500,000. And numerous commercial services have appeared in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Belgium, and elsewhere.

Outspoken, in Cambridge, England, delivers for about 160 customers, including local clinics, law offices, and sandwich chains. Spokesperson Gary Armstrong says three-quarters do so for service and price reasons, not just the environment. It helps that the city center is closed to motorized traffic between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"Environmental considerations only come into play when we are talking with larger organizations with corporate responsibility reporting requirements, or if they are public authorities. In a small, congested city, we are quicker than a van and very cost competitive," he says.  

"Conventional wisdom holds that the best way for deliveries to enter a city is from vans and [trucks] to operate out of large hubs many miles from the city center. The problem is that a large [truck] is designed to take large pallets, but is incredibly inefficient at taking small items, which are often the majority of what’s carried."

Adding a little electric power can make bikes even more useful. Research by the German Institute of Transport Research found that e-cargo bikes could take care of 85% of deliveries in Berlin.

Cycle Logistics is setting up "living laboratories" in several cities, so business can try out bike designs and become used to the idea. It is also focusing on grocery chains, asking stores to offer home deliveries and thus cut car trips. Several supermarkets in Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria already have such services.

Meanwhile, some cities--including Graz, Austria--are offering to pay some of the upfront cost of the cargo bike purchase, as they try to incentivize their use. Given the wider benefits, they see it as a price worth paying.

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13 Comments

  • Steve

    In Australia the residential post delivery is often done either through electric bicycles or small motor scooters. Seems much more efficient and less costly than the old school jeep rigs the USPS uses.

  • Suzanne

    before living
    in Italy..... I biked to everywhere.... in fact I had no drivers license.....
    no need for.... muscled legs for free .....

  • Pomgod

    I recently started wearing a helmet to bike to work in Belgium but I do agree with Al and Andrea... It should always be a free choice to wear a helmet or not. The main reason I wear a helmet is because I like going fast in the city and I always wear SPD-shoes so I'm fixed to my pedals which is nice for riding but is also a bit more tricky in case of an emergency manouver... 

  • yennyoliver

    The brain is valued so little. It's only when compromised that we see how precious it is, never when it's working just fine (speaking as someone in healthcare and an expat in Europe as well).

  • Al Storer

    yeah that's quite normal. In countries where cycling is common (and in parts of countries where is normal) it is generally the case that only those doing risky "sports" cycling wear helmets; those on slower, more stable, town and cargo bikes don't wear them. They're far less likley to fall off, far less likely to hit their head if they do fall off. Main source of danger is being flattened by a motor vehicle; helmets don't stop internal organ damage and broken limbs.

  • yennyoliver

    Nope, helmets weren't made to stop the major injuries. But, let's not assume mild to moderate brain injuries are not important.

    Given how important our brains are and how little and inexpensive of an intervention this is (wearing a helmet), it's hard not to see it only as acts of vanity.

    - signed, a healthcare worker who has seen too many long-term effects from brain injuries