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Electric cargo delivery bikes could be coming to a bike lane near you

A UPS cargo bike.

Update 10/3/20, 1:30 PM: According to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey, cargo delivery bikes that use bike lanes will be limited to 15 mph speeds. "The 15 mph speed limit was set to conform with the top speed of Divvy e-bikes and scooters in the current pilot.  Rather than enforcement, CDOT will review and approve the specifications of any electric delivery bikes before they hit the road.  The speed of the bicycle will be software-limited to 15 mph."

Yesterday Chicago City Council's Pedestrian & Traffic Safety Committee unanimously passed a proposal to allow low-speed electric cargo delivery bikes to operate in the city’s bike lanes. The full Council is expected to approve the measure next Wednesday.

Under the proposal companies like DHL, UPS, and FedEx would be allowed to deliver packages via electric-assist cargo bikes using bike lanes. Companies would be prohibited from operating and parking the bikes on sidewalks. The cargo bikes would also be banned from using the city’s on-street bike corrals and would instead have to use a designated vehicular parking spot. Companies using cargo delivery bikes will need to apply for a license from the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, and the cargo delivery cyclists would need to get a bike messenger permit. General violations could result in fines ranging from $100 to $500, while those who operate a cargo bicycle without a license could be fined at least $100 and no more than $1,000.

According to a report by WTTW's Heather Cherone, Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel said he hopes the program will lead to fewer delivery trucks downtown, where truckers frequently block intersections and bike lanes, and the vehicles emit pollution.

While the new program focuses on the Central Business District, it would also be great to see delivery cargo bikes used to reduce congestion, pollution, and serious crashes in the neighborhoods. Time will tell if we will see more electric cargo bikes in Hyde Park, Lakeview, or Belmont-Cragin, but it would certainly be an improvement over large, gas-guzzling delivery vehicles. I have come across my fair share of Amazon vans parked on neighborhood streets in such a way that put the safety of people on foot or on bikes at risk. These situations, in my opinion, point to a need for designated loading zones on residential streets, given the ubiquitous nature of online package deliveries. 

DHL field supervisor Jose Polanco (left) and Streetsblog New York editor Gersh Kuntzman demo cargo bikes. Photo: NYC DOT
DHL field supervisor Jose Polanco (left) and Streetsblog New York editor Gersh Kuntzman demo cargo bikes. Photo: NYC DOT
DHL field supervisor Jose Polanco (left) and Streetsblog New York editor Gersh Kuntzman demo cargo bikes. Photo: NYC DOT

Aldermen Daniel La Spata (1st) and Maria Hadden (49th) voiced concerns about the width of the cargo bicycles (bikes up to 4ft wide would be allowed) and whether or not they would crowd out other cyclists in the bike lanes. I share these concerns. If such problems materialize, I would hope this would lead the city to seriously consider increasing the width of our bike lanes. Even if we hadn't give the green light to package delivery via cargo bike, our bike lanes should be expanded to allow for safe and comfortable side-by-side cycling.

All in all, allowing corporate delivery companies to deliver by bike is a step in the right direction for right-sizing the vehicles on our streets for the tasks at hand. Perhaps these companies will join sustainable transportation advocates in support of more protected bike lanes throughout the city.

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