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Boston to look at whether delivery vans can be replaced by electric cargo bikes

Boston is asking transportation companies to show how they might set up a network of battery-powered cargo bikes to replace carbon-belching vans for "last mile" package and grocery delivery to Boston residents and businesses.

The city transportation and environment departments and the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics want to see if heavy-duty bikes with batteries could help unclog our crowded streets and help the city reduce carbon emissions in an era where people increasingly want things delivered at home.

Our goal with this RFI is to understand how e-cargo bikes could fit into Boston’s delivery landscape, existing initiatives in the Boston metro area and elsewhere that could inform our potential approach, current obstacles to e-cargo bike adoption by private businesses, and other opportunities to green last-mile deliveries. This RFI will also give the City a picture of who (private business, logistics solution providers, supply chain experts, e-cargo bike providers) may already be experimenting with or thinking about e-cargo bike deployment in the Boston area, or who may have an interest in partnering or supporting potential pilots.

With information from the RFIs, the department would then look at drafting a "request for proposals," in which companies would seek to be hired to provide this new form of delivery service in the city.

The city's formal request for information will be available Monday, with responses due by Aug. 24.

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Comments

What we need are Japanese Kei trucks.

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Bikes without batteries are cheaper and ultimately more reliable and environmentally friendly. It's not for everyone. But your lungs can propel you all day, as long as you're hydrating, whereas the battery will run down quickly if it's in constant use.

Kei trucks and cars are a fantastic idea. People won't buy them in America yet because they quite rationally fear being crushed to death by SUVs and trucks. Japan has a smart system, however, which imposes higher license fees and insurance requirements on bigger automobiles. So kei cars are a very economical and sensible option for people who don't need a big car.

Right sizing vehicles just frees up more space, allowing smaller pathways and channels to be used and more people to move freely through a smaller space. It's very obvious that people fit closer together when NOT in cars, so it should be as obvious that many more people walking than driving can fit into a given space. Walking is often a very fast convenient choice. This seems Central to public planning in Japan, but not here in the US, unfortunately. Here, the key metric in transportation planning is number of cars moved, because it is assumed that car trips are the most numerous and important.

The streets are wonderful, they just need a makeover. Some car lanes need to be right sized. And so do the vehicles.

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Voting closed 19

Moving cargo without a battery becomes a pretty big chore...., especially up an incline. Of course, nonelectric bikes are more environmentally friendly and easier to maintain, but if companies that deliver are really going to make this happen, they will have to have e-assist bikes.

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carries the same amount of packages as 40 pedal bikes. So how does this not affect traffic and congestion?

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Boston definitely needs this. Exhaust spewing delivery vehicles over a certain size should not be on Boston streets.

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They should not be parked on sidewalks and in crosswalks and bike lanes too. Yet they often are.

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There aren't (or there aren't enough) dedicated loading zones. You know, the ones that normal people always park in, pretending they can't read.

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You don't need loading zones, just a good throwing arm.
IMAGE(https://media.giphy.com/media/26DNcC872qtoiqEV2/giphy.gif)

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Mid February.

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I ride to work year round, 8 miles each way. You get warm pretty quick even when it's cold. If the bike is electric it can have hand warmers which is the most sucky part of riding in the winter.

The worst part are when some of the good paths don't get plowed and become a sheet of ice. I just switch to the road.

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I was able to find adequate windproof outer gloves and liners for winter riding with very little difficulty, but every individual’s body handles cold differently. Wool arm-warmers helped a LOT.
I found black ice and rutted re-frozen slush to be way more sucky but studded tires pretty much fixed that. Gotta get ones with carbide studs and use two instead of front only.

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You know what really worked great, back in my courier days?
Neoprene gloves. Like a dry diving suit, but made for bike use. They were fairly warm on their own, given that they had no breathing, though you could also use them with thinsulate inner gloves on the coldest days.

Unfortunately I never found a good answer for the feet, as even with multiple wool socks the toes and sole would get hella cold.

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And it's not voluntary either - that is, unless one wants to get fired.

Workers with unions (eg. UPS) are going to demand significant pay increases for exposure to winter weather - after all, the construction unions already get more pay for working in the heat. The cost of shipping goes up. Prices of goods increase, and become unaffordable to the working class. Politicians whine about the greed of corporations and the need for a living wage. Sound familiar?

Workers without unions are going to quit, if they have the skills to do another less hazardous / physically challenging job. This leaves minority and otherwise marginalized people on the job, since they either live paycheck-to-paycheck (and can't afford the uncertainty of switching jobs), or have been insufficiently educated (and aren't qualified for less demanding jobs). Politicians cry about disproportionate impacts: physical, mental health, and more. Again, sound familiar?

I agree - it's a good idea in theory, but probably not feasible given the complexities of our world and our labor market. To achieve climate goals, I think it's better to put pressure on delivery companies to switch to all-electric (or fuel cell) fleets - like how MA is already doing by working with 14 other states.

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I think people can handle Boston winters fine.

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Are you aware there is a whole lot of jobs which require working outside in the winter?

Bike delivery is not new.

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My 3-year-old and I ride year-round on an electric cargo bike. It's not too hard.

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Both Portland and NYC have experimented with the use of e-cargo bikes for last mile deliveries, with good results. Not to mention the bevy of European cities that do this. Safer, cheaper, and cleaner for the environment. No need for large UPS / FedEx trucks to be barreling down crowded downtown streets.

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And there are PLENTY of countries where mail is delivered by mail-people on electric bikes; not just in small towns, but in the city as well. It works.

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Honestly, just for a start, it would be great if companies making deliveries could switch to delivery vans as opposed to using massive 18-wheelers. If you go to dense cities in Europe, you still see vans everywhere of all sizes making deliveries, but what you will almost never see is a tractor-trailer truck. It's one thing if you are delivering 40' I-beams to a construction site, but it is so insane to me that you regularly see 18-wheelers delivering for Coca-Cola, CVS, etc.

Obviously there is no way that a single drop-off location is getting more than a pallet or two off that truck, which could easily fit in a van. And yet trucks like these are constantly running over pedestrians or bicyclists, and they consistently hold up traffic and block bike lanes and crosswalks because they obviously don't safely fit in any urban loading zones or streets. It should be illegal or at least massively disincentivized. At least delivery vans can safely maneuver our streets.

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I am car-free and favor environmentally friendly transportation. And I love it when a local business chooses to provide bicycle-powered delivery, as long as the delivery area is one that is comfortable for the delivery staff.

But with all the risks and challenges that delivery drivers already have, I don't think they should be required to use cargo bikes on streets until the full goals of Vision Zero are accomplished and the streets are mostly full of other bikes and small vehicles. I don't think delivery drivers should be required to be one of the first round of drivers to adopt cargo bikes.

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Let's think about the truck drivers, and not the people that are getting crushed to death by their vehicles.

This is like the "all lives matter" of transportation policy - concern trolling.

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At first I was going to reply defensively -- noting that there were an impressive three insults in one reply (associating my comment with concern trolling, all lives matter AND murderous truck drivers). But it is probably not worth it to get defensive.

But to return to the original point, I wish I had said what some other commenters said. I like the expression "right sizing" and I think there is probably some optimal size for delivery vehicles that optimizes street safety, carbon emissions and driver safety and comfort.

And I like that someone wrote a stronger and more thoughtful comment about potential impacts of a cargo-bike initiative on delivery workers.

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People won't start riding if there's constant fatalities and there will be constant fatalities until cities make driving too inconvenient for most trips.

Given the rise in food and grocery delivery, electric cargo bikes would have a perfect use.

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Okay, but... If you want to have nice protected connected bike infra, won't it make a ton more sense to everyone if there are more users?

Are you gonna wait to walk until someone makes you a path, or make the path by walking? If it's good for the bottom line, betcha they make more bike lanes. Honestly, in a lot of places, it's not gonna take more than paint. It's already such a huge improvement any place that the road is freshly painted.

So yeah, incentivize and even require the use of right-size vehicles. It should make economic sense to deliver pizzas on a scooter instead of a car, cuz the vehicle and the gas are cheaper.

Think about how much better it would be.

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Love that Magic Paint.
Education and skills raining lasts longer than one or two years though.

Good infra design is wonderful, but rare.
Slapping paint on the street is advocacy theatre, it draws bigger crowds, but the seats are still nasty.

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Bikes huh? Long John style bakfietsen perhaps?
But most recent photos and video of commercial low-emission delivery vehicles show quads or trikes which have a larger secure container for storage behind the driver.

There’s this thing called numeracy and prefixes in English to allow for such distinctions.
The Long Jonn style is usually more narrow and more maneuverable in traffic.
Trikes and quads not quite as much.
I guess Metro Pedal Power was more than a decade too early.
I guess they don’t make human-powered hearses.
Gotta add that to my will. That may mean a delay and a morgue or freezer rental.

Also humans produce carbon emissions as do most electric power generation systems used to charge batteries unless they only buy electricity from renewable sources.
Yes, I nitpick, because I am not a bicycle.
I may be an artificial intelligence, though.
But don’t put the blame on me.
I was raised with appliances in a consumer society.
(R.I.P. Poly)

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Was this?

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I'm sure those bicycles (and batteries) are going to be great in the snow. Or are they?

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I've been riding an electric assist box bike year round for 4+ years now. The first 3 years I didn't bother with studded tires, the streets are plowed well enough that I could ride on all but the rare icy days, where I'd just take the bus. This last winter the bus wasn't an option due to destinations, so I bought studded tires and then it barely snowed (you're welcome!).

Biking in the snow is no more dangerous than driving in the snow, there's an adjustment period and then you're pretty much good to go.

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With good tires, it's often safer to bike than walk in the winter, especially since our city prioritizes plowing roads over clearing sidewalks.

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The use is good in theory, the big problem will be when some people demand that the batteries be powered by 'green' energy.

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No the big problem will be ninnies yelling "BUT I NEED TO DRIVE THERE" like it always is

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That "big problem" seems incredibly minor to me and a small price to pay for all the benefits we'd get in return (safer and quieter streets, better air, etc)

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I ride year-round and have not had any trouble with the bike or the battery in the snow or freezing temps.

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Great idea but the City of Boston should do it themselves first. We could pick up garbage, recycling and yard waste with bicycles. We could still have the big trucks, they'd collect the stuff the bikes pick up.

Also, the way to get private companies to switch over is simple economics. If we converted streets to carfree delivery companies would not have a choice, they'd either have to switch to bicycles or stop their business.

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All trucks 4 axels or more banned from city streets.

Consolidate shipping locations, switch from interstate cargo transport to small vans (not Dodge Ram or splitter size) for city streets.

Violators are owners of trucks company’s, and the the fine starts at 10,000

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If as with the Pedicab license requirements, they restrict licensees to a woefully small number, and make it difficult or impossible to get a license unless you get one in first when issued (maybe the process has changed but, why? Nobody in BPD gives a flying fig) before or to make clear that non-commercial use of a pedicab in Boston is or is not legal,
then THEY GOT TO GET THEIR FECES IN A BUNCH!

https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/embed/t/traffic-rules-regulat...

PLEASE... if you can find a copy of Special Order # 07-062 on an official Boston website,
then link to it here! I gave up searching in the aughts.

They do not list the regulations publicly for over a decade, I am amazed that I was able to find a license application on a City of Boston site. It is easily found (see below) but is not available on an official site. It reminds me of the utterly bogus bicycle parking regulation that the City of Boston has tried to enforce from time to time, actually building managers tend to cite it to bully people once a year from parking near (not actually upon) their properties.

So,,, if they start licensing these wonderful cargo machines and operators, they had better revisit the licensing procedures, regulations, and information availability and make good on their earlier half-fast attempt at law and order in this regard. Stop dropping the ball, BPD.

People actually care about this stuff now, heads out of the sand (or wherever they are), please.

I assume this is mostly hidden due to incompetence, little funding for public information, digital presence of, or access to the elusive Hackney Division.
Corrupt licensing department avoiding any public exposure? In Boston?
No... it couldn’t be that.
Prove me wrong please.

If you want people to use human-powered vehicles responsibly, then regulate responsibly.

See also:
https://bostonbiketaxi.com/current-pedicab-law-in-boston
I don’t know when this was posted, but as I’d given up ages ago, it is the first time I’ve ever seen the complete document, IF it is a legitimate copy.

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