During the week of September 12th, 2016 we had the pleasure of playing a role in Vancouver’s hosting of the Pro Walk / Pro Bike / Pro Place Conference. As a part of our activities, we both gave PechaKucha-style talks about concepts we believe improve the urban fabric of our cities. The following is Chris’ presentation, which explains how the nimble cargo bike is transforming the streets of Vancouver for the better.
When historians tell Vancouver’s cycling story, 2008 will be seen as a turning point. There was a crucial shift in strategy from sport to transport, designed to attract the 70% “interested, but concerned” crowd. We already had an existing network of greenways, seawall, shadows, and door-zone paint. But then the City started to build a downtown network of protected bike lanes, one street at a time.
A change in street design unlocked the latent demand of “interested, but concerned” Vancouverites, and the types of people we saw on bicycles in Vancouver changed very quickly. Suddenly, there were more women, children, elderly, and even pets on bikes. So we at Modacity set about shining a light on those positive changes, to counter some of the bike-lash we were experiencing in the media.
Suddenly, more families were looking for practical ways to move their children around the city. Cargo bikes provided exercise, fresh air, family time, and were much easier than walking or taking public transit. While ideally, these kids would be riding on their own two wheels, the cargo bike acted as an intermediary step. And while long tails were definitely most popular and economical, we started seeing a number of long johns too.
After years of waffling, our own family entered the cargo bike market in late 2014, with the TrioBike Cargo. It quickly became our pick-up truck, occasionally moving our then five- and eight-year-olds. But they were already biking on their own, so we found hauling stuff way more fun! We suddenly thought nothing of hauling loads of groceries, small appliances, or even a keg of beer!
A recent trip to The Netherlands opened up our eyes to unlimited potential of cargo bikes. Many big businesses were utilizing them for logistics, including shipping giant DHL. They were also being used for pizza and beer deliveries, and on-site retail. Most of these organizations had figured out that for short urban deliveries, the nimble cargo bike simply can’t be beat.
Back in Vancouver, Shift Delivery is a logistics company formed in 2011 by group of SFU graduates, and funded through grants from local non-profits. A worker-owned co-operative, they now have a fleet of eight electric-assisted tricycles, and a staff of twelve; delivering produce, baked goods, catered meals, office supplies, and dry cleaning across the City of Vancouver.
There has also been a distinct rise in the number of bike-based food service businesses in the city, offering everything from cold brew coffee, homemade cream puffs, and popsicles. These are businesses that wouldn’t have existed eight years ago – without the bike lanes – demonstrating the potential for bike infrastructure to act as an incubator for new entrepreneurs.
The highest profile success story is undoubtedly Earnest Ice Cream: founded by pair of friends in 2012, who would sell their product at festivals and events on a Worksman cargo bike. They now have two brick-and-mortar shops, 63 full- and part-time staff, and over 20 distributors. The cargo bike now sits above their Quebec Street shop entrance, as permanent reminder of their modest origins.
The Acme Cafe is the opposite story to Earnest: a brick-and-mortar established in 2010. Husband and wife Alan and Peggy couldn’t justify opening a second location. They thought about having a “Pie Truck”, but the investment level was too high, so the Pastry Trike was born. It now serves as a low-cost, low-risk way to expand their business, and provides great advertising too!
David Eby is a provincial politician elected in 2013. When deciding how to best represent the 55,000 constituents in his Point Grey Riding, he teamed up with a local cargo bike manufacturer to build a mobile office, taking it to farmers markets and festivals. And the bike serves as a great icebreaker for constituents that are generally too intimidated to speak to a politician.
The residents of Yaletown House may be the most unlikely benefactors of better bike lanes. In 2009, staff saw the Duet Bike online, and raised funds to buy one from Germany. Now a pair of Duet Bikes are pedaled daily by volunteers, taking residents for rides across the city. This helps battle aggression, depression, and dementia, and creates opportunities for intergenerational interaction.
One of first things we did when we got our cargo bike was pick up Christmas tree. It provided us with a new, unique, and meaningful annual tradition for family. But when we shared our experience online, we quickly discovered that many other families sharing this tradition. So we began collecting and posting photographs of tree pickups from around the world.
One case we’ve made repeatedly is cargo bikes are ideal for the sharing economy. The biggest drawback to ours is – like a car – it sits unused 98% of the time, despite best efforts to loan it out. One resource, the Vancouver Tool Library, offers a long tail for its members. With four car-sharing organizations in our city, it’s only a matter of time before we see a fleet of shared cargo bikes!
Despite this progress, we repeatedly hear the same barriers to cargo bike ownership from friends and family. One such barrier is lack of financing options. Another: lack of parking. But the single biggest barrier is the lack of availability in the local retail shops. With very few spots to test drive and purchase, buying a cargo bike in Vancouver becomes a leap of faith.
To address these barriers, we organized Vancouver’s First Cargo Bike Championship in 2015. A last minute decision, we started planning in May with very little time or budget. Teaming up with HUB during their Bike to Work Week Wrap-Up BBQ event ensured a built-in audience. So we started spreading the word on social media, and figured we’d get a dozen friends to join us.
Word started to spread, we ended up on the cover of the Vancouver Courier, and suddenly had 37 people registered! It wasn’t about speed or strength, but creating an inclusive, family-friendly event, demonstrating the capabilities of a cargo bike with household items. When all was said and done, we walked away happy with event, determined to make bigger and better next year.
We started planning the sequel much sooner: distributing a sponsorship package at Christmas. This allowed us to secure major sponsors, including Yuba, Xtracycle, Bike Friday, and Urban Systems. A bigger budget allowed us to hire a graphic designer, photographer, and film crew. Once again, we teamed up with HUB for the exact same location and format as in 2015.
This time around, we charged a small entry fee, so we had 29 participants, allowing them to set up on the grass as a “Show ‘n’ Shine”, and answer questions from the public and press. Things went much smoother with additional planning, awarding eight great prizes for a variety of categories. You can see photo gallery and video of the event on our website.
It’s important to note many of these people were motivated by efficiency and economics, rather than altruism. Cargo bikes have been an unexpected byproduct of building better bike infrastructure. We believe they represent the tip of the iceberg, as many experts believe cargo bikes can replace 50% of all urban freight. This would have a huge impact on sound and air quality, on road safety, and on public health. To that end, all Vancouverites will benefit from our impending cargo bike revolution. We’re excited to watch it unfold.