Study – Freight Tricycles in New York


The University Transportation Reserch Center has carried out a thorough study looking at benefits and disadvantages of cargobikes for local urban deliveries in congested urban environments.

They concentrated on two New York operations: The City Bakery and City Harvest


The purpose of the study was two-fold:

  • First to determine the performance of cargobikes, i.e. whether certain deliveries can be made faster and cheaper by cargobikes
  • Second, to assess the societal benefits, in terms of reduced congestion and air/noise pollution.

Cargobikes performed well on the speed scale:

Overall, these speed results demonstrate that a considerable proportion of truck speeds are feasibly replicable by tricycle.
Carriers considering a mode switch should recognize a number of benefits and limitations for operating freight tricycles in Manhattan.
City Bakery freight tricycles, which carry relatively light loads for short trips, operate at consistent speeds between zero and 24 kph. With longer tour lengths, heavier City Harvest freight tricycles
travel at slower speeds, with most observed values below 14 kph.
It appears that variations in speed are influenced by load and driver characteristics; vehicles travel faster when carrying light loads, when drivers are well-rested, and when drivers operate with a sense of urgency.
Performance may also vary with different infrastructure characteristics.
Although there is some variation in speeds between freight tricycles traveling north-south on Avenues and
crosstown on Streets these differences are slight; for both operators, the difference in the median speed between the fastest Avenue and the slowest Street is about 5.6 kph. Median observed values appear to increase on roads where freight tricycles have adequate space to maneuver – including on wide avenues, on major cross-town truck routes, and on routes with Class 1 bicycle infrastructure.
For trucks, payload and driver fatigue have little influence on travel speeds. The primary factors impacting truck speeds in Manhattan appear to be traffic congestion and infrastructure characteristics. The slowest travel times occur during the congested morning peak hour, and in congested sections of the city such as central Midtown. For trucks, travel speeds on crosstown Streets are considerably slower than on north-south Avenues. In general, crosstown Streets have a higher density of intersections and fewer and narrower travel lanes than Avenues. For deliveries of relatively light goods during morning peak hours or traveling crosstown, tricycles may offer a more reliable, if not faster, option.

Results from both operators indicate that, in general, freight tricycles spend considerably lower shares of their travel time in stopped-time delay than trucks, although higher than average delay-to-travel time ratios are observed for freight tricycles in locations with high intersection densities. Additional stopped-time delay for trucks is likely due to traffic congestion that freight tricycles can often bypass.
For tricycles, there are human limitations on travel distances; as drivers are required to travel greater distances, they will become fatigued and may begin to travel at a slower pace. While trucks are not restricted by driver limitations, they do face some policy restrictions. In Manhattan, trucks are required to travel on a limited network of local truck routes; this may increase their travel time by requiring them to deviate considerably from shortest-path routes. Trucks are also likely to be impacted more severely by network disruptions such as construction or a traffic incident than a tricycle that can generally use immediately adjacent alternatives.

… and on parking time:

Deliveries by freight tricycle are generally faster than those made by trucks. In part, this difference is due to the smaller shipment sizes carried by trike. Freight tricycles also have greater flexibility in terms of parking; as a result, they can often park on a sidewalk directly in front of a pickup or delivery location. CargoBIke4_grandeWhen freight tricycles park on the sidewalk, they are relatively immune to parking restrictions, and delivery time from the vehicle to an end location is reduced. [Vans can achieve fast delivery times only by double parking or parking at inappropriate places.]

The study also looked at mantaining the Cold Chain on cargobikes and concludes:

do exist that would enable cargo cycles to be employed in the shipping of temperature sensitive goods; however these systems must be employed in a well-structured supply chain with effective communications between shippers, carriers, and receivers.

Here are the overall conclusions:

Potential Benefits
•Cargo cycles may offer faster speeds and more reliable travel times in congested traffic conditions or where regulations limit motor vehicle operations.
•Where regulations allow, cargo cycles can often park closer to a delivery destination – even on the sidewalk directly adjacent to a delivery location.
•Cargo cycles are much smaller than motor vehicles; as a result they consume less road and parking space.
•Human-powered cargo cycles consume no fossil fuels and generate no pollutants from fuel combustion.
They also produce considerably less noise pollution than motor vehicles.
Costs for vehicle purchase, parking, maintenance, and vehicle insurance are likely to be much lower for a cargo cycle than for a motorized vehicle.
•While truck drivers face health challenges from idle behavior, cargo cycle operators improve their health through active operation of the vehicle.
•Cargo cycles do not require a specialized license or significant training to operate; as a result, cargo cycle operations provide low-barrier-to-entry jobs in a local community.

Potential Challenges and Barriers to Implementation
•Cargo cycles carry only limited quantities of goods due to vehicle load capacities and human operator limitations; as a result, they cannot provide the same economies of scale that might be achieved using a larger vehicle.
•The availability of affordable space in an urban area is a challenge to cargo cycle operations.
Whether space is needed for storage and transloading of goods or simply for vehicle storage, it can be prohibitively expensive in the dense urban areas best served by cargo cycles
Labor costs for cargo cycle operators can also be expensive.Cargo cycle operators need to be
compensated for the energy that they expend in their daily operations. Multiple drivers may also be
required to complete the number of deliveries carried by a single driver on a motor vehicle.
In New York City, cargo cycle operators must also be covered by workman’s compensation insurance; without a mature pool of cycle operators, this insurance is extremely expensive, as drivers must pay the same rates as the bicycle messengers who operate at much higher speeds and in riskier conditions.
•Cargo cycle operations can be inhibited (or enhanced) by local regulations. In cities where roadway restrictions and emissions policies restrict motor vehicle movements, cargo cycles might have a
competitive advantage. However, when cargo cycle use of flexible infrastructure is limited or when use
of an electric-assist is prohibited, operations may be impacted negatively by local policies.

Uncertain Impacts
•Overall safety impacts from cargo cycle operations are uncertain.
It is expected that shifting goods from truck to cargo cycle would have overall positive impacts on safety by reducing the likelihood of very dangerous truck-non-motorized collisions.
However, results from the London pilot study indicate that overall mileage traveled locally increased for cargo cycles compared to cargo vans; as a result, gains in accident severity could be offset by increased exposure to freight-carrying vehicles.
•The security performance of cargo cycles is also uncertain. Goods appear to be at higher risk on a cargo
cycle than on a locked motor vehicle; however, neither the literature review nor the survey of North
American operators identified cargo security as a major challenge for operators

The 180 pages report has an extensive reference index at the end.


Second picture by Give Love Cycle


One thought on “Study – Freight Tricycles in New York

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