Which European city doesn’t think there are enough bikes on the roads?
Believe it or not, the city of Copenhagen. In collaboration with Living Labs, the City of Copenhagen sent out a call for pilots: bike-centric ideas that would help their city become carbon-neutral by 2025.
This naturally intrigued us at AP Amsterdam. We are used to — and love — living in a bike-centric city. Our team (Monica Nordhausen, Henning Fischer, Willem Boijens and myself) considered it a challenge to come up with a new idea for Copenhagen, a city that — let’s face it — has one of the best (if not the best) cycling cultures in the world. To help us mould our idea, we collaborated on a proposal with Ezra Goldman, a PhD student in urban planning at the University of Copenhagen, and De FietsFabriek, a famous Dutch bike manufacturer. Ezra provided us with great perspective on Copenhagen’s unique cycling culture and infrastructure, and the FietsFabriek has solid experience in custom transport bike design.
The greatest challenge was coming up with an idea that would be truly new in Copenhagen. When I told a visitor to our studio what I was working on, he said, “More bikes in Copenhagen? That sounds like a ‘how do we get more sand in the Sahara’ project!” Every cycling idea seemed not only to have been done before, but it seemed to have been done in Copenhagen itself.
We decided to focus on the barriers to cycling within Copenhagen’s strong cycling culture. We were surprised by a statistic about perception of safety: more than a third of Copenhageners cycle on a daily basis, but almost half of those cyclists do not feel safe. (City of Copenhagen Bicycle Account 2008). Because nearly all of us in the Amsterdam studio have experience as daily bike commuters, we started discussing the elements that make us feel less safe while cycling: inexperienced cyclists on the road (hello, Amsterdam tourists!), experienced cyclists on the road (hello, aggressive Amsterdammers!), cars and trucks.
Trucks are one element we really have beef with. They double park, block traffic, park illegally, and they often force bikes onto the sidewalks and alternately, pedestrians onto the street. A high percentage — 20 to 30 percent — of urban traffic congestion is caused by delivery trucks, 50 percent of which carry less than half their capacity. How can we reduce the number of delivery trucks on cramped city streets? This seemed like a natural area for improvement.
Flexible bikes, flexible routes
Enter our idea for urban bike cargo: why not take these small, frequent truck deliveries and complete them by bike? And why not further reduce the number of trips by making the routes flexible? And yet another advantage would be helping small to medium-sized local businesses by providing a reasonably-priced way to move goods and connect directly with customers.
At the heart of our proposal is the delivery service. We drew inspiration from a traditional form of bakery delivery. Cargo bikes — bakfietsen in Dutch — were traditionally used in Holland to deliver and sell perishable goods for bakeries, groceries and other small businesses. Looking to the past was inspiring: an environmentally-sound service that catered to local small businesses easily addresses carbon reduction on multiple levels.
This, of course, is not a new idea. In fact, companies such as FedEx are experimenting with bike delivery services in European cities. What is new is the service concept: the combination of a flexible delivery system with a flexible trajectory, which is what a transparent delivery tracking system gives us.
We began with the container system. We drew inspiration from the standardisation of shipping containers. With standardised bike containers, one cargo bike could carry a container for a bakery, a container for a grocer, a refrigerated container for a butcher. This would allow small deliveries (one container on a bike) or large deliveries (many containers on a bike). The containers could also be branded, providing free advertising for the businesses.
The delivery service itself would then be flexible as well. Using GPS for live-tracking, the bikes could be contacted to pick up or deliver en route. The service would connect multiple businesses with multiple levels of customers: other businesses, such as restaurants, as well as typical consumers. It’s a solution that, in addition to reducing carbon output, supports small local businesses and encourages eating local.
Our pilot proposal can be viewed at the Living Labs Showcase.
While cycling the other day, as I swerved around a massive grocery truck on my neighbourhood street, I thought to myself: wouldn’t it be great if that were a bike?