When I pushed the cargo bike over a rain-soaked parking lot at a UPS distribution center in Seattle, where the forwarder was demonstrating his newest delivery truck, I knew when the pedal assistant entered. "Yes, that will work, I thought.
Bicycle couriers have long known that cycling is the fastest way to avoid traffic-calmed cities. More commuters get it too. Now, UPS has the chance: The 111-year delivery service has begun with a year-long pilot to transport packages with an electric tricycle through Seattle.
The vehicle in question was designed and built by Truck Trike of Portland, Oregon. When the driver begins to kick, the human force presses on the front hub. With a thumb cock, the driver can draw energy from a pair of battery packs in the base of the trike to the rear wheels for the rear two wheels, with enough juice available for a range of 1
For UPS, the move is quite noticeable, because while the Emerald City is always overburdened, it's less than two months of what traffic engineers call the "maximum restriction period". This ominous-sounding limited period arrives on February 4, when the viaduct of the Alaskan Way Viaduct is demolished along the waterfront and the 2-mile tunnel that Seattle has dug up for its replacement is put online. The crews finish the ramps that connect the tunnel with highways, and for three weeks, the city has no road that runs through the city center on the city's waterfront. To escape the traffic horror show, the Seattle's are planning vacations, renting Airbnbs to stay downtown, all to avoid driving, including working from home.
Shippers, however, still have parcels that need to be delivered on time, and at least UPS seems to be interested in trying it a new way. On the approximately 1 mile stretch of Belltown and the southern end of the Pike Place Market, UPS load wheels and modular trailers now deliver where trucks can not hunt while parked.
The delivery company has experimented with bicycles before, with trials in Portland in 2016 and in Hamburg, Germany in 2011. However, these efforts bring them back to the city where the company started in 1907 – delivery telegrams. Now facing impending traffic on Armageddon, it is collaborating with the Urban Freight Lab of the University of Washington on the pilot project.
"Although we have started bicycle logistics projects in other cities, this is the first project designed to address a variety of urban challenges," said Scott Phillippi, head of UPS Maintenance and Engineering. "The modular boxes and trailers allow us to expand our delivery capabilities and meet the unique needs of our Seattle customers. We look forward to offering these customizable city delivery solutions to other cities nationwide.
The targets include the usual suspects: clean air, reduced carbon intensity and fuel economy. But there is another factor: as online shopping picks up and Americans rush into the cities, the UPS delivery model has to adapt to unloading crates of stacks from a handful of companies until individual packages are put into homes. The trike is part of the answer, as are the brown men and women working on the pedals that UPS calls "industrial athletes."
"These jobs are very much in demand," says Jake Jewett. He's one of those athletes, a former bicycle messenger, now dressed in a jersey that fits his brown UPS shorts, boots and socks. "Those who work [the tricycles] love to work out in the open while being trained during their working day."
As the raindrops dropping the windshield of the trike grow larger and the parking puddles turn into small lakes, The local dignitaries stand for the debut of the vehicle in the UPS Museum, where there is a model T and a motorcycle on which were once packages. I watch as a fleet of trucks leaves the distribution center and heads for interlocked Interstate 5. I do not know that I'm not the only one who wonders how long it will take to get home. And since the traffic in this city is only getting worse, it makes much more sense to travel on two or three wheels.
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