Electric cargo bikes are rising as a popular option for New York families

When Annie Weinstock began bringing her two young children to daycare and cargo playgrounds three years ago, she sometimes noticed one family in her Brooklyn neighborhood riding similar bikes.

“We were waving because it seemed like such a weird thing,” said Ms. Weinstock, who lives in Carol Gardens. Today, she added, “you see them everywhere, every day.”

Bicycles of all kinds carried by children on the streets of New York were once a relatively rare sighting. But in many neighborhoods, children in the front and back of bicycles passing traffic, or beaches alongside adults, are becoming a routine part of the hustle and bustle of rush hour.

The availability of electric cargo bikes designed to accommodate passengers is one factor that fuels growth, said Ms. Weinstock, a transportation planner and program manager in people-oriented cities, an urban planning support group. Pedal assist technology makes it easier and safer to carry children long distances and up hills.

The widening of bike paths in the city has also made cycling feel more accessible to families.

Then there is the corona plague. Families who avoided public transportation and school buses while not commuting to work helped accelerate the use of bicycles as family transportation, local bike shop owners said.

“A lot of moms are trying to get their kids to school,” said Damon Victor, owner of Greenpath Electric Bikes in South Brooklyn. “I did not see it coming.”

In late 2020, Savannah Visa and her husband were debating how to bring their children, who were then ages 4 and 7, from their home in Harlem to their elementary schools on the Upper West Side once the schools returned to partial learning in person.

The family avoided the subway and did not want to deal with the headaches of the parking lot that brings ownership of a car in the city. Riding scooters did not work so they considered cycling, a possibility that at first “scared” Ms. Visa.

But after listening to another mom from the neighborhood raging a bike ride with her kids, the Visas eventually bought an electric bike at Craigslist for $ 1,200.

Two years later the whole family is vaccinated and returns to the subway, but their electronic bikes continue to be used as a de facto school bus.

“When it’s nice outside, it’s wonderful,” said Ms. Visa, who sometimes makes detours through Central Park.

As in many cities around the world, cycling in New York rose during the plague as residents sought alternatives to public transportation.

The city’s bike sharing program, Citi Bike, recorded nearly 28 million rides last year, an increase of about 32% from the 21 million rides in 2019, before the epidemic.

There are no reliable data on cycling that focus on the age of the riders or the people riding together, making it difficult to gauge the popularity of parents carrying children on bikes.

But companies that make bikes and own bike shops claim that the rise in New York seems undeniable. Cycling as a family vehicle “has become much more mainstream,” said Chris Nolte, owner of Propel Bikes, which sells electric cargo bikes.

When he opened Propel in 2015 in Brooklyn, almost none of his clients were parents who wanted to have children. They are now a large part of its customers, with electric bicycles built to carry passengers making up 30 to 40 percent of sales, Mr Nolta said.

Peter Kutcher, owner of another bike shop, Ride Brooklyn, said an increase “in families using bicycles for their transportation needs,” which began before the plague, has increased in the turbo over the past two years.

And Rad Power Bikes, a Seattle-based electric bicycle-direct consumer company, said one of the fastest-growing models sold in New York is an electric cargo bike that can seat two children.

The growth in cycling comes at a time when transportation supporters and city officials are promoting alternative travel routes to deal with New York’s climate change and chronic streets.

“Cycling reduces carbon emissions and it does not require the same amount of physical space or road maintenance that cars do,” said Sarah Kaufman, co-director of the Rodin Center for Transportation at New York University.

But for many parents the main reference is usually logistics.

Before the epidemic, 45-year-old Peter Brown became impatient navigating “Brooklyn sidewalks in dismal weather with a cart.” A veteran cyclist, he has long wanted to ride with his 4-year-old son Kenzo, but Kenzo’s partner and mother, Yuka Yamashita, was “nervous about riding him on a bicycle seat.”

Then Ms. Yamshita, a psychiatric nurse in a hospital, was placed in the ward where Covid patients were treated.

Kenzo’s daycare decided it was too dangerous to continue to serve the family so his parents found a new kindergarten, but it required children traveling on public transportation to change clothes when they arrived at school.

Instead, the family bought a safety seat for Mr Brown’s bicycle and now he pedals in Kenzo to school every day. His son loves riding and on some weekends the two explore the city by bike. In those moments, Mr. Brown said, “the background anxiety and stress are pretty much dissipating.”

For some families, cycling has gone from a solution to epidemic challenges to a way to forge closer bonds.

“It’s not just a way to get from point A to point B, it’s a form of exercise, and being outside, and enjoying being here, with your kids,” said Salam Chebutter, 39, who lives in Helsinki and rides a bicycle with her husband and four children. , Whose age ranges from 4 to 10.

Cycling also eliminates the need to carry carts down the subway stairs, or fold them while riding public buses to comply with transportation agency rules. Traveling to neighborhood play dates or your local pediatrician is much faster on a bike than on two legs.

Cycling opens up parts of the city that would otherwise require complicated maneuvering to reach, said Madeleine Novitch, a professor at Manhattan College, known as CargoBikeMama to nearly 3,500 of her followers on Instagram, where she documents her adventures as a stylish cyclist in New York. mother. “I am a full-time working mother to three children. I am very protective of my time,” Ms. Novitch said, adding that she despises waiting for subways or buses. “Cycling allows me to own my time.”

And yet, like many other cyclists, parents say they have had close conversations with cars on the city’s crowded streets. “It’s kind of the Wild West,” said Hilda Cohen, who lives in Brooklyn and has two teenage children.

During the plague, car ownership in the city also increased, a boom that coincided with an increase in the number of people killed in the traffic. Last year, 274 people were killed on city streets, the highest level since 2013, a year before the municipality launched the Zero Vision initiative to make streets safer.

Transportation proponents say a safe cycling infrastructure has failed to keep pace with demand, but some believe an increase in the number of families cycling together may help address the problem.

“Additional parents as cyclists are helping the movement develop a safer cycling infrastructure,” Ms. Kaufman said.

New York City officials say they are accelerating plans to create safer spaces for cyclists of all ages.

“This administration recognizes the urgency of dealing with traffic deaths and we are committed to building better and safer bike paths,” said Wayne Baron, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation.

At Greenpath Electric Bikes, Mr. Victor continues to see strong demand for electric bikes among customers who want to carry their children even when the plague has weakened.

“It’s the freedom to easily get their children to and from school, the freedom to get to work on a bicycle, the freedom to get around parking, the freedom to get around traffic,” Mr Victor said.

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