Pellerin: In praise of cargo bikes on the streets of Ottawa
Here’s a fun question to start your summer the right way: Do you believe we should make it easier for people to be happy and safe when they move around town, especially in the busier areas closer to the core? And how much do we want to reduce traffic and carbon emissions while we’re at it? A lot, right?
I agree. That’s what I told the city when I answered its survey about e-cargo bikes. I encourage you to do the same. Not because the good folks who work in our municipal government don’t know it’s a good idea to facilitate the switch from motor vehicles to less obnoxious options (that’s not saying much, and I promise you they do), but because of politics. We have to show strong popular support for the idea if we want to encourage councillors to vote the right way.
For the uninitiated, cargo bikes are bigger than regular bikes and have two or three wheels, depending on the model. What they do have that gives them their name is a big bucket in front of the handles, that can be used to transport — anything! Some models are entirely human-powered, meaning you need to pedal them the usual way, whereas other models have an electric motor that gives the rider a boost whenever needed.
They’re amazingly clever and versatile. So of course Ontario is looking to ban them. Bill 282, the “Moving Ontarians More Safely” Act (or the slightly Orwellian MOMS for short), would ban power-assist cargo bikes that weigh more than 55 kilograms except in municipalities that join a pilot project and implement certain bylaws to regulate their use.
Ottawa is looking at doing just that, hence the survey. Can we give it a massive thumbs up, please?
Cargo bikes, especially the power-assist kind, are a superb alternative to cars. When I see people carrying their kids or groceries in them, I look back to when my toddlers were stacked in the back of an SUV and wonder why I didn’t know I had better options. They are not the cheapest bikes around, to be sure, but if you think of them as an alternative to a car, instead of just another bike, suddenly it makes sense.
The city’s survey asks you whether you own one of those cool bikes or are considering acquiring one. It also asks you where you think those bikes should ride, and that’s an important question. If we’re successful in switching from vehicles to cargo bikes, we’ll need a lot more room for them and no, we can’t take space away from pedestrians and folks with reduced mobility who already don’t have enough.
As usual in Canada, we’re rather behind the curve when it comes to active transportation, but at some point we’ll catch up and start using cargo bikes to deliver parcels in cities instead of trucks. (FedEx has started doing it in Toronto.) Imagine how much nicer urban Ottawa would be without delivery trucks clogging the roads, choking the air, and parking where they shouldn’t.