Electric cargo bikes are becoming a popular option for New York families

When Annie Weinstock started ferrying her two young children to daycare and playgrounds on a cargo bike three years ago, she occasionally spotted another family in her Brooklyn neighborhood on a similar bike.

“We would wave, because it seemed such a strange thing,” said Ms Weinstock, who lives in Carroll Gardens. Today, she added, “you see them everywhere, every day.”

Bikes of all kinds carrying children through the streets of New York were once a relatively rare sight. But in many neighborhoods, kids on the front and back of bikes zipping past traffic, or alongside adults, are becoming a common part of the rush-hour bustle.

The availability of electric cargo bikes designed to carry passengers is one of the factors fueling growth, said Ms. Weinstock, transportation planner and director of programs at People-Oriented Cities, an urban planning advocacy group. Pedal assist technology makes it easier and safer to transport children over long distances and uphill.

The expansion of cycle paths in the city has also made cycling more accessible to families.

Then there is the coronavirus pandemic. Families avoiding public transit and school buses while no longer commuting to work have helped accelerate the use of bicycles as family transportation, local bike shop owners said.

“A lot of moms try to ferry their kids to school,” said Damon Victor, owner of Greenpath Electric Bikes in South Brooklyn. “I didn’t see it coming.”

In late 2020, Savannah Wiza and her husband were considering how to transition their children, who were 4 and 7 at the time, from their home in Harlem to their Upper West Side elementary schools once the schools have resumed partial in-person learning.

The family avoided the subway and didn’t want to deal with the parking headaches of owning a car in the city. Riding scooters uphill didn’t work, so they considered cycling, an option which at first ‘terrified’ Ms Wiza.

But after listening to another neighborhood mom rave about riding the bike with her kids, the Wizas ended up buying an e-bike on Craigslist for $1,200.

Two years later, the whole family is vaccinated and back on the subway, but their electric cargo bike continues to serve as a de facto school bus.

“When the weather is nice, it’s wonderful,” said Ms. Wiza, who occasionally takes detours through Central Park.

Like in many cities around the world, bicycling in New York City has increased during the pandemic as residents seek alternatives to public transportation.

The city’s bike-sharing program, Citi Bike, saw nearly 28 million rides last year, up about 32% from 21 million rides in 2019, before the pandemic.

No reliable data on bicycle use is available that focuses on the age of cyclists or people who ride together, making it difficult to gauge the popularity of parents transporting children on bicycles.

But companies that make bikes and owners of local bike shops say the rise in New York seems undeniable. Cycling as family transportation 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 customers were parents looking to bear children. They now make up a significant portion of its customer base, with e-bikes designed to carry passengers accounting for 30-40% of sales, Nolte said.

Peter Kocher, owner of another bike shop, Ride Brooklyn, said an increase “in the number of families using bikes for their transportation needs”, which began before the pandemic, had been accelerated over the past two last years.

And Rad Power Bikes, a large Seattle-based direct-to-consumer e-bike company, said one of the fastest-growing models sold in New York was an electric cargo bike that seats two kids.

The growth of bicycling comes at a time when transportation advocates and city officials are promoting alternative modes of travel to combat climate change and New York’s chronically congested streets.

“Bicycling reduces carbon emissions and doesn’t require the same amount of physical space or road maintenance as cars do,” said Sarah Kaufman, associate director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

But for many parents, the main draw is often the logistics.

Before the pandemic, 45-year-old Peter Brown was impatient to navigate the “sidewalks of Brooklyn in bad weather with a stroller”. A seasoned cyclist, he had long wanted to ride with his 4-year-old son Kenzo, but his partner and Kenzo’s mother, Yuka Yamashita, was “nervous about putting him on a bicycle saddle”.

Then Ms. Yamashita, a hospital psychiatric nurse, was reassigned to a wing where Covid patients were treated.

Kenzo’s daycare decided it was too risky to continue serving the family, so his parents found a new preschool, but that meant the kids had to take public transportation to change clothes when they got home. ‘school.

Instead, the family bought a child seat to attach to Mr Brown’s bike and now he pedals Kenzo to school every day. Her son loves horse riding and on some weekends the two explore the city by bike. In those moments, Mr Brown said, “the background anxiety and stress kind of fades away.”

For some families, cycling has gone from a solution to the challenges of the pandemic 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, being outside and enjoying being here, with your kids,” said Selam Czebotar, 39, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen and rides her bike. husband and four children aged 4 to 10.

The bike also eliminates the need to lug strollers up subway stairs or fold them up when riding public buses to comply with transit agency rules. Commuting to neighborhood play dates or the local pediatrician is much quicker on a bike than on foot.

The bike opens up parts of the city that would otherwise require complicated maneuvers to reach, said Madeleine Novich, a professor at Manhattan College, known as cargobikemomma to her nearly 3,500 followers on Instagram, where she documents her adventures as a stylish New York cycling mother. “I am a full-time mother of three. I’m very protective of my time,” Ms Novich said, adding that she hates waiting for the subway or buses. “Cycling allows me to take ownership of my time.”

Yet, like many other cyclists, the parents say they had close calls with cars on crowded city streets. “It’s a bit of the Wild West,” said Hilda Cohen, who lives in Brooklyn and has two teenagers.

During the pandemic, the number of car owners has also increased in the city, a boom that has coincided with an increase in road deaths. Last year, 274 people were killed on city streets, the highest level since 2013, the year before the city launched its Vision Zero initiative to make streets safer.

Transport advocates say safe cycling infrastructure has failed to keep pace with demand, but some think an increase in the number of families cycling together could help solve the problem.

“Having more cycling parents helps develop 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 addressing road deaths and we are committed to building better and safer bikeways,” said Vin Barone, spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation.

At Greenpath Electric Bikes, Mr. Victor continues to see strong demand for e-bikes among customers who want to transport their children even as the pandemic has eased.

“It’s the freedom to easily get their kids in and out of school, the freedom to bike to work, the freedom to get around the parking lot, the freedom to get around traffic,” Victor said.