Cargobikes touted as transportation alternative


BRATTLEBORO -- A national campaign to reclaim the bicycle's utilitarian role in transportation is coming to Brattleboro this weekend.

Environmentalists and public health advocates are seeking to replace the traditional family station wagon with so-called cargobikes -- large bikes used to carry children, groceries and other onboard loads during daily commutes.

Some of these bicycles include front-loaded baskets and trailer-like cargo space in the rear. Other pedal- and solar-powered bikes include headlights, windshields, overhead protection, an electric motor and enough space to carry hundreds of pounds of cargo.

"The lack of creativity around bikes is profound," said David Cohen, a Brattleboro resident who started a cargobike delivery business in Berkeley, Calif., nearly 20 years ago.

He said the cargobike technology is booming in the Pacific Northwest and in Boston. The same could happen in Vermont with e-cargobike, electric motor-assisted bikes that make it easier to travel longer distances, carry more cargo, and climb hills. The bikes can also be outfitted with studded tires for winter commutes.

Several of these bikes will be showcased at Brattleboro's Slow Living Summit on June 6, and at the Strolling of the Heifers parade and the Bicycle Petting Zoo at the Slow Living Expo on June 7. The events are intended to exhibit bikes specific to commuting needs in Vermont.

Many see the technology as a possible alternative to an automobile's carbon-emitting internal combustion used during short commutes. Others use the bikes for exercise, family bonding, and connecting more closely with the environment.

Cohen, a practicing psychotherapist and an ecopsychologist, said bikes connect people to their surroundings and increase environmental awareness -- including awareness of one's carbon footprint at a time when the nation grapples with climate change linked to heat-trapping carbon emissions, he said.

"The automobile is specifically designed to dislocate us from the world. I think it's very, very dangerous," he said. "Once we become open to the sensory world around us, we are going to be using technologies that have way less impact on the world."

Cohen was hired by the state to start in July as a consultant with Go Vermont, an alternative commuting information center within the Agency of Transportation. He said he will promote cargobikes.

According to the Alliance for Biking and Walking, a cycling and walking advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., the number of commuting cyclists is on the rise across the country.

The League of American Bicyclists, however, ranked Vermont 17th in the country on a "bicycle friendly" index. Among the necessary improvements the state should make to improve its score is building more bicycle infrastructure.

"I really think change the bike and the infrastructure will follow," Cohen said.

The League of American Bicyclists also recommended holding a bicycle ride sponsored by the governor and lawmakers to show constituents they support cycling. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott last month read the names of Vermonters who have been killed or injured while cycling at the annual Ride of Silence, a day to raise road safety awareness.

"The electric-assist options can increase the safety of cargobikes carrying heavy loads because the added boost can make it easier to navigate tricky situations where the bicycle infrastructure is subpar, such as a road with a narrow shoulder," Cohen said.


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