This week Amazon launched its first UK micro-mobility hub in central London. A new fleet of eCargo bicycles and walkers (i.e. people who deliver mail by hand) will directly replace thousands of traditional bus journeys on London’s roads and reduce traffic congestion.
But while it clears up space on the road, it will certainly displace the already crowded sidewalks. This is a problem that is struggling to find a solution.
The curb is a hotly contested space
While the use of eCargo delivery is commendable in reducing traffic, air pollution and parking problems, it raises another challenge. In recent years, trade has moved to the curb.
Pedestrians compete with passengers driving, people waiting for public transport, idle and active e-scooters and e-bikes, food deliverers waiting for orders, ghost supermarket deliverers, trash cans, and in some cities, delivery robots†
Add people driving with luggage, dining outside, and people trying to navigate the space using a wheelchair or a stroller, and it gets super crowded.
To their credit, eCargo bikes are faster and easier to unload than conventional vans without the pain of finding a parking space†
But their presence on sidewalks makes it harder to keep cities walkable. Combined with all the other space suckers, sidewalks quickly become obstacle courses. And Amazon’s walkers carrying packages by cart will only add to the congestion.
Do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we should replace eCargo bicycles with vans!
But we need to rethink how we design the sidewalk and curb as more and more use cases compete for space.
Physical delivery to the door may not prevail in the long run. And we still have a long way to go before regular drone delivery can offer an attractive alternative.
But there is the ability to change at scale and speed
The pandemic showed that even ancient cities like London could change public spaces. Examples include the introduction of pop-up bike paths and outdoor dining.
Now is the time to reshape a human-centric public space in a way that meets the needs of all users. We need cities where space for people is more important than cars and parking spaces. Many cities are making their city centers car-free. Let’s take the design outside the central area.
But let’s face it, even if sidewalks were magically widened overnight, the challenges would remain with just more piles. To keep our cities liveable, pavement and sidewalk management therefore need urgent attention.