In a puzzling move, Amazon has made its 87,375 square-foot facility on 11th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen available for lease. The former Potamkin Cadillac Dealership was converted in January 2021 into an e-bike distribution center to fulfill Amazon’s promise of 24-hour delivery for its Prime customers. Over 70 e-bikes have sat unused on the facility’s rooftop for months — with many more idle within the depot between W50th and W51st Street.
The move was possibly related to an accident in May 2021, reported by the Wall Street Journal, after which Amazon halted the training of riders on its new three-wheeled cargo e-bikes in New York City after one of the bikes toppled over during a practice session. The incident raised concerns about the safety of the e-bikes, which are part of New York’s initiative to reduce congestion and emissions. Amazon stated at the time that it places “safety first” and was reassessing the program.
The facility is being marketed by KBC Advisors, who confirmed that the depot was available for sublease. KBC said that there had been recent capital improvements to the building, including new interior finishes throughout the building, new restrooms and breakroom, new HVAC units and new high-speed roll-up doors.
Amazon responded after the publication of this story. “We’re committed to our e-bike program in New York City and claims to the contrary are false. We currently use hundreds of e-bikes to make deliveries for Whole Foods Market and Amazon Fresh in the city and delivered more than 1.5 million orders (more than 9 million packages) on foot or via e-bike in 2022. We’re currently piloting e-cargo delivery bikes for customer package orders out of our delivery station in Red Hook and will continue our work to decarbonize our last mile delivery network,” said Steve Kelly, Public Relations Manager.
The move comes alongside the Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiling plans in mid-August to introduce wider, four-wheeled cargo bikes that will be permitted to navigate the city’s bike lanes.
Elsewhere in the world this month, Amazon expanded its electric cargo bike delivery service to Glasgow, Scotland, following successes in London and Manchester, England. The move is part of a £300 million UK investment to decarbonize transport, aiming to make 2.5 million eco-friendly deliveries annually and improve air quality in urban areas.
Last month, Mayor Eric Adams and the DOT outlined a plan for sturdier cargo bikes, with Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine offering his support. The plan would amend local law to permit four-wheeled, pedal-assisted cargo bikes up to four feet in width, a change from the current three-foot width and three-wheeled maximum.
The DOT announced that the public has a 30-day comment window, with a hearing scheduled this week, September 13. “Greater use of cargo bikes will bring incredible environmental and safety benefits for New York City by reducing the number of large, high-polluting trucks on our streets,” said NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “Just two cargo bikes can replace one box truck, increasing safety and reducing CO2 emission by 14 tons per year — equivalent to 30,872 passenger car miles traveled.”
At the announcement of the proposed changes, Mayor Adams said: “Safety and sustainability go hand in hand in New York City, and our administration is innovating every day and using every tool available to advance both. Cargo bikes have been a valuable tool in our administration’s efforts to move goods throughout the city while prioritizing street safety and our environment, and these pedal-assist cargo bikes will help New Yorkers get the items they need while reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion — and getting dangerous trucks off our streets.”
Hell’s Kitchen traffic activist and CHEKPEDS founder Christine Berthet praised the initiative but expressed concerns, saying: “Cargo bikes do not belong on sidewalks.”
Sven Etzelsberger, CEO of cargo bike company URB-E, criticized the proposed rules in an open letter reported by Streetsblog, suggesting that they could effectively dismantle much of the progress made in sustainable delivery solutions. “This restriction would render virtually all commercial-grade bike and trailer systems currently in use obsolete,” Etzelsberger said about the proposal to shorten the length of delivery vehicles to a maximum of 10 feet, excluding the familiar bike and trailer combos in use by his company and Whole Foods.
While advocates for green transport and pedestrian safety hail the proposed regulations as progress, others argue that the changes are not well-considered, as seen on the NYC Rules website.
David Achelis, President of the West 50s Neighborhood Association, said: “The Number One complaint about quality of life in my neighborhood is the out of control bike, e-bike, moped, motorcycle and scooter situation. The city has done absolutely nothing to educate or enforce the laws designed to protect us all. Every day, the situation gets worse, and yet the city seems determined to keep shoving unwanted vehicles into the streets and sidewalks. The DOT has shown it is incapable of policing the streets, so why jam more unlicensed and uninsured vehicles into the situation? NO to more bicycles!”
Rafael Monroy-Rojas said: “I am in support of the rule to allow more cargo bikes for deliveries in NYC. Cargo bikes are incredibly more environmentally friendly than trucks, and they do not pose the threat to human life that a truck does. A truck simply making a wrong turn or missing a blind spot can kill a pedestrian or cyclist, whereas a cargo bike simply doesn’t have blind spots. Further, cargo bikes significantly reduce truck traffic, which has great health and environmental benefits for the people of NYC.”
Wadis was one of many who raised concerns about the proposal for these vehicles to use bike lanes. “Unless required to use streets, how will these extra wide boxes on wheels not be the end of useful bike lanes for actual bikes? A foot wider than existing cargo bikes for lanes already too small and choked with gas scooters, throttle e-bikes and parked vehicles? Will these double-wide boxes not just be impassable moving blocks in lanes for commuters and others using actual bicycles in bike lanes? And won’t they realistically just park in the lane when delivering, like all other cargo vehicles — even though rules will say they can’t — causing further hazards and inefficiencies? Bike lanes are supposed to be for bikes,” they said.
Joyce Hansen expressed her frustration with lack of enforcement of laws for bikes currently. “Who is going to ensure that the commercial pedal assist bicycles are not in the bike lane? At present, no one enforces the rules. Motorcycles, not motorbikes, motorcycles go up the Hudson River bike path and sidewalks all the time. It is dangerous. Who is going to make sure the cargo bicycles stay on the road and not on the bike paths or sidewalks?” she said.
Consumer trends in online ordering show no signs of abating, further exacerbating the situation. Even as the city reopens post-vaccine, the number of packages delivered daily in New York remains high, tallying 3.6 million as of March 2022. As building staff like Carlos Padilla, head concierge at 525 W52nd Street, report handling 300 to 400 packages daily, the pressure is mounting to innovate and adapt.
However, this is balanced against the ongoing frustration with delivery bikes not sticking to the rules. “The issue of e-bikes is the number one constituent complaint that we get,” said Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who has recently introduced a bill to require the registration of bicycles with electric assist used for commercial purposes and provides liability of employers for certain violations.
As Hell’s Kitchen grapples with an ever-increasing influx of Amazon deliveries, residents and local authorities are hoping for sustainable solutions. The recent partnership between Amazon and Just Eat Takeaway, which also brings Grubhub and Seamless into the fold, adds another layer to this issue. Announced in July 2022, the collaboration not only adds food delivery to Amazon’s ever-expanding portfolio but also raises questions about the long-term feasibility of the current delivery model. Streets congested with delivery box trucks, along with food delivery riders accelerating along the sidewalk, are creating frustration and calling into question the sustainability of millions of daily deliveries. Amid this, Amazon’s decisions are becoming central to shaping good delivery practices in Hell’s Kitchen.
The 30-day public comment period for the DOT proposal ends on Wednesday with a virtual public hearing on the proposed rule. Members of the public may access and participate in this hearing online or by telephone. The public hearing will take place on September 13, 2023 at 10am. Anyone may provide written comments on the proposed rule by:
- Website. You can submit comments to NYC DOT through the NYC rules website at http://rules.cityofnewyork.us.
- Email. You can email comments to email@example.com.
- Mail. You can mail comments to Diniece Mendes, New York City Department of Transportation, 55 Water Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10041
- Fax. You can fax comments to 212-839-7777.