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Cargo trikes nudge delivery trucks in Cambridge, Mass.

A Cambridge, Mass., delivery company is using industrial tricycles to deliver goods in efforts to curb global emissions.

By / April 3, 2008

Wenzday Jane uses one to pick up a shipment at Taza Chocolate.

Joanne Ciccarello / Staff

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Cambridge, Mass.

On a recent drizzly gray afternoon, Wenzday Jane straps on gaiters to keep tire spray from soaking her socks. Then she hops onto a ruby-red three-wheeled cycle van with a silver-winged "NAP" monogram emblazoned on its cargo hold – and pedals smoothly into thick Boston traffic.

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Her mission: Deliver 150 pounds of gourmet chocolates and cheeses from industrial kitchens in Cambridge, Mass., to shops and restaurants across Boston, while emitting zero pollution.

In a city choked with diesel-spewing delivery trucks, the fledgling New Amsterdam Project (NAP), a Cambridge-based cargo-hauling company, is pedaling toward profits aboard an emissions-free fleet of urban "cargo trikes."

China, India, and other developing nations have long utilized bicycle-based delivery for many goods – but are shifting toward engine-powered vehicles. Across North America, bicycle delivery services exist in several cities. Yet pedal-powered hauling for cargo has been largely a no-show in the United States.

That makes NAP stand out for its sole focus on human-powered cargo delivery, says Andrew Brown, the company's founder and CEO. A psychiatrist by training and lover of all things bicycle-related, Mr. Brown launched the company last fall and now finds himself dividing time between cycling to companies where he counsels workers – and making deliveries.

"We're getting trucks off the road, that's one of our goals," says Brown. "Each time we make a delivery, we demonstrate ... that there's a better way – a system that is less expensive, better for their products, better for the environment, and for their community."

Actually there are many goals for this windmill tilter. An encounter in an Amsterdam coffee shop in 2005 – in which a local man regaled him with stories about his nation's bicycle culture, a place where politicians and even the queen ride regularly – set the wheels in motion.

The gentleman bluntly said the US had made a "bad habit" out of driving cars too much – when bicycling was so much more pleasant, Brown recalls.

An expert in helping people leave bad habits, he began pondering how he might help America quit its addiction to the "automobile habit." He might have a chance, he reasoned, if he could demonstrate for a capitalist society that it can be highly profitable to keep people fit, lessen dependence on oil, and help the environment.

Research led him to a British company, Cycles Maximus, that makes commercial trikes used by the government to deliver the Royal Mail. One of their trikes' key features is an electric-assist. It allows even diminutive riders to haul 800 pounds up hill – and zip away from a stop at the pace of a car. It doesn't replace pedaling: the driver must pedal for the assist to work.

That effort is a key point for Brown. Whether delivering pies, chocolates, organic produce, or green building products, NAP's ultimate motive is to show people bicycles are a great way to stay fit, as well as break the internal-combustion stranglehold.

"It's almost like cars are the sea within which we live and we're so attached to them, it's so habitual," he says. "We are trying to lead the way, to set an example about how to get away from cars altogether."