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In Portland Cargo Delivery, the Three-Wheelers That Could

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 It's well-known that Portland really likes its bicycles. But its embrace of bike culture goes beyond its catering to commuters, leisure riders and athletes. So bike-centric is Portland that its residents can have any of the following delivered to their doorsteps by cycle: a pizza, a keg of pilsner, plumbing services or a hot tub. And the list grows from there.

It's logical, then, that a Portland entrepreneur, Franklin Jones, would have helped pioneer the new field of pedal-powered freight delivery. In 2009, Mr. Jones, a former teacher, founded B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery, a company that delivers produce, baked goods, coffee beans, bike parts and office supplies to restaurants, bike shops and other businesses throughout Portland's downtown area using electric-assisted tricycles that pull 60-cubic-foot cargo boxes with a 600-pound capacity.

B-Line is the latest example of the greening of a traditional industry. The company's cargo boxes are comparable in size to a small commercial van, but, unlike vans, the trikes don't emit carbon dioxide or cause traffic jams at delivery stops. Mr. Jones estimates that B-Line has completed more than 30,000 deliveries that otherwise would have been made by gasoline-chugging vehicles.

When he arrived in Portland in 2008, Mr. Jones already had a sterling bicycle pedigree. As a child growing up in Kentucky, he was a competitive cyclist, and after graduating from college he took a job planning bicycle pathways in Bend, Ore.

Then came a teaching stint in Japan, which he capped off by cycling 11,000 miles on a circuitous route from Tokyo to Ireland that took 13 months to complete.

"I saw bikes carrying goods and providing services," Mr. Jones recalls, "from the typical loaded-down rickshaw on the streets of India to a more modern bike in Europe carrying bread or delivering the mail."

A few years after returning to the United States, he began looking into business ideas that could "improve the overall livability of the community," he says. Discovering that there were gaps in urban transportation, he started to consider freight. "You can move a lot of volume and weight into an urban core, but how do you get the smaller parcels out to all the end users?" he wondered.    


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