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Guest post: Biking away (some of) my Amazon Prime guilt

Posted by on August 20th, 2019 at 9:49 am

The author on his Benno e-bike.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

This story is by northwest Portland resident, Planning & Sustainability Commissioner and devoted civic activist, Chris Smith.

I confess, I’m a heavy user of Amazon Prime. Not in the “I’m too lazy to go to the grocery store” way, but more of a “there’s so much selection, I can get exactly the thing I’m looking for!” way. If I can buy what I need locally, I definitely do.

I’m aware of the potential negative impacts of this convenience: exploitation of workers at Amazon warehouses, impact on local retail and — especially given the focus of my activism — last mile impacts on the local transportation system.

I think I have an answer for that last point: Amazon Lockers.

Amazon has been aggressively opening locations where you can have your package shipped to other than your home. Their motivations for this probably include faster delivery and addressing the needs of people who can’t receive packages at home for some reason. I find the lockers attractive for several reasons:

I think this is a good potential solution to the last-mile delivery problem; but it’s clear to me Amazon has not thought about bicycle access as a priority issue.

1) I can pick up my packages by bike, rather than having a delivery vehicle congest the local street network.

2) I can (for most locations) strip the outside packaging. This makes it easier for me to transport my purchase and makes Amazon responsible for recycling the packaging, helping motivate them to use the lowest-impact packaging.

3) Removes the risk of porch theft. This is not a big risk for me, we’ve had one incident in 24 years at our current home, but it’s a source of anxiety.

4) If you’re returning items you can drop them off at some locker locations to avoid return shipping fees.

There are three locker locations reasonably convenient to my NW Portland home: the main downtown hub location on SW Jefferson; the locker at the Whole Foods in the Pearl; and a locker at the Security Public Storage self-storage facility in the NW Industrial district. The first two are open every day of the week, are staffed and offer a range of services. The NW Industrial location is not staffed and has limited hours and services.

The general drill is that you get an email when your package is available, and when you arrive or approach the locker, you click on a link in the e-mail to get a barcode on your phone that opens a locker bay door for you. Without a phone I assume you have to interact with staff, which would rule out unstaffed locations.

At a staffed location, I believe what happens is that the request for the barcode causes staff to retrieve your package and put it in a locker that you can open. For oversized items you’ll be directed to a counter where staff will scan your barcode. A staffed location will hold your package for a couple weeks.

That rules out oversized items at unstaffed locations. At unstaffed locations the items are also pre-placed in lockers, so you are given fewer days (4 or 5) to pick up your purchase.

Once I figured out how the system worked, the big question for me was, “How bike-friendly are these locations?” What I’ve found is that it varies a lot.

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I lock to a pole because there’s no bike parking outside the Amazon Lockers on SW Jefferson.
(Photo: Chris Smith)

Downtown on SW Jefferson: Directly on a bike lane, but virtually no bike parking! Depending on the direction you approach from, you are likely to cross Streetcar rails. I often go a block or so out of my to make sure I’m not turning across the rails. There’s one bike parking staple next to the deli on the corner, but nothing mid-block where the Amazon storefront is. In fact I’m pretty sure bike parking has been removed since the building opened (a potential zoning code violation). I’ve been locking up to a parking sign immediately outside Amazon (photo). I’ve contacted City of Portland bike parking staff to suggest they think about adding racks in the area.

Whole Foods on NW Couch: Reasonable bike parking at the store entrance and there’s a bike parking corral mid-block on Couch. The lockers are on the second floor mezzanine, but I was able to take my Burley Travoy trailer up the elevator with me with no difficulty. You have to give recycled packaging to staff (the downtown location has bins). Couch and 12th are reasonably slow traffic streets, but can be challenging to approach depending on what direction you’re coming from.

Security Public Storage in NW industrial area: Has the non-staffed limitations I discussed above, but the locker is external to the building (area is gated off outside business hours), so you can roll right up, no need to worry about parking. You do have to cross NW Vaughn near a freeway interchange to get there, or go several blocks east out of direction to avoid the high-traffic streets (this will get better when the NW 20th Ave connection under the freeway is completed soon).

What if we made all these locations easily accessible by bike?

Generally I’ve found the Whole Foods location to be the most useful for me based on it being staffed, a little closer to home than downtown and the fact that is has the best bike parking. It also offers the option of bundling the day’s grocery shopping into the trip. I use the industrial area location for smaller items.

Overall I think this is a good potential solution to the last-mile delivery problem; but it’s clear to me Amazon has not thought about bicycle access as a priority issue. I got a survey asking about my experience and no biking issues were mentioned – so I made good use of the ‘other comments’ section. I hope the City of Portland will also give more thought to facilitating bike access to locker locations.

In a better world I could image facilities like these being community hubs able to accept shipments from a variety of vendors, and offering other convenience services like dry-cleaning. Startup idea, anyone? It seems like Amazon is open to partnering by putting lockers in local businesses (see map).

If you’re a Prime user like I am, maybe you can try locker-by-bike pickup to minimize your ‘package miles’. Or maybe you already do? Either way, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

— Chris Smith, @chrissmithus on Twitter

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Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

imagine if you could bike directly up to the locker and load

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

At the public storage location, you actually can roll right up to the lockers in a covered area outside the building.

Mick O
Guest
Mick O

Small note:

“Without a phone I assume you have to interact with staff, which would rule out unstaffed locations.”

The barcodes are not the only way to open the lockers. You would just have to make note of the 6-digit code for manual entry. Can be written down or memorized.

Sam
Guest
Sam

It is so gross that this blog is now advertising for amazon of all things.

dan
Guest
dan

My sentiments exactly. I have tried to tone down my rhetoric on this topic because I’ve found it makes me unpopular at barbecues, but I’m going to just put this out here: with our planet on fire, plastic and styrofoam pollution pervasive in our water and soil, and given what we know of the ugly lifecycle of our Amazon purchases (manufactured exploitatively and with limited environmental oversight in Asia, sold by a rapacious corporation that actively destroys local businesses and whose CEO is a poster child for “I’ve got mine, screw you”, and shipped by warehouse workers that work in inhumane conditions), I am frankly shocked at how many well-meaning progressives blithely tithe their Prime membership fees to suckle at the Amazon teat.

I mean, just my $.02.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

You would be shocked to see the amount of packaging coming out the back side of your local grocery store or retail business.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

It’s mostly cardboard, which is easy to recycle. The tough stuff is inside the packages the end user buys.

soren
Guest
soren

Your purchase groceries on Amazon?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Had to have the garbage company pick up an extra bag last week. I’ve been unable to feed the excess Styrofoam into the garbage and I collected an entire extra garbage can of it that was taking up valuable garage space. I’ve still got more. Delivered consumerism coupled with no way to recycle the tough things and I’m generating half a garbage can a week of things with recycle symbols on them that Metro won’t recycle.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Chris – nice thorough update for cyclists. (You should own Amazon stock!)

Anyway, Chris, what has been the discussion in any of your committees about providing reefer lockers in “supermarket deserts” in East/ SE Portland? This I think has long been the next step but one from an urban planning / zoning/ permitting standpoint that has lagged.

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

I have not heard of anything other than trying to locate actual grocery stores there, or trying to get smaller bodega-type stores to add fresh produce.

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

I get all the concerns about Amazon, but try to generalize this to e-commerce overall. Rather than having delivery trucks all over our neighborhoods (saw two UPS trucks go by as I write this), consider the benefits of neighborhood hubs as pickup points instead. This post is about how our transportation system needs to work in the age of e-commerce.

9watts
Subscriber

“potential negative impacts of this convenience: exploitation of workers ”

Potential?

“the benefits of neighborhood hubs”

It is certainly a stretch to put Amazon, Neighborhood, and Benefit in the same sentence, given what we know or should by now know about Amazon.

https://bikeportland.org/2017/10/20/bicycling-stars-in-portlands-amazon-hq2-pitch-247974#comment-6835072

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

People get irate if they have to park further away than directly in front of their house. Good luck convincing people to go past their block to pick something up and carry it. Until it’s forced upon them it will not happen. We need to close a LOT of residential streets to motor vehicles and put diverters everywhere so that it’s hard to drive AND you’re forced to travel without a motor if you’re able. That last one will just force everyone to intentionally become morbidly obese to qualify for a pass to drive everywhere. With no political will we’ll live in a Wall-E world.

Paul H
Guest
Paul H

What in the world are you saying?

soren
Guest
soren

Since I ended my amazon membership 3 years ago (an incredible difficult and lengthy process) I find that my use of e-commerce largely disappeared and my consumerism has markedly decreased. In fact, these days I use amazon’s free product search tool in order to find out which products I want to buy locally for less money.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauraheller/2016/05/27/amazon-isnt-always-the-cheapest-and-heres-why/#59b57165cbc3

Beth H
Guest
Beth H

Same here. When I stopped shopping at Amazon, I did have to find alternative sources for a few items I need regularly. If I couldn’t find a local source, I reevaluated my need for the item; in a few cases, I stopped buying it altogether.
Which led me to ponder the rest of my online shopping.
I spend far less time online now, because once I realized that half of it was for window-shopping I realized I could use the time elsewhere.
Like for more bicycle rides and stuff.
See ya on the road!

dwk
Guest
dwk

Is this guy is a transpo advocate or a commercial for Amazon…
Beyond ridiculous., how about you bike up to a local store where local people work and need your shopping dollars?
Devoted activist…what a joke.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Local people work at the Amazon warehouse and staffed locker locations.

dan
Guest
dan

Those local people that work in Amazon warehouses would probably rather work in a business where they didn’t have to pee in bottles or work without A/C in a heat wave with paramedics waiting to take away the fallen: https://archives.cjr.org/the_audit/the_morning_call_probes_amazon.php

Not sure I recall seeing your handle around these parts, are you a regular reader or part of an astroturfing operation?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I’ve been commenting on this blog for the better part of a decade under this handle. You can take off your tinfoil hat.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I
dwk
Guest
dwk

Oh and not just Amazon but Whole Foods, another Amazon company….
Do you get paid by Bezos or is this just a freebie?

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

In the past two weeks I have been seriously contemplating canceling my Amazon after reading of their slaves, oops employees’, working conditions. Then understanding Bezos pays little or ZERO taxes, and finally, his monetary support to the Climate-Denier-In-Cheif, the deal is sealed. But wait, there’s more- now he is getting free coverage on this important blog.

JohnR
Guest
JohnR

I don’t think Bezos has contributed any $$ to Trump. Rather, the two are very serious adversaries…

That said, there are plenty of other reasons to avoid Bezos.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I shop at the Whole Foods in Hillsboro because it is the only grocery store within quick cycling distance of where Iive, and I can ride most of the way through the park. But every time I check out they ask if I am a member of Amazon Prime and I say ” no , I don’t want to be part of Bezo’s Borg Collective.” Surprisingly this does not ever make them angry, and they often smile or give me a sheepish look as if to say ,” It is too late for me, but I am glad you are free.”

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

I have stopped by anything other than used books on Amazon. What bother me the most about Amazon is that somehow the entire business model implies that getting a slightly lower price on mostly useless stuff is the be all and end all of life.

dan
Guest
dan

Well

BikeRound
I have stopped by anything other than used books on Amazon. What bother me the most about Amazon is that somehow the entire business model implies that getting a slightly lower price on mostly useless stuff is the be all and end all of life.Recommended 3

Well-put!

Brendan Purkapile
Guest
Brendan Purkapile

By shopping at a supermarket owned by Amazon you are not part of their collective tribe?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Downtown on SW Jefferson: Only 1 staple in from of the Karam deli, but 5 in front of Coava. Before those buildings were torn down to build the current one there were no staples at all.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

“In a better world I could image facilities like these being community hubs able to accept shipments from a variety of vendors”

The last return to Amazon we had went straight to the UPS store, with no extra packaging. I’m assuming they put it into a larger Amazon pile and ship it to them all at once.

And the USPS takes a lot of last mile for other shippers but not for Amazon. Amazon has unmarked trucks and their drivers are horrible. If I had a choice I would never use Amazon as my shipper.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

I am hearing the concerns about how this post promotes Amazon. That wasn’t the intent at all and I assumed people would see this is more about solving last-mile package delivery issues than endorsing a specific company. At least for some of you, I was wrong. Sorry about that.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

It is great if this blog promotes Amazon. Amazon, as a tool to allow Bezos to accumulate wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, will facilitate his dream of financing space travel. There is no better use for that money than to launch it into space /sarc

raktajino
Guest
raktajino

I would definitely be interested in seeing the topic explored from a broader point of view. There are plenty of other services that could be considered from a last mile perspective: po boxes NOT owned by Amazon, meal planning subscription boxes, that sort of thing.

It’s also trickier to address within Portland itself, because we have so many local options (of varying bikeability and transit-ability, of course). The last mile is even more important in rural and sprawling suburban areas. Why not interview or solicit input from people who live beyond the urban center? My sister lives in eastern Washington and it really is a decision between driving two hours to the nearest big grocery store or specialty store, paying much higher prices locally, or buying online (not from Prime anymore, because there are options).

Chris
Guest
Chris

I haven’t been in a few months, but my last visit to SW Jefferson had a rack inside. Didn’t have to lock my bike, so saved a bit of time.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Was just at the Jefferson location a couple days ago. They have a bike rack inside.

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

I don’t recall the rack inside, but I may have ignored it because I don’t try to navigate my cargo bike through doorways very often 🙂

Scott Kocher
Guest

I prefer local retail but at Jefferson I took my bike in the couple times I’ve been. No problems. The streetcar tracks are a hazard as noted.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

Aggressive is a word that conveys a strong negative characteristic. If the author believes that Amazon opening locations with Amazon Lockers is something that we should be happy about, then the wording should have been something along the lines of “Amazon has been opening locations at a fast pace where you can have your package shipped to other than your home.”

Sarah Thornburg
Guest

Thanks for the kind words, Chris.

We here at Security Public Storage are very excited about the Amazon Locker. Our customers find it useful too. Next time, feel free to stop in and say hi to our managers, Lindsey and Carlos. They are very friendly. Thanks again!

Our address is listed on our website here.
https://www.securitypublicstorage.com/locations/nw-portland

Velograph
Guest
Velograph

I’m just here for the comments.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

Wow, I didn’t expect all the vitriol. Because in some ways this is the Portland Pedal Power business model: vendors (in their case food suppliers) deliver to a central warehouse location and then PPP delivers the last few miles via bicycle. It gets the trucks off the small city streets, is faster, and more reliable than using car transport. I’d also prefer to have the Amazon delivery folks off of our neighborhood streets so these central distribution locations aren’t a bad idea. But how is this different than a box at the Post Office (other than they are communal)?

raktajino
Guest
raktajino

Yes, these solutions already exist! The vitriol is not for the solution, it’s for the Amazon heavy focus of the piece. The headline of this being the balm for his guilt sets a terrible tone that detracts from any point he might charitably be making.

Jason H
Guest
Jason H

Slightly ironic that in order to build the Security Public Storage, the developer tore down warehouses at 2050 NW Vaughn that at one time housed a local cycling wholesaler, and which had a nice “go by bike” full wall mural I used to enjoy while riding past. At least another tech giant conglomerate preserved it in historical street views from before 2017.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I don’t think Amazon does any of their own logistics. I worked for a company that managed several of their warehouses and logistics and that same company also did logistics for companies like Google and HP. So you’re still dealing with companies profiting off Amazon at the expense of the people even if you’re not getting something from Amazon.

dan
Guest
dan

Point taken, it’s hard to be perfect, and even if you achieved it, you would be a sanctimonious prat and no one would want to talk to you at barbecues (speaking from experience). But it’s defeatist to say that until you can do everything, you shouldn’t bother doing anything. The fact of the matter is that unlike grocery stores, most of the things people buy from Amazon are not necessities. Minimizing the plastic crap that we buy and discard only has positive impacts, all the way through the long chain of interactions that starts when some crude is pumped from the earth, has its midpoint with that shiny new piece of plastic delighting our magpie brains as we unbox it, and ends in a landfill somewhere.

I’m not pearl clutching here — as a dedicated PETA member, I have no pearls to clutch and resent the implication (I kid, I kid) — just making the point that I find it disturbing that so many people who wouldn’t consider shopping at Walmart will happily pay money for the privilege of shopping at Amazon, a company with arguably a worse record on the environment and worker’s rights than Walmart.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Nice to see Chris on an ebike.

soren
Guest
soren

“For those that can boycott Amazon 100%”

Give me a break. There are plenty of alternatives to amazon.

I also feel some moral relief that I no longer do patronize a predatory monopsony that does business with sweat shops, encourages fraud, union busts, and treats their employees like they are disposable.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Where did your computer come from??

soren
Guest
soren

First or all, the tenor of your “whatabout” cloud services post is strikingly similar to MOTRG’s “whatabout” trucks critique of cycling’s utility as a transportation mode .

Secondly, the whataboutism is greatly exaggerated in that only ~6% of web sites use AWS: https://w3techs.com/technologies/details/ho-amazon/all/all.

Thirdly, I clearly stated that since I ended my amazon membership my e-commerce usage has plummeted (amazon spurs consumerism in our post-fordist culture).

Fourthly, it’s trivial to find sites that do not use amazon’s back end. for some reason, very few of amazon’s competitors use their software (e.g. e-bay, walmart, and ali baba). In fact, walmart bans their partners from using AWS.

Fifthly, if I were to use e-commerce, I’d prefer alibaba because china post ships via boat (why it takes 4-8 weeks for delivery). In fact, from a CO2e perspective there is a good argument for using alibaba over a local company for many purchases (something I can’t bring myself to do).

Sixthly, as my preference for walmart over amazon attests, I’m hardly arguing for total abstinence from predatory capitalism. IMO, a lesser evil where i can order online and bike to pickup (walmart) is always preferable to a much, much, much greater evil (amazon).

And finally, I make great efforts to avoid predatory internet entertainment companies which are by far the largest users of AWS (dwarfing it’s use in e-commerce by data volume). In fact, I have never once used netflix, hulu, amazon prime etc.

soren
Guest
soren

“All that said, the shame hurled at Chris and BP for this piece…”

i agree that chris’ use of amazon bike locker is an incremental positive. in my experience, criticizing small positive change is counterproductive because it tends to make some resistant to additional change.

“Good for you.”

my attitude towards praise or criticism of my consumption (prefigurative) politics is captured perfectly by greta thunberg’s response to her critics:

“I don’t tell people what to do. People can do what they want.”

soren
Guest
soren

no need to apologize. this was a respectful exchange.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

It is for reasons like this that I believe that a much better model for an environmentalist to follow is to live a healthy life while donating excess cash to non-profits that protect the Amazon rainforest (on a side note, another thing that I hate about Amazon the company is that they took their name from one of the most amazing places on Earth).

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

I really love articles like this, just to see the virtue signalling and hypocrisy that goes on.

PS
Guest
PS

Can just hear the touch screen warriors advocating for a 19th century existence on a pocket computer made by children.

soren
Guest
soren

yeah…shopping at walmart is the epitome of “19th century” and “virtue signaling”.

dwk
Guest
dwk

So not supporting the largest company in the US that pays zero taxes, is working feverishly to robotize there entire workforce and has one of the biggest carbon footprints in the world is
“virtue signalling”….
Maybe Amazon just sucks..

Tony
Guest
Tony

I see people bashing Chris for using Amazon while the guy is trying to find solutions for the last mile.
Frankly, it’s no one’s business anyone uses Amazon. Why don’t you come down from your high stool and stop watching any movies made by Amazon, stop reading on the Kindle, stop going to any website hosted on AWS, stop going to Whole Foods (although WF wasn’t created by Amazon).. stop using anything related to Amazon. I use Amazon for things I can’t find in local stores. It’s not easy even to know which local store has something I want. I have been using Amazon since 1999 but never was a prime member. I am happy with the speed of deliveries and don’t need any of their other services like streaming audio and video.

The economy is strong and the warehouses are close or in major cities. It’s not like the warehouses are the only places with jobs. There are plenty of jobs and no one is forcing anyone to work at these warehouses. If you don’t like it there simply don’t work there. The reports people have been posting are a few years old. Maybe Amazon improved the conditions already. I don’t know how it is now.

If you don’t capitalism in the US, move to another country or live off the grid.

Amazon provides many services to people. If you don’t like them, don’t use them but stop being so judgemental of people using them. You want to live like a hippie or be a minimalist, ride a bike only and eat only your own grown food, more power to you. Live and let live.

dan
Guest
dan

John Lascurettes
All that said, the shame hurled at Chris and BP for this piece, instead of at Amazon, has been kind of astonishing. Well, I guess it’s not really that surprising. Still, it’s kind of distasteful.Recommended 0

I’m sorry if my comments came across that way. My bone to pick is with Amazon, not Chris or BP.

Tony
Guest
Tony

Amazon does pay taxes. There are several kinds of taxes. Plus the hundreds of thousands of Amazon workers and employees pay taxes on their wages. If a company doesn’t pay any kind of taxes, blame the government for its tax structures and loopholes before you blame the company.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephaniedenning/2019/02/22/why-amazon-pays-no-corporate-taxes

PS
Guest
PS

Precisely. Additionally, part of why they didn’t pay taxes last year was due to carry forward losses on R&D from when they were not profitable. Pretty sure most people who enjoy living in modern society would like that provision to stay in place.

Joseph Knecht
Guest
Joseph Knecht

If you do a search under “amazon pays no taxes” you will find many articles, (including in other mainstream, pro-capitalist publications like Newsweek and the Seattle PI) that contest this claim. Forbes is hardly a trustworthy source about taxes considering the views on taxation by its owner, Steve Forbes.
More reliable information on Amazon’s horrible working conditions, avoidance of paying a fair share of taxes, contract with ICE and with the CIA and other shady dealings can be found on Democracy Now, The Guardian and other venues not owned by billionaires.

Tony
Guest
Tony

Joseph Knecht
If you do a search under “amazon pays no taxes” you will find many articles, (including in other mainstream, pro-capitalist publications like Newsweek and the Seattle PI) that contest this claim. Forbes is hardly a trustworthy source about taxes considering the views on taxation by its owner, Steve Forbes. More reliable information on Amazon’s horrible working conditions, avoidance of paying a fair share of taxes, contract with ICE and with the CIA and other shady dealings can be found on Democracy Now, The Guardian and other venues not owned by billionaires.Recommended 1

Forbes’ article has a link to Amazon’s 10-k. I don’t judge a publication by who owns it. I look at the information and verify. Who validated Democracy Now is a 100% reputable publication?
The comments in this article are full of assumptions, presumptions and personal opinions. I go by facts. People are picking on Amazon because it’s huge.