When Ty and Brooke O'Steen gave up their Toyota Prius in favor of a cargo bike, most people felt sorry for them. "When we turned our car...

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PORTLAND — When Ty and Brooke O’Steen gave up their Toyota Prius in favor of a cargo bike, most people felt sorry for them.

“When we turned our car over to the bank, they said, ‘Oh, we’re so sorry you are losing your car,’ ” said Ty O’Steen, 26, who says he works less and spends more time with his wife and 1-year-old daughter Emma Jade since the couple made the switch. “We’ve never felt destitute without a car.”

Urban, middle-class families are finding they can give up their gas-chugging cars for the pedal-powered cargo bikes, whose sturdy wooden boxes allow them to run daily errands like toting kids to school and transporting groceries.

These days, when the O’Steens go to the supermarket, visit friends or just want to get out of the house, they hop into their Dutch-built cargo bike — known as a bakfiets in Dutch — and cruise. The O’Steens say the vast majority of their needs are met with the bike, which can carry up to 175 pounds in the cargo area alone, includes seating for two small children.

Used for a decades by Dutch workers to deliver milk, meat and bread, the cargo bike is increasingly used in bike-friendly U.S. cities where driving a car — even just a couple of miles away for groceries — can suck up a whole afternoon.

“Demand has exploded” in the U.S., says Dan Sorger, who runs the Dutch Bicycle Co. and imports bakfiets from Holland. Sorger has sold about 200 bakfiets — which usually retail for around $3,000 — over the past few years, and plans to open a flagship store in Boston. Sorger said bike stores recently started selling cargo bikes in Seattle; Portland; and Vancouver, B.C.

Even businesses are getting into the act. Old Town Pizza in downtown Portland has used bicycles for most of their deliveries the past four years; six months ago, the company purchased a cargo bike.

“We can cater a dinner for 20 to 30 people and deliver it on the bakfiets,” said owner Adam Milne. “Before, we didn’t have that capacity.”

Geoff Brandenburg, the pizzeria’s resident mechanic, said the bike’s sturdy build and maneuverability make it easy to use.

“It’s better for employees too, because it’s kind of like a built-in health system,” said Brandenburg.

In California, the city of Brisbane recently purchased a cargo bike for volunteer John Quilter, who has helped clean up litter for 20 years.

And at Clever Cycles in Portland, which opened in June, co-owner Dean Mullin said he sold 20 bakfiets before the store was ready for business. “Basically I was selling them on the sidewalk, but it was definitely a good way to get these things rolling around,” said Mullin. Like many of his customers, Dean says, his family sold one of its cars after buying a cargo bike.

“Now the car we have sits there, and we are thinking about getting another [cargo bike] because my wife and I argue about who gets to take the bakfiets,” said Dean. “We would probably be the first family in Portland to have two.”