As cities around the country reengineer their streets under the “complete streets” model (think bike lanes and pedestrian plazas) freight carriers and emergency vehicles, which are vital to building and maintain vibrant communities are often left out. Hopefully this will begin to change with the release of A guidebook for considering freight in complete street design. Under the leadership of Alison Conway, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, City College of New York, the guidebook was produced by faculty, staff and students at City College of New York, City University of New York, and the New York City Department of Transportation. The guidebook was sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. This will help planners and engineers to better incorporate freight activity in complete street design, reduce conflicts with transit, bicyclists and pedestrians, and make complete streets truly complete.
Freight however is a rather all-encompassing term. Not to mention, service providers also fall under the “freight” purview. As such, planning for freight access first requires an understanding of the fundamental drivers of freight demand based on the various activities which require freight:
- Retail- Stores rely on timely delivery of goods for sale to their customers. Freight trips will vary on the time, size, and frequency based on factors such as the size of the store, hours of operation, types of goods sold, number of distributors, and whether the store holds surplus stock. Also, stores may themselves ship goods to customers.
- Restaurants- Restaurants rely on timely delivery of fresh products to prepare meals for sale to their customers as well as fresh linens and other non-perishable supplies. The perishable products may require temperature control during handling and storage (refrigerated trucks) and may be timed to maximize freshness. Deliveries are usually scheduled during hours when staff will be on site, but customer demand is low.Restaurants may also ship meals on-demand to in-store or online customers.
- Offices- Since offices serve a variety of sectors, they have a broad range of material needs. Freight such as office supplies, food and beverages, documents, and tools of the practiced trade (medical supplies for medical offices).
- Homes- There has been an enormous shift in consumer shopping over the last decade with the rise of ecommerce. More and more consumers receive everyday items such as groceries, pharmaceuticals, household goods, and clothing at their homes. Usually, online shoppers have options to control delivery time and speed.
- Manufacturers- Manufacturers rely on the delivery of the raw or component materials that they input as part of the production process. They also ship finished products to their customers.
- Construction- Construction sites rely on the arrival and removal of materials, including heavy products such as wood, steel, and concrete. Also, some materials, such as wet concrete, may be time sensitive.
- Waste Removal- In New York City commercial waste is picked up by private carters and residential waste is handled by the city, most often via truck. Waste can be picked up from the curbside or from dumpsters located off-street.
- Specific Local Activity- This includes types of material movements that occur to meet the needs of a local economy and population. A New York City specific example is the movement of the sets, props, equipment, and supplies demanded for television, movie, and theater productions.
There is a maze of local regulations that freight haulers must traverse in order to meet the competing demands of all stakeholders. Regulations such as the types of freight vehicles operating (size and weight), the routes on which they operate (local or through), and the locations where they park to conduct loading and unloading (on street or loading docks). In complete streets though this is not as simple as it seems. For example, getting larger vehicles off the road can lead to more truck trips, increasing costs to consumers as well as vehicle miles traveled and emissions. Dedicated commercial loading zones are often cluttered with non-commercial vehicles forcing trucks to park illegally or circle around until the space is available. These are some of the challenges that must be considered by those who design and manage the streets.
Due to the combined factors of local regulations, community needs, zoning, and various demand a one size fits all approach will not work. So, how do cities provide adequate space for vehicle parking, loading, and delivery?
- Dedicated On-street Space- This provides designated space for freight loading and unloading activities. On-street loading zones require adequate space for a design vehicle to park, maneuver into and out of the space, and to safely conduct all necessary activities.
- Offset Bus and Bicycle Lanes- These maintain space for direct loading at the curb, can provide additional space to allow a vehicle parked at an off-street loading dock to overhang a curb without obstructing an active travel lane, and may provide larger turning radii at intersections.
(Source Complete Streets Considerations for Freight and Emergency Vehicle Operations)
- Mountable Sidewalk or Sidewalk Cutouts- Where a curbside travel lane prevents curbside parking, but excess sidewalk space is available, some of that space could be repurposed to accommodate freight delivery.
(Source Complete Streets Considerations for Freight and Emergency Vehicle Operations)
- Zoning Regulations- Loading requirements are usually defined in local zoning ordinances and are rarely updated to reflect changes in freight demand.
- Building Delivery Management- This goes beyond freight elevators. Centralized delivery locations, even in residential buildings as well as computerized management systems can help with efficiency.
- Commercial Metered Parking- Curb pricing might be able to help shorten delivery times and facilitate vehicle turnover. NYC DOT has recently increased rates in commercial zones for this reason. Not a particularly popular initiative with commercial carriers.
- Flexible Curb Regulations- Providing curbside space during certain hours while prioritizing the space for other users during certain hours. NYC DOT piloted fixed delivery windows which did not go over well with the receivers. However, this could also include allowing deliveries to be made in dedicate bicycle or pedestrian space late at night/early in the morning.
- Enforcement- As discussed above, dedicated commercial space will only work if the space is clear for commercial vehicles. Keeping all other vehicles out is the role of law enforcement. So too is making sure commercial vehicles operate as they should
Small business owners and building managers have always known that demand comes first, and freight follows it. The rise of ecommerce (think next day delivery) has let regular consumers in on this fact. So, what can cities do to efficiently manage demand?
- Off Hour Deliveries- Increase the number of businesses is a major goal of NYC DOT and with good reason because the benefits to carriers include; increased travel speed, reduced congestion, reduced delivery times, fewer parking tickets, and in some cases, improved fleet management. For receivers the benefits include; less interference from providing customer service, removing parking spaces available to customers, and better delivery reliability. Unfortunately, there are some holdups to this. The major one is cost to receivers. If it costs them more money to staff and extend hours than they would save in delivery costs they are unlikely to make the switch. Also, some communities may bristle at the increased noise in off hour deliveries. If noise violations just replace parking violations, where is the incentive for the carrier?
- Urban Consolidation Centers (UCC)- This is a logistics facility situated close to the area it serves where shipments are brought in via large truck or van, sorted and placed on smaller, greener vehicles for the end run. This would reduce the number of heavy vehicle trips and potentially reduce the costs of last mile delivery. It would also allow cities to increase the use of smaller electric vehicles or cargo bikes. Though UCCs could provide great benefits they are not particularly profitable and would most likely need to be subsidized by local governments, not easy to do in a city where real estate is so incredibly expensive. Shippers may avoid UCCs if they have concerned about third parties handling their goods. The most likely path to increased UCCs is through some form of public-private partnerships.
- Lockers and Pick-up Points- As more and more consumers demand products shipped to their homes, more and more deliveries are failing. Due to nobody being available to receive the delivery or nowhere safe to leave the package, failed deliveries are increasing costs on parcel carriers. Two common strategies are the implementation of staffed pickup points and installation of unmanned delivery lockers. These are installed in either public places (ideally in high commuter areas) or local businesses where goods can be delivered.
With any sort of opportunity there are challenges that must be overcome but the demand for freight is increasing rapidly while available curb space is diminishing at a corresponding rate. Part of the reason for that is because urban planners failed to take freight demand into account in their zeal for creating “complete streets”. Kudos to Dr. Conway and her team, NYC DOT, and NYSERDA for recognizing this problem and offering a wide-ranging host of options which can improve freight delivery without compromising safety.