In its October 27th, 2019 article, 1.5 Million Packages a Day: The Internet Brings Chaos to N.Y. Streets, the New York Times essentially blamed the disorder and unsafe chaos of the City’s streets on commerce and deliveries rather than examine its root causes. Let’s get this straight, The City’s failure to adequately plan for deliveries and parking, essentially abdicating its responsibility to plan for ALL road users, is to blame, not commercial deliveries. Commercial deliveries and the ability to get around are the lifeblood of this City. Starve the City of its circulatory system and the City dies. Many in City government, transportation “advocates”, and the media crow about how empty Manhattan’s 14th Street has become after the recent car ban was implemented. But many other Manhattan streets are relatively empty now without such intervention, even during rush hour. New York City is losing almost 300 people a day. JP Morgan Chase is considering moving several thousand employees out of the City ahead of an expected economic downturn says Bloomberg.com. Vehicular traffic to Manhattan south of 60th Street is down by about 7.5% over the last 10 years. So, where did the congestion and chaos come from?
For one thing, Vision Zero traffic calming infrastructure and policies, such as reduced speed limits, traffic light timing changes, dedicated bus, and bike lanes, and lane closures for the orgy of new construction, have slowed down traffic and drastically reduced legal parking areas and loading zones. Many of these policies were implemented just as the e-commerce and app-based service boom was taking off. Add to that the proliferation of For-Hire Vehicles, such as Uber and Lyft (FHV’s). These vehicles make up about 30% of Manhattan’s daily vehicular traffic. When they’re not occupied or simply circling around, these FHV’s are typically parked in truck loading zones, engines running, waiting for the next fares. Misguided planning and zoning decisions also contribute to chaos. The Furman Center, a real estate industry-funded think tank, has advocated for reducing the number of off-street parking areas required in new construction. (Parking Requirements Policy Brief). With the money they can save by not putting in so much parking, developers claim, they can put in more affordable housing. With the number of homeless skyrocketing, we see how well that’s going. Many newer, more densely occupied residential buildings throughout the City fail to have adequate parking for their tenants and fail to have delivery bays. That then leads trucks to park wherever its convenient and for car-owning tenants or their guests to park in nearby zones, further interfering with traffic.
The purposeful reduction in legal parking, aside from causing traffic, leads to the increased parking tickets and fines for trucks making deliveries and service calls. The lack of parking spaces is not the truck’s fault, yet trucking firms pay and pay and pay. Money collected from taking away legal parking spaces line the City’s coffers to the tune of about $800 million/year and growing. If that isn’t enough, the City is illegally altering parking tickets to squeeze more fines from drivers. Incredibly some transportation “advocates” like the real estate industry-backed Rudin Center, cited in the article, claim that truckers do not pay their fair share for parking and use of the City’s roadways. Last we checked the trucking industry doesn’t get $7 billion in tax breaks EACH YEAR like the real estate industry does to pretend to build affordable housing. The fact is, exclusive of parking tickets, tolls and the City’s Commercial Motor Vehicle Tax, the average metro area tractor-trailer delivery vehicle pays over $20,000 EACH YEAR in state and federal highway user fees and fuel taxes. On top of that, each of the local tolling authorities has announced or are soon expected to announce increased tolls for the coming year. And, looming for this time next year – the ridiculous congestion pricing debt scheme, which, at last report would charge trucks up to $26 per trip into Manhattan.
Another specious complaint against trucks and deliveries is the fear-mongering linking of trucks to asthma rates. Today’s trucks run much cleaner due to strict emission requirements that went into effect in 2007. New diesel truck engines produce 98% fewer particulates and nitrogen oxides emissions than pre-1990 models. Sulfur emissions from diesel engines have also been reduced by 97% since 1999 (as per ATRI, the source cited in the article as related to bottlenecks). Besides, if there was a clear truck-asthma link most technicians, drivers, fleet managers, warehouse workers, etc. would all have asthma. The more likely culprit for asthma is poor housing conditions, particularly in public (read NYCHA) housing. (Public Housing and Asthma). It is also interesting to note that asthma rates in many industrial zones in Queens (LIC Astoria, Ridgewood Maspeth) are only slightly above city averages yet tobacco use is much higher. To that end, it is true that Hunts Point and Longwood (Hunts Point) have very high asthma rates. It is also true that they have the third-highest rate of tobacco retailers as well as severely limited supermarket space. Obesity and diabetes rates in these areas far exceed the City average as well.
The article’s concern about delivery firms creating staging areas in public spaces and then having smaller unregulated vehicles like vans and cars that don’t follow City and State regulations or bikes and scooters that don’t adhere to traffic rules is very real. As City Hall rushes to expand the bike lane network, rules are needed for the regulation of bikes and scooters used for commercial purposes.
The article mentions some wonderful programs that the New York City Department of Transportation is exploring such as off hour deliveries and residential loading zones to help deliveries efficiently flow but these programs are not without challenges and are certainly not able to fully solve the “chaos” problem. Some have called for adopting policies and programs used in other cities overseas. But New York has a unique history and culture. As one size never fits all, any proposal must be carefully assessed to see if it would work here. Surely there are solutions to making our streets less chaotic, safe for all road users and support economic growth. The best way to make our streets for all is to work together, to include all stakeholders and avoid scapegoating those who have no options.