Car-free ambitions: why should cities involve city logistics?

Cities are setting up pilots to make parts of their cities car-free. How do we prevent businesses from falling 3:0 behind right from the start?

The Amsterdam Weesperstraat is closed to car traffic for six weeks. It is a pilot to see how the city can become car-free. What can the business community do now to learn from this pilot as well? The business community in Amsterdam seems to be 3:0 behind from the start. This participation of businesses is essential as more and more cities go for car-free ambitions and start cutting and truncating their traffic network.

Consultation with business owners

The first step is to consult the local business community (receivers, shippers, transport companies) and the policymakers. The business community is already 1:0 behind in this regard in Amsterdam. The original plan for the pilot states that consultation with “stakeholders” would happen in February and March 2023. That has not happened in Amsterdam; they were not involved in the intervention design and evaluation.

Besides the technical details of the traffic intervention, that consultation should be about the results of the baseline measurements, the intended goals of the pilot, and the expected results. A pilot without concrete, measurable goals is obviously not a pilot from which to learn (and change behavior).

Come up with a baseline measurement based on real-life data

The second step is to agree on what data the city can collect during the pilot and what data are needed from the business community. The automatic number plate recognition analysis does not provide results that can lead to “actionable” improvements from business owners who must be in town to deliver to their customers. Will they just choose to detour (and grin and bear), or are there opportunities for cooperation, for example, in consolidation?

Automatic number plate recognition says nothing about the origin (often out of town) and destination and says nothing about what is in the vehicles. Are they catering deliveries or service mechanics? How full are the trucks? Is it a cab for Additional Public Transportation or for a tourist? As such, the collected data are of limited value to policymakers and business owners. That data from automatic number plate recognition should be enriched with data from the business community.

The business community will have to organize its own baseline measurement and data collection to analyze the impact of traffic interventions. Otherwise, it will soon be just a matter of indiscriminate detours. Not collecting your own data is a missed opportunity. And then you are 2:0 behind. Unfortunately, data sharing between companies is still an issue. Businesses can not determine what damage they ‘suffer’.

Disappearing traffic: also true for city logistics?

Research on ‘disappearing traffic‘ after traffic interventions was done last century. The findings suggest that predictions of traffic problems are often unnecessarily alarmist and that, given appropriate local circumstances, significant reductions in overall traffic levels can occur, with people making a far wider range of behavioral responses than has traditionally been assumed. But, research oriented on city logistics (and the impact of traffic interventions) is not available.

It’s also about the economy and spatial planning

This will certainly not be the last pilot with a traffic intervention. And Amsterdam is certainly not the only city with car-free ambitions. The question is how policymakers will involve experts from the business community, local logistics networks, and knowledge institutions in their approach. You have to take learning from traffic interventions more seriously.
Data analysis is a valuable addition to evaluating the pilot and as a starting point for upcoming impact analyses for subsequent traffic interventions or temporary road closures in major projects.

Incidentally, the decision on traffic interventions goes far beyond the portfolio of a single traffic alderman. It also affects the city’s spatial planning, digitization, and the city’s economy. The city should not overlook its facilitating role with window times, creating space for hubs, preferential routes, traffic management, intelligent access management, weight restrictions, and other measures. Otherwise, as a business community, you are definitely 3:0 behind.

Discussing traffic should start with discussing a vision about the ‘soul’ of the city

Traffic planning is about the future of the city. Our conversations about urban mobility should not only be about the “stuff” and “fluff” of mobility but, above all, about the “soul” of our city. What will make us truly happy in the future? Let’s start talking about that future. A good initiative comes from Amsterdam’s inner-city businesses to reduce traffic to make the inner city more attractive. What stories do we want to tell future generations? Those car-free ambitions could also be everbody’s ambitions.

Walther Ploos van Amstel.

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