The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is working with its partners across the country and around the globe to identify, promote, and implement effective strategies to facilitate urban freight flows. In a recent article the USDOT presents these strageies.
Many of the USA’s primary gateways for international trade are located in metropolitan areas, increasing the challenge of managing reliable and efficient freight movements. Fourteen of the country’s 25 most populous metropolitan areas are home to a major trade gateway, typically a marine port or airport. The carriers moving freight to and from these gateways must contend with the congestion in these areas–while contributing to that same congestion.
Addressing the Challenges
In coordination with private sector partners, State and local transportation agencies can implement strategies to facilitate the movement of freight in metropolitan areas and reduce its impacts on urban residents and other travelers. These strategies range widely, from stakeholder engagement to zoning and land-use decisions to parking enforcement. Agencies may consider strategies in such disciplines as operations and logistics, safety, and environment and livability.
Operations and Logistics Strategies
Moving freight by truck can lead to increased roadway congestion in certain areas of a city and at certain hours of the day. To address these types of issues, State and local transportation professionals can work with private carriers to implement operations- and logistics-oriented approaches, such as those that seek to reduce the number of truck trips, shift them to offpeak hours, or otherwise minimize their impacts on traffic flow. Competing uses of curbsides, including space for loading and unloading of freight vehicles, is a common issue during deliveries.
Operations strategies include actions by public agencies to facilitate first- and last-mile goods movement in urban areas. These tactics involve making changes to how freight transportation uses public roadways, such as designating truck routes and establishing curbside loading zones. Logistics strategies involve changes in the practices of freight carriers, shippers, and receivers that provide public benefits, such as reduced congestion or emissions.
Loading Zone Management
One of the many challenges faced by truck drivers making first- and last-mile freight movements in cities is the scarcity of available loading areas (both onstreet and offstreet). In metropolitan areas, the competition for curb space is usually intense, particularly in commercial districts. In addition, zoning requirements might not call for builders to include adequate offstreet loading areas, buildings may predate such zoning requirements, or carriers might not want to use the offstreet space provided if it increases the amount of time they have to spend per delivery. Any of these issues can affect the demand for curbside space.
When there is not an adequate supply of loading zone spaces or the spaces provided are considered inconvenient by carriers, freight drivers often create their own parking solutions. Methods such as double-parking by delivery vehicles can reduce traffic flow and exacerbate traffic congestion. These methods also can create safety risks. These problems can be particularly acute at urban locations that generate a high amount of both freight and pedestrian traffic.
As part of an overall strategy to manage curbside loading areas, public agencies can consider increasing the supply of loading zone space and improving the enforcement of curbside signage and regulations. Cities also can balance the demand for use of curbside lanes by dedicating lanes for different uses at various times of the day. Transportation and planning agencies should collect data on the specific needs of an area. Changes to loading zone policies and locations are more effective when they are based on surveys of curb use and information from nearby freight receivers.
Alternative Times and Locations
By changing when or where deliveries occur, shippers can minimize some of the impacts of freight traffic. Off-Hour Delivery. When recipients are not home to receive packages, carriers must make return trips, increasing the cost of delivery. Dropping off packages at an alternative location can reduce truck traffic and delivery costs for carriers, while providing convenience for consumers. Ideally, the availability of these alternative locations also reduces vehicle miles traveled to some degree, thus alleviating congestion and reducing emissions.
Alternative locations can be neighborhood businesses with extended hours (such as convenience stores), or unstaffed parcel lockers located outdoors, in public facilities (such as train stations), or near accessible neighborhood businesses. Some carriers and online retailers already have installed parcel lockers in such locations. Public agencies can work with carriers and facility owners to encourage the placement of parcel lockers in places that are likely to reduce vehicle trips or vehicle miles traveled.
Other initiatives include clean vehicles, safer vehicles, consolidation of urban freight and driver training. To increase the chances of success, any strategies to address the challenges of urban freight movements should be implemented in collaboration with local freight stakeholders. Additional opportunities to improve communication, coordination, and collaboration among freight stakeholders in urban areas also are helpful in achieving goals.
Read the full article about the USDOT initiatives here.