Cities cannot survive without an effective urban goods movement system. The health of the city’s economy is dependent on its ability to accommodate the movement and delivery of goods. Furthermore, the liveability that most cities are striving for is directly affected by the congestion and environmental impacts of trucks, the backbone of urban freight system. To this end, cities can no longer afford to ignore freight and how it interacts with the built environment.
Liveability and sharing space
Many cities are taking actions today to make their streets more liveable and to give space back to pedestrians and cyclists. Such actions aim to create a more comprehensive transportation network for everyone, requiring the urban streetscape to serve automobiles, pedestrians, cyclists, surface transit and parked vehicles. Many of the interventions to make cities more liveable are warranted and should be welcomed after decades of auto-centric policies.
The urban street network, including the curb, is critical to goods movement. However, the current emphasis on “liveability” and its components such as bike lanes, bus stops, side walks and bike parking ignores this, creating many challenges for trucks as they attempt to deliver goods. Trucks must navigate through congested streets where they are generally given lower priority; they struggle to find access to the curb to unload their goods, encouraging them to continue to drive and cause even more congestion or forcing them to double-park.
Since more street space is allocated to pedestrians, cyclists and transit, city streets are often far narrower than the wider highways that connect them to and serve the surrounding metropolitan area. As a result, urban freight distribution in cities primarily relies on small trucks, consequently increasing the number of vehicles on urban streets and exacerbating the inefficiencies in deliveries. Making matters worse, many of these trucks, both large and small, are only partially loaded or, even worse, empty.
The Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF)
The Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF) Initiative on Urban Freight is playing a key role in filling a critical knowledge gap in urban goods movement and leading efforts to raise the profile of goods movement in planning and policy arenas. Regional Plan Association, in close cooperation with VREF and three VREF supported research centers – MetroFreight, Sustainable Urban Freight Systems (SUFS), and the Urban Freight Platform (UFP) – has synthesized the key challenges and strategies of urban goods movement identified by the VREF initiative. The research and input from each of the research centers is incorporated throughout, with no division of authorship across sections, highlighting the coherent network supported by VREF.
The VREF Urban Freight Initiative has studied several areas where policy and/or physical interventions could be tailored to address some of the obstacles that impede urban goods movement. This research takes a significant step towards developing a comprehensive set of strategies that address the underlying challenges or goods movement in cities. These strategies are outlined below and are linked to relevant research conducted by the VREF Urban Freight Centers of Excellence. VREF recently published a good report about the urban freight initiative: why goods movement matters.