We all want greater quality of life, reduced congestion, enhanced safety and improved connectivity.
Most mornings, I try to fit in a pre-work spin on some of the hillier roads around Washington D.C.
Out with a group of friends, pushing the pace, snapping sunrise photos and grabbing a cup of coffee after — it’s one of my favorite parts of the day. And as a transportation policy advocate, it’s also a time when I feel especially prone to moments of anger, frustration and wanting to change things for the better.
I often say that cycling forces you to adopt a different perspective on the road. The threat of injury or worse puts you on high alert. You notice things more — driver behavior, crumbling infrastructure, poor road design and the lack of inclusivity for all transportation modes.
“Freight and active transportation shouldn’t be at odds with each other.”
In the U.S., the world seems to revolve around cars, so using any other transportation alternative often seems foolhardy to say the least. At the same time — there’s nothing else like life from two wheels, and I can’t imagine giving it up.
Finding common ground
I mention that I’m a cyclist because in the transportation policy space, there’s a pervading view that “freight” and “active transportation” can’t go hand in hand. But the reality is far different.
Just like it’s possible for a trucking company’s city transportation advocate to also be an avid bike user, freight and active transportation interests can have mutual policy goals. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the two shouldn’t be at odds with each other at all.
With the global rise of e-commerce, it’s now possible to get just about anything delivered to your doorstep without even jumping in a car. In its most efficient form, like in UPS’s integrated network, e-commerce stands to replace personal vehicle trips and consolidate shipments — in some ways functioning more like a bus than a single occupancy car.
It’s easy to imagine that if everyone in a neighborhood received a package from a UPS truck versus everyone driving to the nearest store, there would be fewer vehicles on the road and less congestion.
That vision only works, though, if delivery vehicles have access to the curb — and aren’t double parked or blocking traffic. Most urban areas today, though, aren’t equipped to deal with this change in transportation demand and behaviors.
Instead, our cities’ transportation networks and curbsides are more aligned to personal vehicle use.
E-commerce, not to mention transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, as well as active transportation like biking, walking and scootering haven’t been factored in, and the result is a parking and driving environment that doesn’t function optimally.
“If city planners want to do something about safety, they should start with curbside management strategies.”
Testing curbside changes to enhance quality of life
The disproportionate allotment of parking spaces at the curb contributes to and exacerbates double parking issues.
The problem, contrary to what some freight and trucking executives may tell you, isn’t the number of new bike lanes on city streets (which then pose double-parking issues) — it’s the fact that there’s so little curb space, those companies have been forced to double park or worse for years.
So, if city planners and decision makers want to do something about safety, congestion, emerging business models, new transportation technologies and increasing personal preferences to walk or bike, they’d do well to start with new curbside management strategies.
Solving issues at the curb might go a long way to resolving tension between the freight and active transportation communities, while also contributing to city goals to reduce single occupancy vehicles.
As testified by our own trials with cycle logistics and other new urban delivery innovations, UPS is committed to being a solutions provider to cities.
One of the most promising curb solutions is the expanded use and piloting of “flex zones” or “PUDOs” (short for pickup and drop off), or simply adjusting the number of loading zones to more adequately address delivery demand in a particular area.
Especially in congested areas, there are opportunities to test these kinds of solutions and see what works and what doesn’t — but only if a city has the political willpower to remove a few personal vehicle parking spots.
In many cases, unfortunately, that’s an uphill battle. There’s an old transportation joke that “all politics is local, and all local politics is parking.”
“We need not put the blame on cyclists or trucks for current stumbling blocks.”
Hope for sustainable solutions
Still, there’s hope for the integration of these kinds of solutions with other city priorities.
Want to promote sustainability and lessen environmental impact? Maybe there’s a path toward “green freight” zones.
Want to facilitate delivery by a smaller vehicle type like UPS’s e-trike? Maybe consider augmenting existing parking infrastructure with staging area for more human-scaled deliveries, which trade vehicle size for incorporation of a secondary distribution point in the last mile.
Want to limit individual deliveries and the frequency of stops in residential areas? Maybe there’s a way to deliver to a single address just like in a modern apartment building with a concierge desk.
In this way, maybe freight and active transportation don’t have to be at loggerheads with each other. Maybe instead they run in close parallel, and each benefit from changes to policy and the built environment.
Moreover, while making these changes, we need not put the blame on cyclists or trucks for current stumbling blocks because we all want the same thing — greater quality of life, reduced congestion, enhanced safety and improved connectivity.
We have so much more to gain by working together than apart.
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