Downtown Dilemma: Delivery Trucks

April 9, 2018

This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
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UPS has used its electric tricycle to deliver packages in Europe for more than 20 years and is now piloting it in some U.S. cities.

As Georgia downtowns continue to flourish, delivery trucks present an increasing challenge for cities. Restaurants, retail shops and downtown dwellers all get goods delivered via truck. Those deliveries can spell congestion for a city with a popular downtown packed with residents and visitors traveling by car, foot and bicycle. The trucks can also pose a threat to public safety and city infrastructure, city officials say.
 
“We have  delivery  trucks that come downtown and they block lanes and it is hard,” said Patrick Kay, Main Street director for  the  city of Americus. “It gets into a Catch 22—you want to be business friendly  but  you still want to be visitor traffic friendly, so we are trying to figure out a happy medium.”
 
The city of Dublin is also eying solutions to the worsening downtown delivery truck traffic.
 
“The way our main street is laid out, delivery trucks have to use the turn lane to access several of the businesses. It is very hard on the traffic at the time it happens—right around lunch time,” said Dublin Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Tara Bradshaw. “[The delivery truck traffic] further congests an already congested area. We are considering having trucks deliver off the street—around back, but we have to make sure every building has access to those surface lots. It is tough because not every building does. I want to help the trucks make the deliveries they need to, but also alleviate the traffic.”
 
For the city of Rome, a truck delivery ordinance may be the solution to ease truck traffic following the city’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade suppliers to police themselves.
 
“Every January, for the past three years, we sent a letter to all the distributors saying please be mindful of the traffic downtown, please be mindful of the pedestrians, please try to restrict your deliveries during this time, but we never got volunteer compliance so now we have to take it a step forward,” said Rome Parking Services Manager Becky Smyth.
 
The Rome City Commission had its first reading of a downtown delivery ordinance in March. If adopted, the ordinance would restrict deliveries between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Smyth explained. The proposed ordinance also restricts where delivery trucks can load and unload downtown and how close the trucks can park near crosswalks.
 
“We are over 98 percent occupancy downtown,” Smyth said. “As the downtown has grown, the pedestrian traffic has grown and as downtown has become more of a destination, the truck traffic has gotten much worse.”
 
The city of Savannah is also considering a controversial ordinance that would ban large trucks—those over three axles—from much of the city’s historic downtown district.
 
“The problem is narrow streets in the historic district; it is difficult to accommodate larger vehicles,” explained City Traffic Engineer Michael Weiner. “The trucks are hitting buildings, street lights, trees and curbs. We want to preserve our architecture and significant infrastructure, protect historic trees and the tree canopy and reduce traffic congestion.”
 
Weiner noted delivery truck drivers often park illegally, double park and block traffic lanes while loading and unloading. “Savannah is growing and there are more hotels, more restaurants and more shops,” he said. “We are getting more people coming into town. Businesses need  more  supplies  and  restaurants  need  more food deliveries. We’re not banning deliveries by any means. We are just restricting the size of the trucks and we will have exceptions to the ordinance.”
 
Savannah Alderman Bill Durrence said he likes the idea of the ordinance but thinks the city should do it in a more measured fashion, and explore restricting vehicle weight and delivery times.
 
“Our infrastructure system is 300-years-old so there is ample reason to do it, but we need more public input and perhaps a phased implementation,” he said. “You can’t expect people to change the way they do business overnight.”
 
Durrence would like to see the city’s public outreach to include not only residents and business owners but distributors, truck companies and drivers. “We want to get as much buy-in as we can towards a solution that works for the city and that everyone can live with,” he said.
 
The issues cities face with delivery truck traffic downtown are not lost on Tom Madrecki, director of urban innovation and mobility for United Parcel Service, a Sandy Springs-based multinational package delivery company and a provider of supply chain management solutions.
 
“UPS is open and willing to discuss issues around congestion and truck traffic,” he said. “It is an important conversation for cities to have.”
 
Madrecki said delivery trucks are an essential element for cities seeking to provide a high quality of life. “You can’t have a walkable, livable city, especially in a denser urban living situation, without the delivery truck,” he said.
 
He encourages cities to bring freight operators to the table when discussing urban planning—something he rarely sees—and suggests city officials be realistic about what is doable and viable in addressing delivery truck traffic. He also called for cities to consider the curbside of the future.
 
“The way the curbside needs to be managed will have to change,” he said. “The hierarchy of the curb needs to shift and reflect what is actually happening on the streets.” Madrecki pointed to the personal vehicle parked along the curb rather than the delivery truck double parked as the root cause of downtown congestion.
 
“The truck driver is not out just for fun,” he said. “He is performing an essential service in the downtown core. The downtown driver probably has access to alternative transportation options, underground parking or some other provision.”
 
For its part, UPS is exploring alternative delivery methods—using electric tri- cycles for deliveries in areas not as suitable for a truck, for example. The company has used the e-tricycle in Europe for over 20 years and is now piloting it in a few U.S. cities. The bike is designed to help reduce carbon emissions and ease congestion.
 
UPS is also continuing to work to optimize its delivery systems, and collaborate with cities on transforming public spaces for delivery truck parking. “We don’t profess to have all the answers,” Madrecki said. “We want to figure how to do it better. We want to build those relationships with government and community leaders across the U.S. We are also looking to find various locations where we can test the science and solutions because each city is different.”

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