Complete Streets vs. Trucks

NYC Complete Street / Complete Street Prince

As more communities invest in green, complete streets to create environments that are both safer and more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, there are growing problems for those who must move goods, said Peter Plumeau, Resource Systems Group, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. Complete streets by their definition must accommodate all users, but they aren’t doing as good of a job in accommodating trucks and delivery vehicles, which are critical to goods movement, argues Plumeau. For example, curb extensions, which have many benefits, are a great way to block access for a truck. And more people-friendly roundabouts, which feature tighter streets, are becoming a nightmare to get around. Plumeau said the answer is more creative thinking about how to move goods.

Some communities are creating exemptions for some streets. In Seattle, which now has a comprehensive complete street program, “there is flexibility in industrial areas where there are lots of goods being moved in and out.” Others are making it easier on those haulers: Ontario, Canada, has a “guide for local truck routes.”

Some cities are using flexible street design to accommodate goods-carrying vehicles. In some of Boston’s busy complete streets, there are “curb space allocations” just for trucks.

And still others are coming up with novel policy approaches for access: In Philadelphia, trucks can idle in traffic to make deliveries if they have the right windshield ID, effectively allowing sanctioned parking in no-parking zones. New York City is also looking into a similar approach but combined with overnight delivery, taking advantage of less-congested time frames. And in some neighborhoods in Germany, there are secure kiosks trucks deliver to, places where people must walk to in order to pick up parcels.

Plumeau’s point is “economic vitality is also key to sustainability.” And furthermore, it’s often not the truckers fault if they are stuck trying to navigate a complete street: “the goods movement is now driven by demand. These truckers are not acting on their own schedule.”

He called for “getting rid of parking regulations in cities, which undermines affordability to begin with.” He believes expensive, highly regulated parking is one reason “jobs are heading to the suburbs because these places have cheap parking.”

However, the other side of this argument — as one audience member noted — is that “more parking just creates more sprawl.” If parking is ample in a community, it can prevent more transit-oriented development.

The debate about truck access and parking will no doubt continue as more communities remake their streets.

5 thoughts on “Complete Streets vs. Trucks

  1. Vehicle choice 01/22/2015 / 3:41 am

    What about just using smaller vehicles? Use the large trucks to the industrial areas, then smaller vehicles to disperse further.
    Some increase in labour cost, probably, offset by the greater productivity afforded by the complete street. Overall empirical evidence (growing use of complete street format) would suggest a positive economic outcome.

  2. Dave H (@BCCletts) 01/22/2015 / 5:31 am

    Glasgow, very often used as New York for filming because of its grid-street system and brownstone-like tenements, actually sorted this, as did the planned New Town development in Edinburgh.

    Behind the main street frontages runs a through back lane, some still retaining their cast iron curbs still far more resilient against trucks than modern equivalents. Sadly greed, ill conceived planning decisions etc, have in places allowed developers to build over these important features, and destroy what is effectively the solution to keeping the servicing of commercial premises apart from the streets used by their clients.

    In that sense I’m all for parking regulation and measures that manage logistics – go and look up papers on how the London 2012 Olympics checked out the wasteful use of transport resources of that city’s roads and dramatically reduced the number of vehicles calling in to service every hotel, department store of office complex, and the times of day they were scheduled to call. An example – at the school my daughters used to attend, I stood and blocked the driver of the truck delivering to the school kitchens as he attempted to force on to the footway (illegal in the UK) and park to make the delivery at 08.45, when the road was filled by children and parents going in to the school, I took this up with the head and we got the supplier to assure us that no deliveries would be scheduled for times that children were coming or going from the school. There has been a policy for many East of Scotland (Lothians) schools from the 1983 reports on Safe Routes to School – No deliveries without a vanguard on foot, no vehicle movements in areas used by children at start, finish or lunch times, and if possible separate entrances for those on foot and motor vehicles – the top of the hierarchy for safety – design out the hazard of conflicting movements.

    Then just observe how your streets are used – or more accurately UNDER used. I see roads gridlocked at 17.00 which are deserted (and I mean really empty) by 19.00. World-wide the average private car sits idle for 96% of the time, and this is reflected in the utilization of our roads network. When I do drive a car, I drive at night, and have driven 50 miles and more on the main motorways of the UK and not seen a single vehicle going in my direction, with a handful coming towards me. I roll freely through the dreaded ‘Spaghetti Junction’ in Birmingham at the posted speed limits, and do notice that most trucks also aim to be off the road for their rest break or deliveries, when the rush hour fills it with cars. The reason is driven by hard nosed economics. You don’t what that expensive truck and driver clocking up hours and crawling at a snail’s pace, so you schedule the driving for when you get best value for the time.

    Read Donald Shoup – land in cities is valuable, parking offers a poor commercial return, especially when you offer an employee 2-4 times as much space to put their car, as they get to work in. Putting value on that asset, and managing it effectively gets everyone to sharpen their pencils and do their sums, and when we do that we see a more profitable use of the resources.

    Ponder also for this stat which I unashamedly lift from Charli Komanoff’s Bicycle Blueprint for New York City (1994?) 90% of the packages being delivered in New York (and pretty much every busy city) weigh under 30Kg – an ideal weight to deliver by cycle, rather than an underfilled, overpowered van. Cycle Logistics is being reborn in Europe, providing local jobs for those with minimal qualifications (and no driving license). Cycle deliveries get right to (and sometimes through) the door to deliver, at twice the drop rates achievable by vans, with a much lower vehicle total running cost, and as one van operator, sub contracting their final mile to cycles, noted “We pay you guys less than we used to pay in parking fines alone for the vans”

    Happy to consider advising but if you want a lot of my time I’d need to cover that.

    Oh and as to being driven out to the ‘burbs some interesting results from cities which have cancelled or ripped out inner ring roads etc. The better quality of the streets drives up commercial activity, raises rental values, and thus local tax revenues, and drive people to find practical solutions to that deliveries problem. One Belgian city, through a combination of cancelling the road building, and enhancing the commercial activity effectively wiped down the city’s running debt, and cut their borrowing profile, at the same time being able to lower business property tax rates.

  3. Storm Cunningham (@restorm) 01/22/2015 / 6:09 am

    Good to see the needs of truckers (and delivery drivers) finally getting some well-deserved attention. Most urban residents have a love/hate relationship with them: we love them when they’re delivering our stuff, and hate them when they’re delivering everyone else’s.

    As for whether downtown parking should be free, expensive, or somewhere in between, I recommend an adaptive approach. Below is a parking-related excerpt from my upcoming new guide, Adaptive Renewal: Path to Resilient Prosperity. [ Full text of the latest draft available here: ]

    “Want a specific example of using Adaptive Management to revitalize a downtown? Look at parking policies. Some say free or cheap parking causes traffic jams and undermines efforts to improve public transit. Others say traffic jams are a good problem to have: the goal is more shoppers, so the more free parking, the better. Still others say expensive parking is best: it encourages pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented development, and the increased revenue funds downtown improvements. Who’s right? All are.

    Parking policies must adapt to current needs. If a downtown has a dearth of retail, then scaring people away with expensive, strongly-enforced parking isn’t a good idea. It only takes one parking ticket to convince a shopper that the sprawl mall is the better place to go. In that case, a switch to free parking might stimulate more visitors. This will encourage more retailers, which will stimulate more visitors, and so on in a positive feedback loop.

    But if that loop continues long enough, it will eventually result in traffic jams. That will make the downtown noisy, polluted, and dangerous for pedestrians, and they’ll start coming less often. Parking fees can then be reintroduced, starting with cheap parking. If that doesn’t bring traffic down to levels that restore the quality of downtown life, they can be hiked again, until the right balance is achieved.

    But then someone might say “Ah: we’ve found the right balance. Let’s engrave this parking price in stone.” Now they’re heading for trouble again, because cities are complex, living systems, and complex systems never stay the same. Stasis is death. Parking policies are deceptively simple: they are just one of myriad factors that affect the health and survival of your community. Taking an adaptive approach to policymaking is one of the core elements of resilient planning, but it’s rarely practiced.”

  4. R. Gus Drum 01/28/2015 / 9:25 am

    All good conversations about accommodating delivery trucks or heaven forbid construction vehicles (infill commercial projects or rehabilitation jobs requiring a crane). The best solutions that I have seen are installation of a middle lane in the complete street that is reserved largely for left turns at intersections but can be used by delivery trucks for early morning and late evening deliveries. I’ve seen this work nicely at several small towns that have heavy tourist traffic during the normal shopping hours (10am till 5pm) but delivery trucks rule that lane between 6am and 8am each morning. Seems to work and the shoppe owners and tourists adjust to it.

  5. estradagabriela 02/02/2015 / 7:59 pm

    Reblogged this on Gabriela Estrada and commented:
    Una buena interrogante. Habrá que evaluar, en cada sitio, las mejores soluciones. Tal vez la palabra no sea “complete” sino “flexible” streets…

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