Monday, April 22, 2013

Freight and Bicycle Plans

Last week I attended the American Planners Association (APA) national convention in Chicago.
When we think of transportation planning, we often think of the movement of cars, or the planning for transit such as buses, light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail and other forms of public transportation. However, a couple of the sessions at the conference, along with a couple of mobile workshops, focused on the planning for freight transportation.
Anyone who has been involved in the planning of any major transportation project will tell you, it is extremely difficult to get consensus among the many stakeholders, from the people who ride the system, neighbors affected by the system, business owners along the system, and so on. Dealing with freight transportation adds additional dimensions, as you have trucks and freight trains, both of which are operated by private operators, and even bigger concerns of neighbors who will be affected by any changes in freight routes.
Here in Oregon we have our own freight plan:
But what happens when multimodal transportation needs between different elements clash? 
A major example of this was from Baltimore, MD, a city that experienced conflict between providing complete streets and also creating a major truck route between the Port of Baltimore.
One of the major roads between the port and Interstate 95 is Dundalk Avenue. Dundalk is a major arterial street that passes through both residential and commercial areas that trucks have to traverse through. Baltimore County is struggling to balance the facility needs of trucks and cyclists on this major commercial street.
The easy answer would be to create an alternative route for bicycles that would be safer than dealing with the major truck traffic. However, because of the street layout, there is no real good alternative to using Dundalk for bicycles.
Balancing bike lanes, traffic flow, and adequate room for trucks is a formidable challenge. Baltimore County has not  yet decided what they plan to do with this section of road.
I have looked over several bicycling plans and did not see any of them talk about how you deal with this kind of situation. Here in Portland, the focus of areas like Swan Island seems to stay mostly on trucks. In the times I have visited Swan Island, I do not remember seeing any bike lanes. I only know of a couple off-street trails planned for that area, which still do not provide a solution to problems like Dundalk Avenue.
Personally, I would not want to ride a bike along a road dominated by trucks, but I am sure there are people out there who have no problem with this situation. Can we design streets heading into industrial areas that are also compatible with bicycle traffic for employees looking to ride their bikes to work?  Are there places where we should only have off-street bicycle access.
Portland has some very ambitious bicycle plans and has already made some great accomplishments related to bicycle infrastructure. However, addressing these mode-share questions is a crucial component of increasing access and meeting Portland’s bicycling goals.
Thank you to Kelly Sellers who was so kind to edit this entry.

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  1. Nice post, John. Conferences are always a great opportunity to learn about topics of relevance at the present time.

    Freight is an often overlooked sector of transportation, yet it is extremely important. In addition, freight accounts for 25 percent of all transportation emissions and surprisingly the U.S. has never established a federal freight plan.

    Back in February 2013, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the "U.S. will establish a national freight policy and a National Freight Advisory Committee."

    While U.S. commuters are switching to other modes in some cases, truckers are restricted to their truck and encounter congestion.

    He also mentioned, "we'll consider adding as many as 3,000 more miles in the future if that's what it takes to help our truckers deliver the goods."

    It appears that more interest should be focused on multi-modal freight transportation as the road infrastructure continues to fall to disrepair. What mode is the most viable for expansion and could serve as the foundation for the U.S. DOT Freight Plan?

    Article regarding U.S. DOT Freight Plan:

    Ray LaHood blog regarding U.S. Freight Plan:

  2. I've done that bike ride up Interstate and across to Swan Island to get to UPS and that is a less than enjoyable ride. Even on Interstate with bike lanes the speed and size of freight traffic can be daunting. It would be good to see more research go into easing the tension between bikes/pedestrians and freight since I would much rather focus on easing congestion through the removal of single occupancy vehicles rather than expanding road space for cars and trucks. It's definitely not an easy fix, but you're absolutely right in that it's one we need to be thinking about.


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