Sunday, June 2, 2013

Freight Congestion op-ed

Colleen Sheahon
30 May, 2013

Freight Congestion:

Memorial day weekend I maneuvered a U Haul packed with poorly assembled Ikea furniture from NW 21st to SE Belmont. The worst experience that I have ever put myself through. After several hours of blocking narrow lanes filled with bicyclists and pedestrians, I made an appointment with my therapist. Moving sucks, it especially sucks when there is no way park the giant truck all your shit goes in without pissing everyone off. All my moving angst aside, I now have a new appreciation for those individuals who drive large vehicles in and out of congested
cities. Cities have been the commercial center for trade and exchange since cities happened. But for some reason we don’t plan them in a way to make this process a little smoother, at least not in the US.  Commercial freight is important because it brings us urban folk the goods we rely on. Freight also has an economical and environmental impact on our communities.

The way freight transport conducted now poses three main problems, according to Genevieve Giulano, University of Southern California. One, Giulano calls the “metro core problem”, or the congestion that occurs when trucks are double parked and are poorly managed by operators. The second, the negative environmental impacts that result from the use diesel trucks. And finally, “the hub dilemma” or additional commercial traffic at large international hubs (Giulano, 2013). Guilano and associates conducted a international survey comparing how countries managed their freight movement. The survey concluded that countries outside the US handle their freight the best (Deblanc, 2013). A real shocker to nobody, anywhere. In comparison to other large nations, the United States plans for freight movement very differently. The major difference being, the United states models freight movement at the regional, national, and even international level, but not at an ‘urban level’ (Ambrosini, 2004).  

Comparing US freight movement to other international models presents a few problems. Spatially, the US and Europe are not very comparable. Comparing a US city with a European one is like comparing a telephone with an orange. It really doesn’t make sense. Europe is a bit more compact than the US which helps the movement of goods. Also, the shipping in the US moves in unpredictable patterns. Anyone who has ever ordered anything online in the US knows this. There is nothing more frustrating than tracking a package, watching it go from Kansas to California, back to Kansas, and finally make its way to Oregon somehow. When the pony express delivers my cat litter  faster than UPS, we got some issues.

So the United States has different considerations when it comes to freight movement, but this doesn't solve the congestion and environmental issues urban commercial freight causes. Some argue that measures to reduce traffic congestion create barriers. If cities were to modify land use to better accommodate freight, a “latent demand effect, or increased congestion as a result of efforts to increase traffic capacity, could result (Taylor, 2002). Some argue that changing land use patterns will modify travel behavior, but this will negatively impact freight delivery. As most planners are beginning to look to “smart growth” strategies, limiting road capacity and adding mixed use buildings, complicating zoning for loading and unloading (Carris, 2008).

One of the main obstacles for finding a solution for urban freight congestion is that interstate commerce is managed on the national level, making it difficult for local municipalities to impose regulations of their own. Successful strategies that will relieve freight congestion will come about when cities work directly with operators and shipping companies. Cities can encourage operators to reduce emissions through programs that give incentives to companies with low emissions, similar to the trading carbon credit model. London has recently established a low emissions zone in the metro area. The zone is targeted at heavy offenders, like high consuming diesel trucks. The city has reported the zone has caused reorganizations in fleets by companies to lower emissions (Dablanc 2013).

We certainly have a lot of thinking to do when it comes to freight. Working to control congestion through environmental measures is a start. If we are really serious about reducing freight congestion we should look at where we source our products, buying local helps but its not enough to fix the problem as a whole. Distribution centers should be spaced throughout the United States in a way that  eliminates the need for large trucks in congested urban cores. A fix that will require a lot of logistical and strategic planning. In the meantime, just be as nice to the truck drivers as you can.

Jaffe, E. (2013, May 22). The forgotten urban transportation problem we should be trying to fix. Retrieved from

Dablac, L. (2013). Best practices in urban freight management: Lessons from an international survey. Informally published manuscript, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, , Available from ITRD . (01470560)Retrieved from

Taylor, D. (2002). Rethinking traffic congestion . Informally published manuscript, Institute of Transopostation , University of California, Los Angeles , .

An Caris, Cathy Machris & Gerrit K. Janssens (2008): Planning Problems in Intermodal Frieght Transport: Accomplishments and Prospects, Transportation Planning and Technology, 31:3, 277-302

CHRISTIAN AMBROSINI & JEAN-LOUIS ROUTHIER (2004): Objectives, methods and results of Surveys Carried out in the Field of Urban Freight Transport: An International Comparison, Transport Reviews: A Transnational Transdisciplinary Journal, 24:1, 57-77

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