Accommodating urban freight in city planning

Urbanization has many benefits in terms of resource efficiency, economic development and an increased access to services and goods. On the other hand, densely populated cities where multiple users compete for public space creates multiple challenges for livability and sustainability. To cope with this, we need to develop a better understanding of the personal travel and goods movement needs arising from this growth.

Urban planning has traditionally focused on personal mobility challenges with the aim of having more efficient and sustainable transportation system and freight has been somewhat overlooked in urban planning or been seem mainly as a problem.

Freight vehicles representing about 20–30% of vehicle miles traveled and 16–50% of the environmental emissions (Dablanc 2007, Albergel et al. 2006) yet most of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) being developed with encouragement from the European Commission do not include detailed plans on how to accommodate urban freight into city plans. Research studies on the interaction between freight flows and the urban environment, and insights into ways to integrate freight stakeholders’ interests into the planning framework are urgently needed. A recently completed article collection in European Transport Research Review contributes to such a need.

The collection gathers ten studies with examples taken from cities in Europe, the USA, Asia and South America. The articles cover different dimensions of planning including accommodating freight needs within limited urban space, how to deal with innovations in the last-mile and how to involve stakeholders to integrate freight issues into planning.

Collection highlights

Three articles focus on local freight needs and discuss a range of issues including: the importance of understanding demand for freight vehicle parking and planning accordingly; conflicts between freight vehicles and other public space users (e.g., cyclists); and the importance of certain large traffic generators, such as, malls and universities in terms of specific freight needs.

Another three papers also provide insights and information about existing freight flows within metropolitan areas and how to use this information for more efficient urban planning. For example, (i) the advantages of having a suitable framework for data collection and how to characterize freight flows within metropolitan areas; (ii) importance of planning food distribution to achieve efficient and sustainable freight transport systems and (iii) an analysis of the inclusion of freight transport in existing plans, where often there is a lack of assessment of freight policy measures.

Alongside city planning initiated by public authorities, it is important to study innovation in urban freight distribution and understand the implications for planning

Alongside city planning initiated by public authorities, it is important to study innovation in urban freight distribution and understand the implications for planning. In the final section of the collection, papers deal with a range of emerging issues such as the sustainability implications of using crowd logistics for urban freight transport, the implications of alternative delivery points for e-commerce deliveries and new ways to enhance wider engagement by means of a decision-support procedure to foster stakeholder involvement.

These insights from research are built on a range of approaches and make a strong contribution to better planning for freight in cities. Comparing cities and the way in which freight questions are addressed can provide both information and ideas for practitioners and policy-makers. Parking for freight vehicles to load and unload is a common issue facing cities—sharing lessons about evaluating and measuring this activity can be valuable to city authorities. New trends such as crowd shipping also present great challenges concerning possible regulation and how to assess the impacts of these changes.

There are many exciting future research directions. In the technology field research studies have considered autonomous cars at both an urban and long-distance scale. For freight transport, more attention has been focused on the longer distance movements with much research about the platooning of trucks for example. There is certainly scope for more research on autonomous freight vehicles at the urban level.

The dramatic and continuing growth in e-commerce raises many topics in urban freight that need further investigation. For example: (i) opportunities to make last mile logistics more efficient and sustainable by means of locker boxes and alternative delivery points (ii) how to achieve more coordination in delivery to the consumer either through pricing or by influencing consumer behavior about the timing of deliveries to the home (iii) the interaction between personal travel and goods movement—if people live in higher density residential areas and forego car ownership will there be a need for increased delivery trips?

This collection shows that it is possible to learn from experiences in a wide variety of cities even though in the particular initiative being investigated may have a strong local context. With the widening recognition of the importance of urban freight and logistics activities we can be optimistic that there are many future research opportunities that will build on this collection and other recently published work.

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