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February 16, 2021 6:15 PM, EST

Experts Tackle Design Considerations for Urban Delivery Needs

Panelists Hisham Jashami (top left) and Edward McCormack (top right) and host Cole KopcaClockwise from top left, panelists Hisham Jashami and Edward McCormack, along with moderator Cole Kopca. (Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics)

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Despite the ongoing popularity of online shopping, there is a dearth of “design support” for urban delivery needs, according to Edward McCormack, research associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington.

McCormack participated in a webinar Feb. 16 hosted by the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium.

PacTrans, as the consortium is known, is a Regional University Transportation Center composed of representatives from Oregon State University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Idaho, the University of Washington, Washington State University, Boise State University and Gonzaga University. Authorized by Congress in 1987, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers program awards grants to consortia of higher education institutions in support of transportation research and technology.

McCormack said a planner or engineer assigned to build a parking zone for a handicap-accessible van would have plenty of guidance material, including information about the space needed for a wheelchair ramp and for the wheelchair user to spin around and start moving.

Panelist Ed McCormack

McCormack by Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics

“If you’re that same planner or engineer and somebody asked you to go design space for a commercial vehicle loading zone, there is very little information out there,” McCormack said. “It’s pretty clear that there’s not really great facilities for trucks to load and unload. We have a system that is forcing drivers to do their job and break the law. Something doesn’t seem right about that.”

Inadequate facilities have led to problematic “ad hoc” solutions, such as lift gates that extend into crosswalks, McCormack said. He presented findings from a research project he authored meant to explore where commercial vehicle activity disrupts pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. The project involved observing the mechanics of deliveries in Seattle. Project team members recorded information such as truck type, vehicle door location, driver behavior, loading accessories and delivery environment.

Using parking lots, freight drivers simulated deliveries while team members measured the vehicle footprints and interviewed the drivers. They measured the closed vehicle footprint, the open vehicle footprint (the truck when doors are open and ramps are deployed) and the active vehicle footprint (the path of the courier and the unloaded freight). Class 5 trucks are the vehicles typical of these deliveries, McCormack said. The study revealed a “total load zone envelope” of 44 feet by 15 feet is needed.

“There’s a lot of pressure for curb use in cities,” McCormack said. “There’s a lot of people that want that curb space. It’s gotten a lot worse with the rapid growth of e-commerce.”

In addition to transit vehicles, ride-share services and other motorists, bicyclists also must contend with delivery trucks in urban environments. Hisham Jashami, a research associate at Michigan State University, presented findings from an experiment that indicated larger commercial loading zones are preferable for bicyclists.

The experiment, which was associated with Oregon State University, required 50 participants — 25 male and 25 female — to ride a stationary bicycle in a simulated bike lane. The simulator presented different scenarios with varying buffers for delivery vehicles. In one scenario, there was no loading zone and the participant had to dodge a truck that was parked in the bike lane. The other scenarios presented two loading zones alongside the bike lane, one of which was the size of a parking space and another that was slightly larger.

Jashami and his associates found bicyclists felt most comfortable when traveling with the maximum commercial vehicle loading zone option. Participants diverged from the bike lane the least in this scenario. They also diverged less when the courier was beside the vehicle, rather than behind it.

“Both loading zone size and courier position had [a] significant effect on cyclist lateral position and velocity,” Jashami said. “Accessories behind the truck had no pronounced effect.”

McCormack said the ultimate goal of this work is to develop a standard that city planners can use to build commercial loading zones. He said some aspects of loading challenges can be addressed by fleets, such as using trucks with doors on the sides (as opposed to roll-up doors). City planning-related solutions may include lockers on the sides of streets for delivery workers to place goods and dynamic curb zones, which could make allowances for people, trucks and ride-share services.

“It’s kind of a private sector decision, but I think the cities can be aware of the fact that these trucks probably need more space than they think they do,” McCormack said. “It’s a problem that’s not going to go away.”

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