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Commercial Vehicle Parking in Downtown Seattle: Insights on the Battle for the Curb

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Publication: Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board
Publication Date: 2019

Rapid urban growth puts pressure on local governments to rethink how they manage street curb parking. Competition for space among road users and lack of adequate infrastructure force delivery drivers either to search for vacant spaces or to park in unsuitable areas, which negatively impacts road capacity and causes inconvenience to other users of the road.

The purpose of this paper is to advance research by providing data-based insight into what is actually happening at the curb. To achieve this objective, the research team developed and implemented a data collection method to quantify the usage of curb space in the densest urban area of Seattle, Center City.

This study captures the parking behavior of commercial vehicles everywhere along the block face as well as the parking activities of all vehicles (including passenger vehicles) in commercial vehicle loading zones. Based on the empirical findings, important characteristics of Seattle’s urban freight parking operations are described, including a detailed classification of vehicle types, dwell time distribution, and choice of curb use for parking (e.g., authorized and unauthorized spaces). The relationship between land use and commercial vehicle parking operations at the curb is discussed. Seattle’s parking management initiatives will benefit from the insights into current behavior gained from this research.

Rapid urban growth, increasing demand, and higher customer expectations have amplified the challenges of urban freight movement. Finding an adequate space to park can be a major challenge in urban areas. For commercial vehicles used for freight transportation and provision of services, the lack of parking spaces and parking policies that recognize those vehicles’ unique needs can have negative impacts that affect all users of the road, particularly the drivers of these commercial vehicles (1–4).

The curb is an important part of the public right-of-way. It provides a space for vehicles to park on-street; for delivery vehicles (i.e., cargo bikes, cargo vans, and trucks), in particular, it also provides a dedicated space for the loading and unloading of goods close to destinations. Hence it is a key asset for urban freight transportation planning which local governments can administer to support delivery and collection of goods.

According to Marcucci et al. (5), the development of sustainable management policies for urban logistics should be based on site-specific data given the heterogeneity and complexity of urban freight systems. Current loading/unloading parking policies include time restrictions, duration, pricing, space management, and enforcement (6, 7). However, as Marcucci et al. pointed out after an extensive review of the literature on freight parking policy, the quantification of commercial vehicle operations on the curb to inform policy decision making is nonexistent (5). Therefore, local governments often lack data about the current usage of the curb and parking infrastructure, which is necessary to evaluate and establish these policies and therefore make well-informed decisions regarding freight planning, especially in dense, constrained urban areas.

Given the importance of the curb as an essential piece of the load/unload infrastructure, this paper investigates what is actually happening at the curb, developing an evidence-based understanding of the current use of this infrastructure. The research team developed and applied a systematic data collection method resulting in empirical findings about the usage of public parking for loading and unloading operations in the Seattle downtown area.

This research documents and analyzes the parking patterns of commercial vehicles (i.e., delivery, service, waste management, and construction vehicles) in the area around five prototype buildings located in the Center City area. The results of this research will help to develop and inform parking management initiatives.

The paper includes four sections in addition to this introduction. The second section discusses previous freight parking studies and the existing freight parking policies in cities, and explores which of these approaches are being used in Seattle. The third section proposes a data collection method to document freight-related parking operations at the curb though direct observations. The fourth section provides empirical findings from data collection in Seattle. The fifth and last section includes a discussion of the findings and concluding remarks.

Recommended Citation:
Girón-Valderrama, Gabriela del Carmen, José Luis Machado-León, and Anne Goodchild. "Commercial Vehicle Parking in Downtown Seattle: Insights on the Battle for the Curb." Transportation Research Record (2019): 0361198119849062.