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The Freight Space Race: Planning Streets for More Efficient & Sustainable Movement of People & Goods

Publication Date: 2023

Space is the scarcest resource in cities. How can we best use street space to do more for more street users?

Mention the “space race” and it tends to conjure up the Cold War-era competition between the United States and the then-USSR to “conquer” outer space. But at the winter meeting of the Urban Freight Lab (UFL), members heard about a different race playing out on our streets right under our noses. It’s what Philippe Crist of the International Transportation Forum (ITF) dubs the freight space race.

That race is about managing the competing demands for space in cities. Users of the space are competing to retain and grow space for their needs to improve deliveries, urban function, and residents’ well-being. For urban freight advocates it’s about making deliveries in cities less disruptive and more sustainable by focusing on the street space use of freight activities. It’s a race involving freight carriers, freight receivers, governments, and communities.

The freight space race isn’t new. But it’s been amplified and made more visible in the wake of the intertwined ecommerce boom and the Covid-19 pandemic, as planners in many cities scrambled to create public spaces for people through things like street closures, parks, and pedestrian ways.

Meantime, by and large, considering city space for goods has been an afterthought. And when goods delivery is considered, it tends to be siloed from the work of planning streets for people. So, there’s a freight plan, maybe. (Our research into 58 of the largest, densest, and fastest-growing cities found most do not have freight plans.) A bike plan. A transit plan. A pedestrian plan. But there’s nothing that integrates everything at the street level across all users.

This siloing hasn’t served cities or the freight sector particularly well. The rise of the “complete streets” concept is a rejoinder of sorts. (And, notably, UFL member Seattle Department of Transportation for the first time plans to create a multimodal and integrated 20-year transportation plan, later this year.) Unsurprisingly, given the less-than-stellar siloed approach to planning, UFL members prioritized planning streets for people and goods as a key topic in the Goods Movement 2030 project.

Recommended Citation:
“The Freight Space Race: Planning Streets for More Efficient & Sustainable Movement of People & Goods” Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, April 4, 2023.