Whether you need new shoes, office supplies, groceries or dinner, just about anything you can buy at a retail store can be dropped directly at your door.
In the second quarter of 2019, about 10% of all U.S. retail sales took place online, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s up from about 6% just five years ago.
In Seattle, the city that birthed UPS and Amazon, the rise in e-commerce deliveries and on-demand food services contributes to traffic congestion as drivers circulate through the city, competing for curb space to run packages through security, up an elevator and into a recipient’s hands.
On the other side of the country, officials in New York are considering one solution that could help.
Last week, the New York City Council passed a bill that directs a study to assess the feasibility of requiring deliveries to public facilities in congested parts of the city to be made overnight between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is not currently considering mandating nighttime deliveries because such hours are “not always practical for businesses,” SDOT spokesperson Dawn Schellenberg wrote in an email.
SDOT is working to understand how the agency can manage access for commerce in a way that provides “efficient urban goods delivery with the least impacts to overall mobility and our transportation network,” she wrote.
In our latest Traffic Lab Ask An Expert Q&A, we spoke with the bill’s sponsor, New York City Councilmember Costa Constantinides, who represents parts of Queens and Rikers Island and chairs the Committee on Environmental Protections.
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This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Question: Can you explain the bill?
Costa Constantinides: This bill directs the city to study city facilities in Manhattan below 60th Street in the central business district and two other highly congested boroughs, which could be Brooklyn and Queens, for the feasibility to have city facilities take on off-peak hour deliveries. If it’s feasible, then we should have them do so.
Q: How did you come to this issue? What was your motivation?
CC: Congestion is only getting worse. The transportation sector accounts for one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in New York. When people come to New York, they’re sitting in traffic often because of a double-parked truck blocking the path, which narrows travel space and makes it less safe for bicyclists and pedestrians. In my previous life, prior to being an elected official, I was a toy store manager. I would schedule deliveries for my store as early as possible to have the least impact on the community. City buildings should be a leader in setting an example of what’s possible.
Q: What will you be looking for in the feasibility study to determine whether this should be implemented?
CC: We’ll look at what makes sense. Every neighborhood is slightly different with different streetscapes and neighbors. Every business is different with levels of employee staffing and whether they have holding areas. So we don’t want to put any communities in any major inconvenience. I believe in my heart that this can be part of the solution. And I hope if we can get New York City facilities to take off-peak hour delivery, we can get the private sector to come on board as well. We want to give them a good road map to follow.
Q: How have you addressed concerns from business owners who say it will cost them more to pay staff to stay late to receive deliveries?
CC: There are already businesses out there doing it. I just got a call from someone who manages a restaurant who said he’s been getting deliveries for years at night because it makes so much sense. They make it part of their business model. For some, that means giving the driver a pass code or key to the holding area so they don’t have to pay for additional staffing. Not every business is the same, so they have to evaluate what makes sense.
Q: How is the city planning to manage noise at night and potential complaints from neighbors?
CC: New York is the city that never sleeps. There are always people making deliveries, garbage trucks roaming, people delivering the newspaper. It’s part of the urban landscape. There might be one or two issues and areas where it isn’t feasible because it makes too much noise. Those will be excluded. We’re looking to push the envelope and benefit New Yorkers at large.
Q: Who will conduct the study? How long will it take?
CC: The Department of Citywide Administrative Services in New York will conduct the study. The assessment period will be 180 days, about six months, after the bill gets signed into law.
Q: What lessons should other cities take away?
CC: Congestion is a problem in New York and Seattle and almost every city. We’re trying to come up with creative solutions. We don’t want to say, “This might not work in some places so we shouldn’t do anything.” We need to find the places that it will work. This isn’t a magic bullet to solve all the congestion woes in New York or Seattle. This is a tool to be part of the solution.