Noisy night deliveries? Try banishing noise, not the trucks
Written by Michael Lewis on July 5, 2016
As Miami grows, no quality-of-life solution is truly simple. What sounds like a simple answer can actually be extremely complex, and not everyone can be 100% satisfied.
But we can try.
Miami Beach residents rely on meetings and convention income but reject the traffic that a new convention hotel would bring. Do we build it or not?
Bicyclists and automobiles jockey for primacy on roadways. Who gets priority? And what about pedestrians?
Neighborhoods that face rising traffic as drivers cut through to avoid congested highways seek to close streets or install traffic-calming devices, thus pushing cars back to main arteries and slowing them even more. Does speed or the neighborhood win?
Developers build condos with no parking to cut costs. Condo buyers like parking. City officials say lack of parking will add mass transit use. Visitors to condo areas find parking impossible. What’s the right mix?
The list of dilemmas is long and the questions more complex than these hints. Balancing competing interests gets harder as stakes get higher.
A classic simple solution that is anything but has just surfaced in Miami, where residents complain to city Commissioner Francis Suarez that night deliveries to nearby stores awaken them.
Mr. Suarez produced a simple, apparently logical answer: outlaw freight and commercial deliveries between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. to any business within 100 feet of a residential zone. Though a key target is a Home Depot in Little Havana, his measure would have applied citywide.
But Commissioner Willy Gort raised a concern about a produce market in his area. “If you stop those people from deliveries at 3 in the morning it’s going to affect their business quite a bit,” he noted. Produce markets sell at dawn, but they can’t sell without fresh produce. Exit one market.
The commission eventually moved to limit the night delivery ban to just Mr. Suarez’s area for a one-year trial. A final vote is due soon.
As Miami moves to bar night deliveries, New York thrives with its Off-Hour Delivery Project, created five years ago to encourage store deliveries through the night. The results, according to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, whose federally financed study kick-started the plan, is that city streets got cleaner and less congested and business profits rose.
In the program, more than 400 New York businesses get freight deliveries between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. instead of normal business hours. Those companies were paid $2,000 to join in for at least three months, whereas Miami would fine businesses $500 for taking deliveries at similar times.
In New York, truck drivers get store keys to drop off goods and lock up afterward. Participants include Whole Foods Markets, the Waldorf Astoria, CVS, Foot Locker and Gristedes Supermarkets, but also small stores and restaurants.
Stores and restaurants are happier because erratic daytime deliveries trigger supply shortages.
Benefits to truck drivers include 50% faster delivery than mornings and 130% faster than midday, no parking tickets (in a city where delivery trucks average $500 to $1,000 a month in parking fines), easier delivery, less congestion and lower stress.
The main community benefit of night delivery is that streets are less congested in daytime after trucks traveling at low speeds and often double-parking to deliver leave the roads.
No wonder Julius Caesar banned deliveries during daylight hours to reduce congestion in ancient Rome, or that Rome today limits such deliveries, along with outside automobiles.
In fact, New York’s adoption of Off-Hour Delivery Project as part of its sustainability plan has spread.
The Federal Highway Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency created a fund to spread the project across the nation. Orlando and Washington, DC, got federal grants to set up off-hours deliveries. Chicago, Boston and Atlanta all expressed interest. Abroad, London has already made timing of deliveries central in its plans, and São Paulo began a pilot program in October 2014.
The New York program found that off-hours delivery built economic competitiveness, reduced congestion and environmental pollution, and improved sustainability, quality of life and livability.
Also, according to a study of the New York program, use of low-noise delivery technologies ensures that local communities don’t suffer.
“By using adequate equipment and training staff on low-noise operation, a significant noise reduction compared to conventional loading procedures can be reached,” according to “Silence E-Learning for Engineers,” which examined the issue. It found that a Dutch project for night deliveries held maximum sound levels to 60 decibels.
Setting a maximum noise level rather than limiting delivery hours might be Miami’s solution. Boston’s municipal code, for example, says anything louder than 50 decibels from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. is excessive, but allows 70 decibels at other hours.
Using low-noise loading and unloading equipment “and training the staff for quiet operation can make the delivery quiet, thus tolerable during the night,” according to “Silence E-Learning for Engineers.”
Miami may have it backward – it should grab the many benefits of supplying businesses at night when streets are nearly bare by encouraging a shift to ease traffic, but tie in rewards for low-noise delivery and penalties for excessive noise. That could meet everyone’s aims far better than banning delivery trucks when traffic is light and forcing them to roll when traffic is heavy.
Because Miami can’t build more roads, one way to reduce congestion is to get more people to drive in the middle of the night, not at rush hour. Delivery trucks would be a good start. Encourage more of that.
Maybe some of that federal study money that Orlando and others have gotten could quietly help us take that long step forward.