Mar 18, 2023

Microhub Delivery Program Pilot Could Send Parcel Parking Problems Packing

New York has slowly become an online shopping town, and 9th Avenue's never-ending congestion is often a direct reflection of the e-commerce boom's messier sidewalk side effects. But as another Prime Day delivery dash approaches, a new Department of Transportation (DOT) pilot program aims to make the shipping process smoother, safer and more environmentally sustainable through the implementation of a series of "last mile" parcel microhubs.

The DOT will install as many as 20 local distribution centers around the city this summer as part of the first phase of its microhub pilot. The agency will implement the microhubs — defined as "a space located within the public or private right-of-way where goods are transloaded by multiple operators from larger freight vehicles to smaller, low-emission and electric vehicles, or human-powered modes (e.g., cargo cycles, hand carts) for final delivery" — in a multitude of setups designed to direct trucks away from double-parking.

"New Yorkers are receiving more deliveries than ever before, and we are pursuing creative ways to make these deliveries cleaner, safer and more efficient by reducing the number of delivery trucks on our roads," said DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in a release. The program aims to improve the delivery process through microhubs with better pedestrian and delivery worker safety, air quality and noise pollution improvements, as well as operational efficiencies like less money spent on gas and tolls. "These hubs will help better organize last-mile deliveries and support small and large businesses’ economic recovery as we emerge from the pandemic," said Rodrgiuez.

More than 80 percent of New Yorkers receive at least one package a week, and as many as 18 percent receive packages four or more days a week, according to the DOT, with 90 percent of the city's deliveries transported via trucks — which, left without space to load in and out goods, often double park (creating congestion) or park in bike or pedestrian lanes (as evidenced on 9th Avenue's recently installed "super sidewalk").

"With the rampant rise of deliveries via truck drastically changing our streetscape, it's critical that we find ways to reduce the negative impacts to safety, the environment, and quality of life," added Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. "As outlined in my e-commerce blueprint last year, increasing the number of loading zones, transitioning to greener transportation methods and activating off-street space for managing deliveries will make New York's complex delivery network more sustainable, both environmentally and logistically."

Spaces would fall into three categories: off-street distribution centers (featuring truck vehicle parking, security, 24/7 availability and employee bathroom, charging and WiFi stations), off-street public spaces (featuring parking, storage and loading spaces) and pods (spaces under bridges, in parks or garages that have parking and FDNY-compliant e-bike charging). Each of the microhubs is designed to support parcel transfer from trucks to smaller, more emissions-friendly vehicles like e-bikes, electric vans, handcarts and manual cargo bikes.

The DOT plans to use the first phase to install hubs, collect data and refine operation strategies ahead of its second phase from 2024-2026, where the agency will expand hubs and delivery partners, note potential regulatory changes, as well as experiment with different technology and infrastructure design to finalize a permanent program in late 2026.

The agency's initial pilot proposal was developed using feedback from community organizations, tech, vehicle and freight operators as well as data from other similar transport programs in high-volume delivery cities such as London, Paris, Seattle, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. In DC, where a 2019 pilot program removed curbside parking to allow for reservable delivery zones, there was a 64 percent reduction in double parking, while a 2021 London pilot utilizing app booking reported a 21 percent increase in delivery driver productivity due to time saved from searching for loading spots.

Other pilot programs have not been without challenges — the DC curbside program was cut short due to a lack of city enforcement over reserved spaces, and New York's pilot survey participants flagged the possibility of issues over zoning restrictions, removal of parking spaces, conflicts with other cars, pedestrians and cyclists and a high cost of real estate needed to implement microhubs.

So will Hell's Kitchen see the city's first microhubs? A representative from the DOT told W42ST that the pilot location selection is still in process, though the DOT's qualifications of "high-density, mixed land use" areas with close proximity to truck routes, transit and freight operators would certainly make Midtown West a frontrunner for a hub. For now, the city's Local Law 166 — a bill written to support microhubs and better delivery systems — requires the DOT to establish their program by July 1. And until then, you can always report double-parked cars trucks to the DOT as they mull new loading zone locations.

off-street distribution centers off-street public spaces pods