Testing traffic ideas to ease city congestion
Cities are by definition concentrations of activity, and there should be no big surprise when they get congested and traffic grinds to a halt. But how can modern urban planners manage traffic so that people and goods can move freely, while keeping emissions low at the same time? A European Union (EU)-funded research project is finding answers by testing innovative solutions for more efficient and sustainable transport of cargo.
The three-year project is called STRAtegies and measures for smarter urban freight SOLutions, or STRAIGHTSOL. The research team supports seven demonstrations involving stakeholders (such as freight carriers TNT Express, DHL Supply Chain and Kuehne+Nagel) in Brussels, Barcelona, Thessaloniki, Utrecht, Lisbon, Oslo and the south of England. The demonstrations include replacing vans with bicycles, monitoring rail freight with GPS, night distributions, as well as new technologies for management of loading and unloading places.
According to the project coordinator, Jardar Andersen, from Norway’s Institute of Transport Economics, the demonstrations have focused on reducing the societal problems associated with freight transport, while also emphasising efficiency, business models and financial viability. “We will evaluate the environmental and financial impact of each of the demonstrated solutions, and focus on which solutions can be best implemented by other companies and in other cities across Europe and elsewhere,” he says.
Follow-up has been essential for the project. Andersen says that despite the rise in regulatory, technological and logistical measures in traffic management in recent decades, there is little systematic evaluation and assessment. “This lack of follow-up sets back the transfer of knowledge and the adoption of best practices. However, STRAIGHTSOL project helps by creating a new framework that gives a particular emphasis on understanding the roles and objectives of different stakeholder groups,” he explains.
Local support is also a crucial factor, and each demonstration was supported by a neighbourhood event where the local people were invited to talk about the demonstration – with their feedback being used in the final assessments.
The demonstrations themselves vary. For example, express parcel service provider TNT Express set up a mobile depot for the inner-city deliveries and pick-ups in Brussels: it was loaded at the TNT hub near the airport every morning and driven to a central location, while the final deliveries were carried out by dispatch riders on electric tricycles and small electric cars.
Outside Barcelona, DHL Supply Chain tested a new urban consolidation centre to improve the efficiency of the last mile network, which is the final leg of the journey. Charity Oxfam monitored fill rates of collection containers for better transport planning in the United Kingdom. In Thessaloniki, Kuehne+Nagel tracked incoming rail wagons with radio frequency identification (RFID) for more predictable planning of urban deliveries.
In Lisbon, municipal parking company EMEL tested different technologies to manage and monitor street loading and unloading areas. Moreover, in Brussels, there is also a planned demonstration looking at the impact of night distribution.
Although the project is still ongoing, Andersen says “it has already revealed how cities benefit when they establish proper dialogue with the different stakeholders involved in urban deliveries, including municipalities, police, logistics service providers and receivers of goods.”