Getting the Goods, Not Choking on Them

In order to preserve their Old World charm, several
European cities are making strides to transform their clogged city centers.

Four European cities have taken on a major rehabilitation effort: cutting the number of idling delivery trucks that jam historic districts. Countering this noisy and toxic assault on lungs and masonry would serve environmental, public health, and preservation goals. A recent European Commission pilot project in Siena, Italy; Lisbon, Portugal; Aalborg, Denmark; and Eindhoven, Netherlands addressed the logistics of moving goods into and out of perpetually clogged older districts.

The idea—known to bureaucrats and vendors as e-Commerce Enabled Demand Responsive Urban Logistics, or eDRUL, a project of the commission’s Information Society Technologies research program—complements restrictions on passenger vehicles like those instituted by Sienna, Lisbon, and London.

The scheme, coordinated with logistics software that runs over the Internet, stages deliveries at the periphery, routing the majority of the transfer of goods through freight hubs at the fringes of the cities. For example, officials could bar delivery trucks or vans from entering the restricted area if less than 60% of their cargo is bound for that city and send them instead to a satellite drop-off area, according to organizers of the pilot tests. For moving goods out of the central district, a similar approach can be applied to consumer traffic. For instance, shoppers who would normally drive into town could use a valet package delivery service that makes drop-offs at a lot operated by participating stores. Sienna has experimented with systems working in both directions and the city council is now looking to make them part of the official transportation plan.

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The concept is amenable to both public and private initiatives, but a baseline of public sector participation is needed, according to Niels Agerholm, project manager in the technical department of the Danish city of Aalborg. In other words, the scheme would work for a group of private businesses that band together to restrict their collective deliveries, or for local governments that impose ordinances for the same purpose. Naturally, the former would require some coordination with the authorities. The pilot program put the Web-based control software through its paces in a variety of traffic control programs. Though it participated in the logistics project, Aalborg’s current center city plans call for tougher emissions standards rather than a ban on commercial vehicles, according to Agerholm.

The logistics and planning software for urban planners and development authorities will soon be available as an open source product. The Italian software company, Softeco Sismat , which created programs used in some of the trials, plans to release a commercial version.

A two-year EU-sponsored follow-on to eDRUL, dubbed Centre for Eco-Friendly City Freight Distribution (CEDM), began in November. The project, which looks at regulatory, organizational, and technical fixes to the urban logistics problem, will explore the use of green delivery fleets, among other measures.

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