Why doesn’t smart growth emphasise freight?

While freight transport is vital to regional economies and our everyday lives, smart growth approaches tend to neglect it, or only consider significant negative controls over freight activities.

What is smart growth?

Smart growth aims to improve the quality of life in communities, with a strong sustainability emphasis, aiming to conserve energy and protect environmental quality.

A key smart growth theme is efficiency – reducing the socio-economic cost per-capita of infrastructure and services, and encouraging lower impact travel — i.e. move away from single occupant vehicle travel. The aim is to encourage active transport (walking and cycling) and mass passenger transport.

This requires transport and planning professionals to plan future land use patterns which are compact and provide a range of transport options, to reduce the need to travel, the number and length of trips and car dependence.

Key areas of concern by planners and local communities are freight trip terminals or warehouses and surrounding land uses due to the large vehicles involved, safety concerns, numerous trips at all hours, noise and emission issues.

The planning response is often applying limits on freight transport in and around residential areas, without considering suitable alternatives.

Planning controls and regulations aim to provide buffers in time and space and locating freight activities in outlying areas away from residences.

This can result in increased number of trips (especially for smaller distribution delivery vehicles) as they have to travel further and get less deliveries done per day, so need more vehicles. It also means increased travel distance, with trucks and distribution vehicles getting caught up in congestion. all of this means higher costs for freight.

Freight transport networks

Communities express concern about intrusion, congestion, noise, air quality and safety of large freight vehicles and freight rail in their ‘backyard’.

There are challenges with transport system design and management – as moving people by road and rail having priority.

Accessibility and street connectivity for freight vehicles are neglected, ignored or deterred, making it difficult to access terminals, loading bays and distribution centres.

Controls on access times, number, size and location of loading bays and parking for freight vehicles are used as a control on activity.

Encouraging less car dependence results in conflicts between freight and the non-car modes – walking, cycling and public transport friendly facilities restrict freight movements.

Planning for freight

The first step in planning for freight is to articulate the contribution of freight transport to the local economy and promoting an understanding that careful consideration of freight in smart growth developments can contribute to achieving the desired outcomes.

Providing adequate freight access and priority freight routes are key considerations. Planning for the logistics of goods movement should consider a range of available options to determine the most appropriate means.

Land-use planning should also consider the most appropriate locations for warehouses and distribution facilities in proximity to urban centres.

Much research has been conducted on strategies for the ‘last mile’ freight trips, such as incentivising delivery in off-peak periods, use of technology to optimise deliveries, providing consolidated distribution centres in less populated areas and having shuttles to destinations in higher density areas.

Provision for freight transport activities must be given greater emphasis in any integrated land use strategy or plan and can contribute toward ‘smart growth’ objectives.

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