On Monday April 10, I attended a hearing surrounding truck routes where the Department of Transportation (DOT) testified before the City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The hearing was specifically concerning three bills and a resolution that are attached at the bottom of this post with a transcript of the entire hearing.
Before touching on the hearing itself, I would like to provide some background on the context that led to it. Stated by the DOT, truck routes in the city have essentially been the same since they were created in the 1970s. There have been countless factors in transportation and commerce since then that the truck routes of the 1970s do not account for: with the creation of e-commerce, the overall quantity of deliveries has skyrocketed and deliveries now primarily go to residential neighborhoods rather than industrial neighborhoods; the industrial structure of the economy of the city and country is completely different from that of the 70s; there are a lot more cars and people in the city now than there were in the 1970s, and there are more people buying vehicles classified as trucks and utility vehicles (such as SUVs) for personal use; GPS software for truck routes now exists, though it doesn’t necessarily lead trucks on the proper route. If a truck is unable to reach its destination on the route, the driver is given discretion to reach their destination in any way possible once they have followed the route as close to their destination as they can get, creating more inefficiencies as time goes on. Due to the lack of parking availability in designated areas (and lack of areas themselves), drivers often park in residential areas overnight. This is illegal and disruptive, adding unwanted noise and traffic in residential areas as well as limiting parking for residents. Trucks with 53-foot trailers, which aren’t legally allowed to stop in the city at all despite them running rampant, contribute to this too. Additionally, when factories, warehouses, and other industrial facilities are created, they evidently lead more trucks in and out of the area. Existing zoning policy makes it relatively easy to prop up such industrial facilities with little control over the impact of the truck traffic they bring with them. Because the land is often cheaper and easier to get permission to convert, low-income communities are disproportionately affected by truck exhaust. Admittedly, this issue disproportionately impacts communities of color.
Along with these issues, the DOT described some of the current methods used to mitigate them. These methods include the following:
- Daylighting: increasing driver visibility at intersections by prohibiting parking near where the roads meet. This is apparently done on an individual basis due to the DOT’s claim that daylighting reduces visibility at some intersections.
- Microhubs: places where shipments from large vehicles are unloaded onto smaller vehicles that have a lower environmental impact (such as bikes and green vehicles) before bringing them to their final destinations. The implementation of this concept is still in the works, having been officially announced by the DOT on April 6.
- Neighborhood Loading Zones: designated spots in residential areas for trucks to park and load or unload, ideally reducing double-parking. As of the testimony, there are 330 NLZs across the city, 50 of which were installed this year, and another 100 pending installation. The DOT also wants to implement signage unique to loading zones, replacing the “no parking” signs that are currently used, as members of the public may otherwise dislike parking spaces being taken from them.
- Enforcement: strengthening the NYPD’s enforcement of traffic law. NYPD director Michael Clarke encouraged the increase of booting and towing illegally parked vehicles, and there are currently escalating penalties for repeat offenders.
- Off-Hour Deliveries: incentivizing deliveries in congested areas to occur from 7pm-6am when there are fewer cars on the street. Enacted with the Off-Hour Deliveries program in 2019, the DOT seeks to expand the number of businesses that receive deliveries during off-hours.
- Outreach: promoting initiatives and guidelines to individual truck drivers. Last-mile drivers are encouraged to park in neighborhoods and bring packages out on foot instead of driving to each house and stopping. Drivers are also encouraged to use loading zones and designated parking, though the DOT alleges there are too few of these accommodations for drivers to follow the rules; the idea is that drivers want to follow the rules but don’t have access to the resources they need, leaving them no choice but to park and double-park in residential areas and struggle to navigate streets not accounted for by truck routes.
Once the DOT’s testimony was presented, there were two rounds of questioning from the subcommittee. An overwhelming theme throughout the hearing was the seemingly poor communication between the DOT and the City Council. Councilmembers never received a copy of the DOT’s testimony before the hearing, making it harder for them to prepare relevant questions. As a result, some of the questions asked were outside the scope of the DOT’s ability and knowledge, and it appeared that councilmembers were coming up with better questions during the testimony. Whether or not it was deliberate, it would ultimately stifle progress and productivity, as communication is a necessity if two groups are to cooperate on a project. Despite universal agreement that the Truck Route Network must be redesigned, the general approaches suggested of the two parties differed as well: when a member of the subcommittee suggested that the DOT conduct air quality studies, Deputy Commissioner for Transportation Planning and Management Eric Beaton said that while they are open to more studies, they prefer action. The DOT disagreed with Int. 708’s requirement that daylighting be implemented at every intersection adjacent to the Truck Route Network, as they believe daylighting can sometimes worsen visibility and therefore must be done on an individual basis.
Following questioning, the floor was open for public testimony. Members of the public voiced support for regulating the spread of mega warehouses and polluting infrastructure, stressing the importance of Int. 708 and 924 and demanding more transparency on warehouses. According to testimony from a member of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, 320 premature deaths a year are caused by the impact of truck emissions on air quality, and the rate of asthma and air quality-related diseases is 30% higher in areas disproportionately affected by trucks. A member of the Trucking Association of New York stated that the truck route and bike lane networks should be separate. In one person’s testimony, they recalled that the illegality of 53-foot-trailers was never mentioned at any point in the hearing, leaving them concerned about possible attempts to normalize the issue.
A segment of this hearing I found particularly interesting was the questioning from Councilmember Alexa Avilés of District 38, which includes Red Hook. Throughout the hearing, Avilés addressed inefficiencies in the actual implementation of changes, citing the situation on 3rd avenue in Sunset Park as a place where these initiatives have been almost invisible. Avilés also claims to have only seen cars in Neighborhood Loading Zones and never trucks, also questioning the effectiveness of the DOT’s proposed methods for daylighting, as trucks likely don’t speed through turns at intersections the way Eric Beaton implied. Overall, she asked many well-worded questions that helped the hearing progress. I received her contact information, along with the contact information of some of the members of the public that came to testify, and I will be reaching out to hopefully work with her.