Vehicles of all kinds compete for parking space along the curb in Seattle’s Greater Downtown area. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) manages use of the curb through several types of curb designations that regulate who can park in a space and for how long. To gain an evidence-based understanding of the current use and operational capacity of the curb for commercial vehicles (CVs), SDOT commissioned the Urban Freight Lab (UFL) at the University of Washington Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center to study and document curb parking in five selected Greater Downtown areas.
This study documents vehicle parking behavior in a three-by-three city block grid around each of five prototype Greater Downtown buildings: a hotel, a high-rise office building, an historical building, a retail center, and a residential tower. These buildings were part of the UFL’s earlier SDOT-sponsored research tracking how goods move vertically within a building in the final 50 feet.
The areas around these five prototype buildings were intentionally chosen for this curb study to deepen the city’s understanding of the Greater Downtown area.
Significantly, this study captures the parking behavior of commercial vehicles everywhere along the curb as well as the parking activities of all vehicles (including passenger vehicles) in commercial vehicle loading zones (CVLZs). The research team documented: (1) which types of vehicles parked in CVLZs and for how long, and; (2) how long commercial vehicles (CVs) parked in CVLZs, in metered parking, and in passenger load zones (PLZ) and other unauthorized spaces.
Four key findings, shown below, emerged from the research team’s work:
- Commercial and passenger vehicle drivers use CVLZs and PLZs fluidly: commercial vehicles are parking in PLZs, and passenger vehicles are parking in CVLZs. Passenger vehicles made up more than half of all vehicles observed parking in CVLZs (52%). More than one-quarter of commercial vehicle drivers parked in PLZs (26 %.) This fact supports more integrated planning for all curb space, versus developing standalone strategies for passenger vehicle and for commercial vehicle parking.
- Most commercial vehicle (CV) demand is for short-term parking: 15 or 30 minutes. Across the five locations, more than half (54%) of all CVs parked for 15 minutes or less in all types of curb spaces. Nearly three-quarters of all CVs (72%) parked for 30 minutes or less. When considering just the delivery CVs, an even higher percentage, 60%, parked for 15 minutes or less. Eighty-one percent of the delivery CVs parked for 30 minutes or less.
- Thirty-six percent of the total CVs parked along the curb were service CVs, showing the importance of factoring their behavior and future demand into urban parking schemes. In contrast to delivery CVs that predominately parked for 30 minutes or less, service CVs’ parking behavior was bifurcated. While 56% of them parked for 30 minutes or less, 44% parked for more than 30 minutes. And more than one quarter (27%) of the service CVs parked for an hour or more. Because service vehicles make up such a big share of total CVs at the curb, this may have an outsize impact on parking space turn rates at the curb.
- Forty-one percent of commercial vehicles parked in unauthorized locations. But a much higher percentage parked in unauthorized areas near the two retail centers (55% – 65%) when compared to the predominately office and residential areas (27% – 30%). The research team found that curb parking behavior is associated with granular, building-level urban land use. This occurred even as other factors such as the total number, length and ratio of CVLZs versus PLZs varied widely across the five study areas.
The occupancy study documents that each building and the built environment surrounding it has unique features that impact parking operations. As cities seek to more actively manage curb space, the study’s findings illuminate the need to plan a flexible network with capacity for distinct types (time and space requirements) of CV parking demand.
This study also drives home that the curb does not function in isolation, but instead forms one element of the Greater Downtown’s broader, interconnected load/unload network, which includes alleys, the curb, and private loading bays and docks. (1,2,3) SDOT commissioned this work as part of its broader effort with the UFL to map—and better understand—the entire Greater Downtown area’s commercial vehicle load/unload space network. Cities and other parties interested in the details of how to conduct a commercial vehicle occupancy study can see a step-by-step guide in Appendix C.
In this study, researchers deployed six data collectors to observe each curb study area for three days over roughly six weeks in October and December 2017. To make the data produced in this project as useful as possible, the research team designed a detailed vehicle typology to track specific vehicle categories consistently and accurately. The typology covers 10 separate vehicle categories, from various types of trucks and vans to passenger vehicles to cargo bikes. Passenger vehicles in this study were not treated as commercial vehicles, due to challenges in systematically identifying whether passenger vehicles were making deliveries or otherwise carrying a commercial permit.
The five prototype Seattle buildings studied are Seattle Municipal Tower (also the site of a common carrier parcel locker pilot), Dexter Horton, Westlake Center, and Insignia Towers. (4) The study shows how different building and land uses interact with the broader load/unload network. By collecting curb occupancy data in the same locations as their earlier work, the research team added a new layer of information to help the city evaluate—and manage—the Greater Downtown area load/unload network more comprehensively.
This report is part of a broader suite of UFL research to date that equips Seattle with an evidence-based foundation to actively and effectively manage Greater Downtown load/unload space as a coordinated network. The UFL has mapped the location and features of the legal landing spots for trucks across the Greater Downtown, enabling the city to model myriad urban freight scenarios on a block-by-block level. To the research team’s knowledge, no other city in the U.S. or the E.U. has this data trove. The findings in this report, together with all the UFL research conducted and GIS maps and databases produced to date, give Seattle a technical baseline to actively manage the Greater Downtown’s load/unload spaces as a coordinated network to improve the goods delivery system and mitigate gridlock.
The UFL will pilot such active management on select Greater Downtown streets in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington, to help goods delivery drivers find a place to park without circling the block in crowded cities for hours, wasting time and fuel and adding to congestion. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under the Vehicles Technologies Office is funding the project. (5) The project partners will integrate sensor technologies, develop data platforms to process large data streams, and publish a prototype app to let delivery firms know when a parking space is open – and when it’s predicted to be open so they can plan to arrive when another truck is leaving. This is the nation’s first systematic research pilot to test proof of concept of a functioning system that offers commercial vehicle drivers and dispatchers real-time occupancy data on load/unload spaces–and test what impact that data has on commercial driver behavior. This pilot can help inform other cities interested in taking steps to actively manage their load/unload network.
Actively managing the load/unload network is more imperative as the city grows denser, the e-commerce boom continues, and drivers of all vehicle types—freight, service, passenger, ride-sharing and taxis—jockey for finite (and increasingly valuable) load/unload space. Already, Seattle ranks as the sixth most-congested city in the country.
The UFL is a living laboratory made up of retailers, truck freight carriers and parcel companies, technology companies supporting transportation and logistics, multifamily residential and retail/commercial building developers and operators, and SDOT. Current members are Boeing HorizonX, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) – Seattle King County, curbFlow, Expeditors International of Washington, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Kroger, Michelin, Nordstrom, PepsiCo, Terreno, USPack, UPS, and the United States Postal Service (USPS).