If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many trucks on our roads—and struggled to navigate around them, bike past them, or walk around them along a street—all you have to do is look to the man-made things you see, touch, eat, wear, or use every day. Nearly every one of those items has at one time or another been hauled by truck, even if we don’t always notice.
To make these deliveries happen as safely and efficiently as possible, freight movement must be considered as part of regional transportation and land-use planning and decisionmaking. To aid that effort, the TPB recently adopted a major update to the National Capital Region Freight Plan, a resource the TPB first developed in 2010. The updated Freight Plan highlights the importance of freight to the region’s economy and to the quality of life of the people who live here. It identifies the forces that drive freight demand, describes freight trends and issues, and sets the stage for future regional freight planning activities. The TPB intends to use the plan as a framework for helping transportation and land-use planners learn from one another in finding ways to improve the flow of goods in the region.
More people in our region means more freight movement
As our region continues to grow, there is greater and greater demand for freight. Each person in the United States generates demand for more than 60 tons of freight per year, and in our region that number is even higher. With more than 1 million more people expected in the region by 2040, that’s a lot more goods movement to accommodate!
Demand for freight includes demand for direct consumer goods like food and clothing, but extends to hospitals and pharmacies and the equipment and medications they need to provide medical care. Construction companies need raw materials to build new housing, transportation infrastructure, retail outlets, and offices to employ and serve the growing population. And growth in businesses drives freight demand, too, through the need for office supplies, technological hardware, and more. As the region grows and economic activity increases, so does the need for goods movement.
The way goods are produced and delivered is evolving
It’s not only the increasing amount of freight coming into the region that is changing how we look at future freight needs. It’s also the way that goods are produced and delivered. Consumers are demanding more choices when they shop. They are using digital devices to place orders rather than driving to brick-and-mortar stores. And they want goods delivered to them faster than ever before.
To respond to these changing needs, businesses are transforming how and where goods are produced and distributed. There is no longer a need for a back room stocked with every option. Instead, businesses can order items as consumers request them. They are building more distribution and fulfillment centers and partnering with private and public-sector delivery services to bring goods directly to people’s doorsteps. They are transforming retail outlets, and coming up with new marketing techniques to influence shoppers to buy directly from their smartphones or computers.
One of the key effects of these changing business practices is that more, but often smaller, trucks are on our roads. Products that used to be delivered to retailers in large tractor-trailers are now increasingly being delivered directly to individual residences in neighborhoods by smaller FedEx, UPS, and US Postal Service (USPS) delivery trucks.
More deliveries in dense residential and commercial hubs
Regional leaders have agreed on a vision for the region’s future that includes focusing growth in designated residential and commercial hubs known as Activity Centers. Concentrating development in these areas improves quality of life, in part by letting those who live or work there to more easily and conveniently meet more of their daily needs.
As planners and officials take steps to develop such areas and to make it easier for people to walk, bike, and use transit in them, it is important to find safe and efficient ways for trucks to make their deliveries, whether to individual residences or stores, restaurants, and offices. More people living and working in Activity Centers means that more and more trucks will be competing for limited road and curb space.
Transportation planners are already working on strategies to facilitate the movement and delivery of goods in these areas. Now, through the TPB’s freight planning work and the framework established by the regional Freight Plan, those planners will be able to learn from one another and share best practices for facilitating better freight movement. In addition, the TPB will continue to work with local jurisdictions to encourage more robust consideration of freight movement issues in local planning and decisionmaking.