Urban Freight Transportation Decision Making Process

The initiatives presented in this Guide represent a wide range of potential solutions to the freight issues typically found in metropolitan areas. They could be used by transportation agency staff to perform two basic functions: (1) management of urban freight traffic—typically short-term efforts conducted by the city/county level Department of Transportation (DOT) or Public Works—and (2) planning of mid-term/long-term improvement exercises of the kind usually undertaken by the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The initiatives related to the management function are typically small-scale efforts that could be implemented by the local DOT without MPO approval. The initiatives used in the planning function are typically larger in scope and, as such, require a more involved planning process. Although different in scope, these management and planning efforts are meant to complement each other.

These initiatives can be proactive or reactive. Compared to the smaller-scale initiatives, the larger ones often need to be implemented in a more proactive way to achieve the intended goal. For example, land use management will be most effective when the freight system has been integrated into the land use planning.

Although many different approaches to transportation planning exist (based, for example, on organizational size, resources, and structure), professional planners follow a basic planning process. Accordingly, this section describes the general process of public-sector transportation DM that underpins both management and planning of urban freight systems. It provides details on how each step, and the tasks within, can be used to find solutions to freight issues. It addresses how to integrate the public-sector initiatives into the urban freight transportation DM process to improve the overall performance of the system. By design, the descriptions here are general, as there could be cases where some steps may not be formalized.

This section of the Guide is intended not to prescribe a by-the-book methodology, but instead one that is flexible and practical, applicable to a variety of cases and settings. There are many ways to combine, divide, and ultimately describe the various steps in the DM process, and the tasks conducted for each step. The DM process is iterative; each step builds on knowledge gained through other activities, and all of the steps are revisited throughout the process.

In transportation DM, virtually every decision or recommended course of action can result in predictable and unpredictable, intended and unintended, immediate and long-term, positive and negative impacts. In most cases, the complex issues facing metropolitan areas have no perfect solutions. This reality forces transportation decision makers to accept compromises that require a proper understanding of the trade-offs involved. In the planning process, such trade-offs should be identified while evaluating and selecting alternatives.

The importance of this assessment should not be underestimated. For example, if a transportation agency is considering building a bypass to eliminate congestion within an urban area, there will be trade-offs involved. Local businesses inside the urban area may be negatively impacted by a reduction in customers, while the increased access provided by the bypass may result in business relocations from the congested area to nearer the bypass, diminishing the vitality of the urban core. Moreover, given funding limitations, building the bypass may result in other projects not being funded.

The DM process typically includes some variation and/or combination of the following steps:

  1. Define goals and objectives to be achieved.
  2. Define performance measures (measures of success).
  3. Identify root causes of the problems.
  4. Identify potential initiatives.
  5. Conduct performance analysis of potential initiatives.
  6. Evaluate (based on identified measures of success) and select preferred alternative(s).
  7. Create an Action Plan that:
    • Describes the preferred alternative, its trade-offs, and related recommendations.
    • Proposes an approach to implement the recommendations.
  8. Implement and monitor the Action Plan.
  9. Follow-up, reassess, and (when necessary) modify the plan based on received feedback.

Each step is formed by a set of tasks that need to be executed to obtain the desired outputs. Such tasks include stakeholder outreach and agency coordination, data collection/ information gathering, and assessment and analysis.

Figure 1 summarizes the urban freight transportation DM process described in this Guide.  Each step of the process is presented with examples of potential activities that could be undertaken while moving through the step. This process is generally consistent with the transportation planning process summarized by FHWA in Integrating Demand Management into the Transportation Planning Process: A Desk Reference (the FHWA Desk Reference), which includes: (1) regional vision and goals; (2) setting objectives; (3) definition of performance measures; (4) assessment and selection of strategies and programs to support objectives; (5), integration of strategies into plans and funding programs; and (6) monitoring and evaluation of progress toward objectives (Federal Highway Administration, 2012c).  Many procedures, tools and techniques are similar, and readers can refer to the FHWA Desk Reference for more details. The process described in this section supplements the general transportation planning process described in the FHWA publication by addressing the specific needs of freight transportation management, such as the more complex stakeholder engagement. This process also applies to short-term management efforts.

The DM process described in this section can be used for any size geographic area, jurisdiction, or specific location (e.g., statewide, regional, metropolitan, or site specific); various types of management and planning exercises (e.g., land use, bicycle, or freight); different challenges and issues (e.g., congestion, safety, or site); and, timeframes of various durations (e.g., short-, medium-, or long-range). At each step in the DM process, tasks (activities) need to be conducted, including stakeholder outreach and agency coordination, data collection, and assessment and analysis. Each task produces a set of outputs, typically used as inputs in subsequent stages.

Fig 1

Figure 1: Urban freight transportation DM process

It should be noted that these activities do not take place in a vacuum; the only successful way to foster change is to constructively engage all stakeholders to develop consensus-based strategies. Such a process of engagement is best conducted as part of a suitable process of collaborative DM and partnership.

This important aspect underpins successful freight transportation DM as a proper and constructive process of engagement of the multiple stakeholders involved in freight issue, and their potential solutions. Two key factors relate:

  1. Multiple stakeholders—private, public, and community—are impacted by freight issues and/or could potentially play a role in developing their solutions.
  2. No single stakeholder is capable of completely solving the most acute freight issues affecting metropolitan areas.

Given these two factors, stakeholder cooperation and engagement may be the only means to progress.

The main role of such an engagement effort is to create an environment and a management process whereby all stakeholders can be heard and can participate, in a constructive fashion, to improve the freight system. Public-sector agencies are bound to play a key role as conveners of the effort. Some key stakeholders to bring to the table include large and prominent shippers, carriers, and receivers; the corresponding trade groups that represent key freight agents (local trucking associations, warehouse associations, retail sector groups, restaurant associations, and the like); the local Chamber of Commerce; public agencies with jurisdiction in the areas that impact the freight system; civic or neighborhood groups; researchers who could play a role in both research and outreach; as well as any other companies with the potential to contribute to the solution.

Many approaches and techniques are considered effective mechanisms for stakeholder engagement, such as conferences, workshops, and surveys. The FHWA document Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Planning (Wilbur Smith Associates and S. R. Kale Consulting 2009) is one of many documents that could be used to identify strategies and approaches for this step.

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