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Why Smaller Delivery Vehicles Could Be Huge for Cities

Smaller delivery trucks could make cities a lot safer. Photo: Flickr, Jason Lawrence
Using small delivery vehicles instead of big rigs could make cities a lot safer. Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr
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CityLab ran an article recently about how smaller delivery trucks could be coming to U.S. cities, with the makers of 15-foot cargo vans used in many European cities poised to begin marketing them in the United States.

That is important not just because these smaller vehicles are inherently safer, but because it could mean safer road designs altogether. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland elaborates:

Here in Portland, the fact that most cargo vehicles are big and dangerous to be around is a subtle influence on almost everything we do with our streets.

Last week, discussing chaotic behavior on North Williams Avenue, city project manager Rich Newlands wrote in an email that although it’d be “better” to run a concrete curb alongside a green-painted bike lane just north of Broadway, that would be impossible because of the “the turning radius of large trucks.”

Two weeks earlier, city staff recommended keeping protected bike lanes off Grand Avenue, citing the city’s policy to separate freight and bike traffic by nudging them onto completely different streets.

Like so many things about our streets, this policy is based on the assumption that in order to survive, any major commercial area requires daily visits from dangerously large trucks. But what if this isn’t actually true?

Andersen notes that very large trucks pose specific risks to bicyclists. In Portland, the driver of an 18-wheel delivery truck recently killed a 28-year-old female cyclist but was not found culpable in court because the judge ruled the he couldn't possibly have seen her as he was turning right.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Walking Bostonian offers some ideas for filling the state’s budget gap after voters elected not to peg the gas tax to inflation. And ATL Urbanist points out that a good portion of the Atlanta streetcar route is surrounded by surface parking.

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