Freight in Global Cities

Last Thursday, June 2, I attended the Global Transportation Hubs session of The Chicago Council on Global, part of their Global Cities program.  The session was transit-focused and it was clear the thought leaders there had not given extensive amount of thought on freight in these large megacity transportation hubs. Now, I happen to be transit enthusiast, some would call me a transit fanatic. So I enjoyed listening to the speakers but knew there was something missing from the global cities transportation hub description.

So how does freight fit in this overall picture of megacities?  How can it be balanced against land use, economic growth, income equity, and cultural amenities? Can shipper and carrier business interests be balanced with the overall public good?  How can the supply chain industry have planners put freight movement into the equation. This would be far better than just reacting, when something is “bad” is about to happen to freight interests.

I was able to question the panel about where does freight fit in this process? Ginger Evans, who is currently the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation, responded that freight transportation infrastructure needs to happen outside the cities, citing recent rail infrastructure projects being built outside metro area. Clearly she was thinking of the rail intermodal yards in the Chicago area, south of Joliet, IL and in Rochelle, IL.  Her point was land is at a premium in these mega cities, and transportation which needs large foot prints of land will find the least costly option outside the cities most utilized areas. She felt such close-in projects as the Alameda Corridor which takes rail traffic from Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach in a below ground trench from the port to major rail yards in the area, are not likely to happen in the future.

Having a supply chain background, I know about the increasing demand for fast delivery, same day or even 2-hour delivery windows in those dense, congested, mega cities. I also know for this be economically viable, warehouse and to lesser extent transportation facilities need to be close in to the customers of the products.

So I would encourage supply chain academics and the professional organizations of transportation, supply chain, and logistics to start thinking about its place in large metropolitan area. One of the issues on the urban planners’ plate is on how to provide jobs to the non-professional workers. Certainly encouraging warehousing and transportation jobs is a worthy selling point to those planners.  Making sure there is places to drop freight off street sized for trucks, will decrease urban congestion and increase operator efficiency.

In conclusion, there needs to a conversation about the supply chain and freight movement in urban areas. Supply chain interests would be wise to be a part of the regional planning, both to promote business growth and avoid barriers to their successful operation.


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