Change Zoning to Regulate “Last Mile” Trucking Facilities Flowing Into Low-Income Communities – Streetsblog New York City

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One man’s last mile is another’s last breath.

Environmental justice groups have launched a new effort to curb the proliferation of ‘last mile’ trucking facilities that flock to low-income communities with virtually no regulations, calling on Wednesday for the city’s zoning code itself. even forcing companies like Amazon to make their distribution centers greener and safer.

Currently, these facilities – where trucks drop goods for sorting and loading onto other trucks or cars for distribution in other neighborhoods – are not subject to an environmental review because they are located in areas Manufacturing. And these areas are typically located in low income neighborhoods or communities of color with low land prices. As Streetsblog reported earlier this year, and The City reiterated this week, Sunset Park and Red Hook are particularly popular.

“They are all located as of right without review, based on the 1961 zoning, which had a very different idea of ​​what a ‘warehouse’ is,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director of New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, told the rally next to an Amazon fulfillment center in Sunset Park – one of more than half a dozen that are in business or under construction in that neighborhood and neighboring Red Hook. Similar facilities for Amazon, UPS, and FedEx can be found in poor neighborhoods across town. “It’s the Wild West.”

Of course, no in-depth environmental review is needed to assess the already documented conditions in communities that experience the brunt of truck traffic: pollution is more severe, asthma rates are higher, pedestrian deaths are higher. an epidemic. Thus, beyond the simple study of the problem, the defenders ask the Planning Commission to adopt an “amendment to the text of the zoning resolution” which would oblige all new distribution centers to mitigate some of the damage that they speak.

Trucks arrive and cars roll out all day at Amazon's fulfillment center in Sunset Park.  Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Trucks arrive and cars roll out all day at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Sunset Park. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

For example, a zoning amendment could prevent facilities from clustering together or require companies to convert all trucks to electric vehicles or impose solar panels on the roof. Or the special permit could require companies to mitigate the damage they cause.

“Some pedestrian safety measures might be necessary, there might be requirements that it will not significantly increase air pollution,” said Rachel Spector, senior counsel at Earthjustice. [sic], which is also part of the new Last Mile Coalition, along with The Point, a community center and business incubator in Hunts Point; UPROSE; and El Puente, a group from South Williamsburg. “There are a number of conditions that can be part of the special permit process, not just for disclose an environmental impact, but mitigating the negative impacts.

City officials have said they are aware of the plight of communities of color, where these trucking facilities indulge in lavishness.

“We are very much aware of the situation at Red Hook and Sunset Park,” DOT commissioner Hank Gutman told Streetsblog on Wednesday. “I have toured with my team. We have met the defenders. We met with local elected officials. And I think we share a common goal here, which is to prevent oversized polluting trucks from destroying the quality of life in neighborhoods all around the city.

But, he added, changing existing trucking practices – and getting companies to switch to smaller, greener vehicles for the last mile – “presents a challenge.”

“Some of them are legal developments, so there is no way to prevent them,” he added. “But we certainly have the capacity – and intend to use it at DOT – to minimize the impact on traffic and make sure they’re good neighbors.”

Gutman has spoken frequently of the challenge of handling the roughly 1.8 million packages delivered daily to New York City – a road use that simply did not exist 20 years ago and is contributing to the rising death toll on the roads this year, which is the bloodiest year of the two terms of mayor of Blasio. Last year, e-commerce accounted for 14% of all retail sales, up from 4% in 2007.

Assembly member Bobby Carroll wants to impose an additional $ 3 on every e-commerce order, hoping to discourage online shopping and encourage people to buy locally, but the mayor is against to this extent.

Coincidentally, the rally for environmental justice took place about 90 minutes before city officials held their own press conference to promote the city’s efforts to increase the use of New York’s waterways for transportation. of goods in the city. Mayor de Blasio announced what he called a “daring” plan [PDF] to shift many deliveries to more sustainable modes such as sea, train and cargo bike, as opposed to the more than 120,000 gas-guzzling trucks that enter or leave the five boroughs every day.

The mayor, surrounded by bigwigs from UPS and his DOT and his economic development company, set five goals that are now in the hands of the next mayor, given that de Blasio’s term ends on December 31:

  • Make last mile deliveries more efficient by promoting out-of-hours deliveries and expanding neighborhood loading zones, which exist in some neighborhoods but are deeply opposed in areas where a lot of car owners are. The city says it will expand neighborhood loading areas to a total of 1,500 … by 2040. There are a few dozen now.
  • Greening the last mile by encouraging the transition to zero emission truck fleets and other sustainable modes like cargo bikes
  • Tax the last mile by scouting federal dollars to implement technology that would catch overweight trucks.
  • Use the so-called “blue highway” by upgrading marine terminals like the Red Hook Container Terminal and expanding waterfront access so more businesses are shipping cargo by water rather than by truck, which carries currently 90% of the freight to the city. The mayor has pledged $ 38 million, including $ 18 million for a new pilot program “to stimulate private investment in ships.”
  • Use more rail tracks, eg some capacity at Hunts Point. “Rail access is especially important for industrial companies that have to transport construction materials, bulk goods and heavy food products such as rice or tomato sauce,” the document said. “To induce more opportunities for sustainable, resilient and competitive transportation options, New York City will support the expansion of its 90-mile freight rail lines and facilities where shipments are moved from rail cars to trucks. of the “last mile”.
Mayor de Blasio held a photo op on Wednesday to talk about cleaner and safer freight deliveries, but did not answer questions.  Photo: Julianne Cuba
Mayor de Blasio held a photo op on Wednesday to talk about cleaner and safer freight deliveries, but did not answer questions. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Wednesday’s presser follows almost identical promises in 2018 in the FreightNYC report and in a “Delivering New York” plan earlier this year – both of which lacked concrete details on how to actually improve the streetscape. And any plan always depends on federal dollars.

Neither the mayor nor any city official responded to questions for the presser, but Gutman discussed greater use of the “blue highway” earlier today during the mayor’s bi-weekly virtual presser.

“The big advantage of the blue highway is that goods arrive not by big truck, but by boat,” Gutman said. “And then you unload them in these distribution centers, in cargo bikes, etc. So I think there is a way here to find the real way. And we are determined to work as hard as possible to make it happen.

Bautista called this a good “first step”, but one that falls short of his group’s main concern – last mile trucks and danger.

“The mayor is not talking about the consolidation of these facilities,” said Bautista. “But by requiring a special permit, we can require electric trucks or cargo bikes. And other security measures.

The Town Planning Commission did not respond to us until this story was first published. Afterwards, however, the agency offered this very cold water statement:

Zoning regulates use, volume and parking, but does not regulate the type or size of vehicles traveling to or from any use. Distribution and delivery are functions that support residents and businesses in a variety of ways and require appropriate locations in the city. Warehouses and distribution facilities are permitted as of right in manufacturing districts, which are areas intended to accommodate uses that are best kept out of residential communities.

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