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October 2001

Campuses Mobilize After Terrorist Attack

CUNY's "Success Express" Highlights Grads
Freshman Enrollment Rises at CUNY
First Festival Presented by Gotham Center
CUNY TV enhances recruiting outreach
U.S. Cheers Poet Laureate: Prof. Billy Collins
A Dream of Food On Washington Mall
Navy League Award to Hunter Physicist
Nine Leading Scholars Named Distinguished Professors
Haitian First Lady, CCNY Alumna, Feted
Baruch College Opens Vertical Campus
Historic Matters
Baruch Center Confronts Quality of Urban Life
Hunter College Historian Communes with the Saints
A Displaced Person Discovers His Place on Campus
CUNY Students Vault into Poll Work
Double Play for CUNY Broadcasters


Dwell Time and a Bad Case of the JITs:
Baruch Center Confronts Gridlock

By Gary Schmidgall

anne morrrisCitizens of New York can cast their eye around the metropolis and have good reason to conclude that life is, if not beautiful, certainly trending upward. Crime as well as pollution in the Hudson River are famously and substantially down, Central Park and countless local parks in all the boroughs have gotten spiffier by the year, and Times Square and Battery Park City have risen from dereliction to become brilliant sites of architectural one-upsmanship. You can picnic with kindergartners in Bryant Park these days, and when did you last see a squeegee man plying his trade?

Listen to Anne Morris, the founding and longtime Director of the Center for Logistics and Transportation at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, however, and you will quickly learn that in at least one respect the quality of our urban life has been plummeting.

So engaged and animated is Dr. Morris on the subject, that a conversation with her leaves one convinced (to borrow a phrase from John Dean in his Watergate testimony) that a cancer is growing on our cityscape. The principal manifestation of this disease is all too familiar to every pedestrian who ventures into Midtown or Lower Manhattan: traffic congestion—especially in the Central Business District (CBD), which runs from 59th Street to the tip of Battery Park, and especially during the months preceding holidays. For anyone in transit then, the purloiner of Christmas is named not Grinch but Gridlock.

Morris and her colleagues at the Center have in the last several years undertaken a formal study of freight mobility in the CBD, and their analysis of data from time-and- motion studies at a sampling of high-rise commercial buildings has led to the identification of a major culprit responsible for this congestion: homeless delivery trucks. In recent years, the number of homeless people visible on the street has substantially declined, but the number of homeless trucks—circling their delivery site, illegally parked with engines idly fuming, often decorated with a handful of parking tickets—has skyrocketed. And Morris will tell you in no uncertain terms there is one good reason why all these noxious waifs are blocking city streets: inadequate loading docks and freight elevators.

These, she says, are the “black hole” in that most crucial “last mile in the global logistics chain.” Morris’s research, undertaken with Dr. Alain Kornhauser of the Transportation Program of Princeton University’s School of Engineering, and her own up-close-and-personal visits to countless loading docks around town have convinced her that the inadequate or non-existent loading dock is a tremendous impediment to freight movement. A load may move efficiently for thousands of miles and then, in “the last mile,” things fall apart, simply because, as Morris ruefully observes, “freight does not walk.”

Time is wasted—not merely the truck driver’s—and of course the goods arrive late. And because trucks are stuck on the street, some goods never arrive at all, prey to thieves and vandals. “It’s hard to believe people are stealing from trucks in broad daylight on 59th Street, but they are,” Morris says.

Another vile consequence for Manhattan is the “New York arbitrary,” a flat congestion charge of around $150 that trucking firms often assess for vehicles destined for the five boroughs.

“Dwell time” is the umbrella term for all waiting activity outside a delivery site, and the Center’s study of 82 commercial office buildings (COBs) quantified the extent of time wasted and congestion created by the loading dock bottleneck. The focus was on what the Building Owners and Managers Association terms Class A buildings—which have the most appealing location, building amenities and finishes, system standards and efficiency, and generally attract major firms like Colgate or NBC—and Class B buildings, of lower quality in these areas.

Interviews with property managers at 59 Class A and 23 Class B buildings also revealed how inadequate (sometimes non-existent) freight elevator facilities or impeded access contributes to the length of dwell time. It was found among Class B buildings, which ranged from 5 to 56 rentable floors that there were only two operating freight docks.

rider truck deliveryMorris is seen here on the dock at 11 Madison Avenue, where 80 to 100 trucks arrive daily with loads for Credit Suisse-First Boston. This building participated in the time-and-motion study of street activity for the Center’s Urban Goods Movement Study.

According to Morris, the loading dock crunch has been worsening over the last two decades for several reasons. One is the failure of the City’s building code to require appropriate docking facilities in major new COBs (the code was last revised in this respect nearly three decades ago). Builders, of course, resist allocating income-producing square footage for docks.

Contributing hugely to the problem is the rise of the courier and express services. These are the vast shipping organizations like Airborne Express, Fedex, and United Parcel Service, whose vans and trucks have, particularly in the last two decades, become seemingly as ubiquitous as yellow cabs. With escalating rents in Manhattan’s COBs, tenants have reduced on-site space for storage of inventory. Rather than keep a large inventory on their premises, retailers rely on quick spot delivery of their product in small parcels “just in time” to hand it over to the customer.

This highly efficient Just-In-Time (JIT) logistics phenomenon has been, in Morris’s mind, just a disaster for New York’s Central Business District. Other CBDs around the country are suffering from the same dearth of loading docks and swarms of small parcel delivery trucks, as studies of Seattle and Toronto have shown.

fedex truck below two level the street Hoping to turn the initial phase of its research into action, the Center earlier this year presided over a contest for the best loading dock in the Central Business District. “Imagine our surprise when the winner turned out to be a building that is just now celebrating its 75th birthday,” Morris says, referring to the massive loading dock for Rockefeller Center.

Two levels below the street, this dock serves 400 to 500 truck deliveries for the 12-acre complex every weekday. “Rockefeller Center’s developers wanted to ensure that no trucks would be on its streets,” Morris adds, “and they insisted their architects provide sufficient docking space and freight elevators.”

Clearly a connoisseur of loading docks, Morris was asked by CUNY•Matters to cast her critical eye at the loading docks and freight elevators in another architectural grande dame, the CUNY Graduate Center. “They are top of the line,” she reports, “providing space for a fast turnaround and slots for eight large trucks.” Probably added in the late 1930s (horses were still delivering when B. Altman was first built), the dock, says Morris, “was carefully planned to facilitate movement of goods and keep the streets clear of trucks, since B. Altman was an upscale store and wanted to present an elegant image.”

Morris scarcely needs to add that she would like builders of commercial highrises nowadays to be just as solicitous of their surrounding public spaces. She seems even a little sad to note that the Director of Facilities at the Graduate Center says the docks are under-used. “The nature of the current tenants’ business, education and publishing, does not require volume freight deliveries.”

Morris explains that the Center’s study of the problem began when Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan came calling. He was preparing to sponsor a major mass transport bill and recognized there was simply no data on freight movement and the costs of congestion in the nation’s urban business districts. Moynihan thought the Center for Logistics and Transportation was an obvious resource if data and solutions were to be developed. It was originally established in 1985 at the Graduate Center—with Morris, whose doctorate was in research psychology, as its founding director—under the auspices of President Harold Proshansky, who was eager for stronger City University ties with industry. In 1997, it was concluded that its more logical home was at CUNY’s premier campus for business affairs, Baruch College.

Among the recommendations the Center has reached on the basis of the first phase of its study are tax incentives for building owners to retrofit receiving facilities, the use of passenger elevators to move freight during off-peak daytime hours, and the use of Web- connected wireless information systems to manage curbside commercial parking zones.

While granting that extensive brick-and-mortar improvement of existing buildings is unlikely, Morris observes, “Information technology in tandem with creative management, and targeted regulatory changes can improve freight mobility. Upgrading loading dock operations will relieve congestion and increase productivity and decrease cost for motor carriers.” The expertise of the Zicklin School and the Center for Logistics and Transportation, Morris is confident, will play a significant role in this process. Already, the Center has set up meetings with Iris Weinshall, NYC Commissioner of Transportation, on extending the freight delivery day.

Summing up more optimistically, Morris adds, “Improving loading dock operations is a ‘win-win’ for both the city and the freight industry. It will enhance the City’s competitive posture, improve air quality, and create a friendlier business climate for the local transportation industry.”

And so long to the “New York arbitrary.”

Anne Morris, left, on the Credit Suisse-First Boston dock at 11 Madison Avenue; above, a common sight on the clogged streets of Midtown.