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 Colleges
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 congestionespecially
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 truckscircling
their delivery site, illegally parked with engines idly fuming,
often decorated with a handful of parking ticketshas
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.
Morriss research, undertaken with Dr. Alain Kornhauser
of the Transportation Program of Princeton Universitys
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 wastednot merely the truck driversand
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. Its hard to believe people are stealing
from trucks in broad daylight on 59th Street, but they are,
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
Dwell time is the umbrella term for all waiting
activity outside a delivery site, and the Centers 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 buildingswhich have
the most appealing location, building amenities and finishes,
system standards and efficiency, and generally attract major
firms like Colgate or NBCand 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.
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 Centers Urban Goods
According to Morris, the loading dock crunch has been worsening
over the last two decades for several reasons. One is the
failure of the Citys 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 Manhattans 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 Morriss mind, just a disaster for New Yorks
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.
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
Centers 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
Clearly a connoisseur of loading docks, Morris was asked by
CUNYMatters 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 Centers 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 nations 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 Centerwith
Morris, whose doctorate was in research psychology, as its
founding directorunder 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 CUNYs premier campus for business affairs,
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 Citys
competitive posture, improve air quality, and create a friendlier
business climate for the local transportation industry.
And so long to the New York arbitrary.