Mobility City Logistics Cutting Back on Construction Traffic: How to Get Started

Cutting Back on Construction Traffic: How to Get Started

Mathis Hampel

"If we've got more stuff than we can use, more food than we can eat, and thereby more money than we can spend, the problems we've got to solve first are conceptual-logistical ones."

Construction traffic is costly, dangerous and awfully polluting. A promising tool to radically reduce traffic are construction consolidation centres (CCC) or urban logistics hubs. At CCCs, construction materials are stored, traffic in and out of the construction area is controlled, and logistics flows are coordinated. Research on consolidation centres in European cities show intriguing results.

Consider This

You will know it. It’s worth repeating still. The distribution of goods to and from construction sites is peculiar when compared to other urban supply chains. Other than retailers, shops, and ‘normal’ businesses, construction sites constantly move. Their goods are somewhat strange, too. Sometimes bulky, sometimes fragile. Reducing construction traffic is therefore a complex issue. To understand whether and how CCCs can help you reach your traffic reduction goals, consider this:

  1. Do I have a full picture of construction activities in my town?
  2. Do I have a fair understanding of where future construction sites are likely to be?
  3. Can I estimate their material use and the vehicle type used?

These points will depend on the regulations in place and how likely they’re going to change in the future, as well as on trends influencing the construction industry – think ‘prefab’ for example. What wider societal trends are likely to influence city life and city logistics? Needless to say, a careful analysis of the situation is “primordial before implementing a CCC to secure its sustainability.”

Astonishing Numbers

And still, research and experience elsewhere strongly suggest that CCCs could indeed help to effectively manage construction supply chains and reduce traffic. Also in your city!

At least two ways exist to measure the effects of these centres on construction traffic, via ‘backcasting’, and through comparing observed with modelled data. Whichever method is chosen, results are equally astonishing.

First, by way of ‘backcasting’, researchers are working backwards from a desirable future to the present, in order to find out what would be required to reach that future. The SUCCESS project by the European Union used this methodology at construction sites in Luxemburg, Paris, Valencia and Verona. They considered the material flows recorded at the four pilot sites to simulate how these would change with the introduction of a CCC. In a scenario with several construction sites being served by one optimally (!) located CCC, 

  • the total number of trips fell by 60%, 
  • the distance travelled was cut by 44%,
  • time spent traveling reduced by 36%,
  • and the load factor of vehicles increased by 166%.

Second, numbers can be derived by way of comparing the observed traffic flows of a construction site using a CCC, with model output of this site’s flows under “business as usual”, that is, without any advanced logistics solution. The leading Dutch research company TNO is championing this method. At three Dutch research sites, thanks to advanced logistics solutions including a consolidation centre, 

  • the number of trips has decreased between 47% and 79%, 
  • the average load factors of vehicles increased by up to 84%, 
  • and between 25% and 84% fewer kilometers were driven with an equivalent of saved tons of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2).

What is more, research on a test construction ground in Utrecht showed a 40% increase in labour productivity, and a significant reduction in materials use. Fewer goods were reported damaged and stolen from the site, and there were fewer complaints from neighbouring residents. Construction costs fell by 3-5%.

The Frontrunners

Who, then, are the people leading the way? As with all innovations, “at the beginning the group of innovators was relatively small,” remembers Ron Frazer, managing director at VolkerWessels Bouwmaterieel, an equipment rental company-turned logistics hub whose services in Utrecht were monitored by TNO. Construction companies had little but anecdotal evidence to assume the advantages of a consolidation centre, and the financial benefits of logistics hubs are particularly difficult to evaluate.

Apparently, this is where research came in. According to Ron Frazer, the positive results shown in the first research projects led to early adopters. Eventually, both SUCCESS’ and TNO’s results paved the way for further consolidation centres, such as in the Italian cities of Florence and Pordenone, and in Luxembourg. VolkerWessels is expanding, too. Next stop: Amsterdam.

But, as Ömer Arslan of “Bouwhub Amsterdam” explains, that’s only half the story. Numbers alone don’t convince anyone. You must be well connected with the construction industry and understand their mindset. Construction companies often view logistics as a cost centre, or they lack the internal logistics expertise to save on their transport costs. His learning: It takes a lot of patience and diplomatic skills to convince an industry project leader.

Ron Frazer of VolkerWessels Bouwmaterieel on the left, together with Axel Hendriks of the Dutch Beelen Group, are planning a ‘circular construction hub’ for Amsterdam. Image credit: Ruud Jonkers

Equally important, Frazer and Arslan agree, are determined public leaders. Local governments are responsible for large construction works and can incentivize or implement a construction logistics solution. The stricter the regulations, so the idea goes, the more companies will turn to delivery optimization and find consolidation centres as a practical solution. Approaches differ between cities and countries. Dutch cities, for example, are planning zero-emission zones by 2025. In the French city of Lyon, regulations on truck loads should prompt the use of consolidation centers. In Sweden, the City of Stockholm has decided to lead by example and implement a CCC servicing the largest construction site in the Nordics, the Stockholm Royal Seaport. More important than the type of urban freight policy in place, French research shows, is the type and level of commitment of individual elected officials, local decision-makers and industry entrepreneurs.

How to get started then? Well, this is the place. On CityChangers.org we will introduce you to these most determined individuals, to learn from and with them. Let’s scroll the site, discover their stories and simply get in touch with them on our community page.

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