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Data in Driver’s Seat for Portland, Ore., Zero-Emission Delivery

The Pacific Northwest city will launch a small zero-emission delivery zone later this year, to gather data and collaborate with service operators on effectively removing delivery-related vehicles with emissions from a section of downtown.

Seen at a CoMotion conference in 2019, this UPS pedal-assisted cycle is an example of a zero-emission delivery vehicle.
Skip Descant/Government Technology
Transportation leaders in Portland, Ore., are planning a zero-emission delivery zone in the city’s central business district to test the idea on a small scale before using data gathered during its pilot to expand the zone across the city.

“It’s not impossible, but it’s not without its challenges,” Millicent Williams, director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said Tuesday, describing the project at the CoMotion Miami conference, a gathering of transportation and urban design officials from both the public and private sector.

The project, to encompass about a dozen blocks, will require the city to coordinate with numerous delivery services, from legacy operators like FedEx, UPS, Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service, to newer modalities like DoorDash. And it will involve significant data sharing to give the city a detailed understanding of how to fine-tune a delivery system divorced from conventional internal combustion-powered trucks, vans and automobiles.

“In order for us to do that there is no world in which we would not be partnering with the private sector to gather information,” Williams said.

The initiative is funded in part by a nearly $2 million U.S. Department of Transportation Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation grant it received last fall. The zero-emission delivery zone, known as ZDEV, will operate and gather data for about six months, starting later this summer or early fall. Officials will modify parking regulations governing delivery trucks to prioritize zero-emission vehicles, and ZDEV loading zones will be monitored by sensors to gather data.

Efforts by cities to reimagine deliveries, multimodal transportation or how the curb is used require the collection and analysis of large amounts of data from a range of sources, officials said. These transitions also require the sharing of competitive data, which is often the harder hill to climb because it can give companies an advantage, said Roamy Valera, president of Automotus, a vision software company working to solve safety hazards at the curb.

“We’ve got to get to that space where some of that key data has to enter the market,” Valera said.

“Big data” is the data being collected from the various mobility uses, said Williams, listing scooters, bikes and parking tools.

“All of the ways we’re managing the curb, we’re pulling all of that information together and creating the cloud of opportunities for us to inform decision-making,” she said. “It’s not just a singular source of information. But it’s a multitude of sources that are pointed at helping us to tell the story.”

That story, being told in a flurry of data points, is where opportunity lies, said Andrew Glass Hastings, executive director of the Open Mobility Foundation, who moderated the CoMotion panel.

“I do think the future is bright to the opportunities, telling the stories that are most important to affect the change,” said Hastings. “Whether that’s trying to make streets safer, or address climate change, improve equity, I think we have the understanding that data needs to drive a lot of that storytelling.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.