Sam Wight

Thoughts on delivery vehicles in cities

Okay, so my friend Mike made a response to a really dumb car-brained take on Twitter. And as I started replying, I realized I had more complicated thoughts on them, so I decided to write them out here. Also, I’m on Micro.Blog now.

Here’s the tweet he quoted:

The entitlement is crazy here as if there are “Delivery Lanes or designated parking spaces. Yet everybody wants their packages to be delivered in a timely manner. You’re on a bike, just ride around, and let the delivery person DO THEIR JOB.

And here’s his response:

Unpopular opinion. My god do I hate that everybody orders everything online.

We live in a city. Find a store and go to the store. Go outside, it’s good for you.

Online shopping and food delivery apps are so gross. ESPECIALLY cuz we know their employees so taken advantage of

These companies put more dangerous massive heavy trucks and vans on the road. These companies are among the largest repeat offenders of bike lane and crosswalk obstructions.

Fuck online shopping, online shopping created this stupid problem

I have mixed opinions on this. On the one hand, I’m a Chicago cyclist. I’ve had my fair share of close calls with drivers because a delivery driver decided to park their 18-wheelers or FedEx trucks in the bike lane, forcing me out into traffic. On the other hand, I have plenty of friends who are delivery drivers themselves. And on the other other hand, I rely a lot on delivery services to help me function.

First, one of the main reasons why I no longer ride in the bike lane in Chicago is because they are very frequently blocked: sometimes by regular drivers, sometimes by delivery drivers, both equally dangerous. When a bike lane is blocked, I have two choices: I can swerve around the vehicle into traffic, or I can come to an emergency stop. I have to choose between these two decisions in a split second, and both are incredibly risky. When going around the vehicle, I risk being run over by drivers who are completely unaware of my existence as a cyclist (SUVs have atrocious blind spots). When attempting an emergency stop, I risk being run into by cyclists behind me, running into the vehicle, or launching over my handlebars if I pull it off wrong. Neither of these options are safe, so I don’t ride in the bike lane anymore.

So I have a lot of empathy for cyclists angry at delivery drivers for parking in bike lanes, because it risks their lives. Every week in Chicago feels like we’re on a ‘murder of the week’ show as we see a new cyclist or bike commuter dead because a driver parked in the bike lane or a driver wasn’t looking where they were going. And when the bike infrastructure is as shit as it is in Chicago, it feels reasonable for cyclists to be protective of what little we have, and angry over violations of its use.

But at the same time, I have plenty of friends who work for UPS. Working as a delivery driver for UPS is a stressful job. You have to fucking book it constantly because your route is timed. That’s stressful. And due to the lack of proper loading zones in Chicago, and the overabundance of parking, delivery drivers don’t have the time to find a proper parking spot. When you have tens or hundreds of packages to deliver in a single shift, parking once or twice in a bike lane just so you can get back on a fast pace seems like a reasonable tradeoff. And UPS is a unionized workforce! For delivery drivers at FedEx or at Amazon, who are not unionized, the pressure to perform at an unreasonably fast pace is even heavier. So I don’t place a lot of the blame on the workers here.

I also have a hard time blaming people who use delivery. Plenty of people also rely on delivery for good reasons, like disability. I have a hard time going to the grocery store. The two grocery stores closest to me have cramped aisles, awful yellow lighting that hurts my brain, and crowds of loud people constantly needing to push past each other. Every time I need to go to them, I dread going because of sensory issues, and I constantly forget things I need. It takes me twice as long to find shit and I don’t get everything I need to cook.

So I and a lot of other neurodivergent people rely heavily on grocery delivery. I get it once a week or so to keep my kitchen stocked and help make cooking easier. I just do not have the energy to go to the store regularly except for quick visits. And that to me is an accommodation because my brain just does not work like other people’s. If I spend too much of my energy trying to cook and get groceries, I end up exhausted and won’t be able to take care of myself in other ways. So over the last few months, I’ve begun to rely increasingly on parcel + grocery delivery to save me trips to stores that overwhelm me sensory-wise (and also risk my life as a cyclist).

So I also don’t blame people who use delivery services. I think delivery services are good and necessary for a city to function well. They’re one of the many conveniences of living in a denser area: because of the density, it’s cheaper to do local delivery than it would be in a suburban or rural place. And it helps people like me who kinda need it in order to function for my job or just for my own mental health.

So who to blame then? Auto manufacturers. Private vehicles do not belong in cities, period. All of the roadways that delivery drivers and service vehicles could rely on to get their jobs done are instead used inefficiently by car commuters. Instead of having loading zones in front of stores, we have miles and miles of parking, most of which goes unused. We have untrained drivers who are really bad at it and shouldn’t be behind a wheel, but they drive to work anyway because it’s ‘more convenient’ and ‘there isn’t any alternative’. After years of lobbying local governments and spreading auto propaganda, auto manufacturers and oil companies forced us to become dependent on their inefficient, wasteful motorized carriages to the point where we can’t imagine any alternative way to navigate a city.

Get rid of auto companies and cars, and you have the tools to build an enjoyable, thriving city. But any amount of half-measures or trying to be nice to private vehicle owners will put you exactly where you are now.