Portland plans to create zero-emission delivery zone downtown

Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 2:34 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - As part of a $2 million federal grant program, Portland officials are expected to reveal a new pilot project that would restrict a stretch of downtown to only zero-emissions delivery vehicles.

The initiative is intended to reduce traffic from heavy trucks in the downtown area and replace those trips with zero-emission vehicles, such as electric vans and trucks, cargo bikes, or hydrogen-fueled vehicles, according to a statement from city.

The pilot project will be officially announced during a news conference on Wednesday.

The technical details, including the exact borders of the zero-emission delivery zone, are still being worked out.

The city will establish multiple loading areas outside the borders of the zone where larger items can be broken down and delivered to smaller private businesses by electric vehicles.

The new, $2 million project in Downtown Portland has left some business owners with questions.

“Is all this emissions control actually affecting the environment? Big question mark,” President of Huber’s Cafe, James Louie, said.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation says three loading zones at the Portland Building, the new Multnomah County Courthouse and the Edith Green - Wendell Wyatt Federal Building will soon be for zero-emission delivery vehicles only as a part of the country’s first regulated Zero-Emission Delivery Zone.

For now, those three loading zones will impact 16 blocks downtown between Southwest Jefferson and Southwest Taylor streets, but PBOT spokesperson Dylan Rivera says they’re still refining the area that will be served by these three zones.

While Louie doesn’t fall within these 16 blocks, he’s afraid if they eventually expand the project, he’ll have to pay the consequences.

“If it comes to fruition is that, if our vendors have to buy electric vehicles, it’s going to be reflected in our prices, our costs,” he said.

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Portland Kettle Owner, Gayle Ostling, shares the same concern.

“The difficulty it is going to bring onto small businesses which are already having difficulty downtown here, it doesn’t equate. It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “I certainly agree with reducing emissions, I can’t think of anybody who would not, however, that’s not the way to do it.”

PBOT said they understand small businesses and vendors may not be able to make the switch to zero-emission vehicles but there will still be loading zones outside the area people can use.

They also said the grant could pay for businesses to instead deliver their freight to a local distribution center, B-Line, on the Central Eastside, and have a cargo bike deliver their goods for the last mile over the Hawthorne Bridge. That’s a route that’s around a 5.5 minute drive.

With how often they get bulk deliveries, Ostling isn’t confident this plan will work.

“That’s impossible,” she said. “Nobody’s going to bike a 50-pound bag of onions across the bridge. That’s unrealistic.”

Rivera said they’re hoping to post the new signs in early 2024. While it’s still several months away, they plan to have the city’s parking enforcement keep an eye out for violations.

If the pilot project is successful in the coming years, PBOT could be eligible for a $15 million bid to expand the program and make it permanent.