I had a fleeting thought yesterday about intensification of industrial land uses. Rather than dismiss it, I decided to put it on the blog to possibly start a discussion.
When policymakers think about greenhouse gas reductions from the regional transportation network, they usually spend more time considering light duty vehicles than goods movement. There are a few reasons for this. First, light duty vehicles are subject to SB 375’s greenhouse gas reduction targets; medium and heavy duty vehicles involved in commerce are not. Second, light duty vehicles make up a much higher proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. Thirdly, the dollar amount of economic productivity associated with a ton of greenhouse gas emissions is much higher for goods movement, and there are fewer mobility alternatives (a pallet of Blu-ray players can’t take the blue line). Thus, planners and policymakers aren’t actively looking for reductions in travel activity from goods movement. Most policies focus on efficiency or fuel switching (truck stop electrification, natural gas tractor trailers, etc). Very few land use strategies consider goods movement and commerce.
Currently most goods entering into Los Angeles come from the ports of LA and Long Beach. They are then trucked to warehouses or cross-docking facilities near the ports, or in the Inland Empire (and other areas).
The majority of these goods then proceed to other areas of the country. However, a sizable portion is distributed to serve the LA market. These goods backtrack, creating additional goods movement vehicle activity and costs associated with transport.
New warehouses and manufacturing facilities need large parcels. The area around the ports and the gateway cities is largely built-out. Large vacant or underutilized parcels are located in the Inland Empire, Apple Valley, and Lancaster/Palmdale.
One strategy to concentrate more warehouses and light industrial facilities near the ports would be to densify existing land uses. This would include multi-story warehouses (with truck ramps serving multiple levels), and industrial facilities. Multistory industrial buildings were more common before World War II, when there was a higher premium on proximity and non-vehicle accessibility. New multistory industrial facilities are virtually unheard of now. I’d be interested in whether this is due to constraints of the market (it’s just too expensive to acquire parcels and build viable multistory manufacturing facilities), or constraints of zoning regulations (FARs and height limits in industrial districts would prohibit such buildings).
If the constraint is zoning regulations, then planners could accomplish a number of policy objectives by allowing the densification of industrial parcels.
1. The intensification of jobs per acre would help with the economic revitalization of the area around the ports and gateway cities.
2. Regional congestion could be reduced compared to the counterfactual where new industrial development occurs further away from the ports. Drayage may continue to occur during the daytime based on logistics requirements of ports (ship in port for limited time, limited storage available at port facility). However, long distance trucking to move vehicle out of the LA basin could occur at night.
3. Graduated density zoning could assist in efforts to assemble parcels to increase new building footprints. Parcel assemblage is a frequent problem for infill industrial developers – one holdout can kill a project. Allowing greater density for larger parcels will increase the value of land for large parcels, provide (see Donald Shoup’s work on graduated density zoning). Local governments could even look at the vacation of air rights along streets in industrial areas to help with the creation of large multistory industrial buildings. Streets would remain, but would be bridged over by building structures.
4. Densification of warehousing facilities would also provide a larger market for initiatives to shift more goods from trucks to rail, or to concentrate rail traffic on a single grade separated right of way as opposed to multiple tracks with at-grade crossings.