By Joy Bergmann
Jeffrey and Sandra Smith are fed up. They say e-commerce grocery delivery trucks from Fresh Direct and Amazon Fresh monopolize commercial parking spaces, double-park, block turning lanes and obstruct bike lanes near their apartment at 89th and Amsterdam. “This is a takeover of the neighborhood in a very bad way,” says Jeffrey. “It’s total madness.”
It’s also – as the sage Yogi Berra once said – deja vu all over again.
Back in June 2016, Community Board 7’s Transportation Committee grilled Fresh Direct execs on their “depot” distribution model in which trucks occupy commercial parking spaces for long periods – up to 8 hours – while employees distribute groceries in a multi-block radius. Commercial parking regulations limit metered usage of such spots to two hours – depending on the exact location.
And yet, according to the Smiths, the trucks stay put, do not always feed the meter, rarely get multiple tickets in a given day and never seem to get towed. NYPD reps did not respond to WSR’s request for comment on the Smiths’ observations. But, according to one officer, NYPD Traffic Enforcement agents issued 63,995 parking summonses to commercial vehicles in the 24th Precinct in 2018. The Smiths wonder why enforcement hasn’t been more aggressive.
“Why do they get special treatment?” Sandra asks. “It’s constant. As one of their trucks finishes, another one pulls in behind it to continue holding the space. If every company were allowed to work the way Fresh Direct is allowed to work, we’d literally have no parking in this city.”
Turns out, special treatment is the foundation of the NYC Department of Finance’s “Stipulated Fine Program” for delivery-centric companies. Created during the Bloomberg administration, the program reduces parking violation fines for participating companies if they waive their right to contest tickets. The result is a two-tiered justice system for parking scofflaws: one set of consequences for ordinary folks, another for companies including Fresh Direct.
However, a proposed City Council bill from Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides would nullify the Stipulated Fine Program by “prohibiting any city agency from agreeing to reduce fines for parking violations in exchange for a waiver of the right to contest parking violations.” Upper West Side Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.
“We want to apply maximum pressure to ensure companies adhere to the rules around parking and idling,” Levine says, noting that this legislation is just part of what needs to happen if the city is to get serious about the “congestion crisis” plaguing Manhattan. Levine is also an advocate for congestion pricing, residential parking permits and more off-peak-hours deliveries. “This is a crisis that needs to be attacked on many fronts. Ensuring delivery trucks follow the rules is one important piece of it. Alone, it won’t be enough.”
The streetscape has not evolved with the rise of online shopping and customers’ expectation of effortless convenience, served up one household at a time.
“We’ve got to rethink this whole delivery thing,” says CB7 Chair Roberta Semer. “And it needs to be a citywide plan.”
In recent years, the Smiths say, three grocery stores near their home – a Gristedes, a Key Food and a Food Emporium – have closed. More e-commerce competition and rising rents have likely been contributing factors. Only one new grocery store, Trader Joe’s on Columbus and 93rd, has opened. And Trader Joe’s recently announced that home delivery services will no longer be available in any of their NYC stores as of March 1st. And so, with fewer places to shop and schlep easily, more locals are apparently choosing the online option, to the Smiths’ dismay.
“We can’t have it both ways,” says Sandra. “As a community, either you support and buy local even if you have to pay a little more. Or if you want it cheaper or easier, you have to face the consequences of that. Environmental, everything. We all want it cheap, cheap, but don’t think about what that does. Not just in our neighborhood. It’s everywhere.”
WSR reached out to representatives from Amazon, Fresh Direct and Peapod for comment.
An Amazon spokesperson told us that Manhattan deliveries for Amazon Fresh are made by independent delivery service providers who are expected to follow Amazon’s supplier code of conduct and follow all applicable laws. The company says it takes community feedback seriously and will work with delivery providers to address the situation. The spokesperson urged locals to call Amazon’s 24/7 customer service line with any concerns. The number is 1-888-280-4331.
However many calls and 311 complaints get made, lasting solutions will not be easy to come by on our small, shared island.
Some residents have asked: Could Fresh Direct and others rent vacant storefronts as mini warehouses instead of using trucks as delivery hubs?
Maybe. But that would likely require city zoning changes. Retail spaces are zoned differently than warehouses, according to testimony at the 2016 CB7 meeting with Fresh Direct.
More to the point: It’s not as cost-effective for delivery services to pay hefty commercial rents. Even if trucks receive multiple tickets a day, and even if companies end up paying the full fines for violations, it’s still likely a better deal than an inflexible lease.
Some commercial real estate agents say they, too, want a change to the parking status quo.
Adam Katz of Roxann Real Estate says his firm has recently managed to rent out retail spaces at 90th and Amsterdam to a restaurant and a preschool, but he shares the Smiths’ concerns. “We’re against the use of Amsterdam Avenue being used for large delivery trucks or any vehicles that obstruct traffic or pedestrian movement,” he wrote to WSR. “The presence of any large delivery trucks is anathema to us. We would like to avoid them being in the area.”
Roberta Semer says that locals with strong feelings about Fresh Direct in particular should attend the next CB7 Transportation Committee meeting, February 12th at 7 p.m. at 250 W. 87th, 2nd floor, where Fresh Direct representatives are slated to appear once again.
Or, as Yogi Berra also said, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”
Why is there no mention of FedEx, UPS, USPS and city buses doing the long-term parking?
“prohibiting any city agency from agreeing to reduce fines for parking violations in exchange for a waiver of the right to contest parking violations.”
And the average citizen pays the difference, because UPS et al. will raise their fares. Brilliant!
UPS drivers parking on WEA (to make deliveries on foot spanning many blocks) often leave their cab doors open, triggering their loud and insistent backup warning sound, sometimes for hours. We have called UPS local dispatch, and some drivers got the message.
The Smiths are complaining that a truck providing deliveries to numerous homes is using the parking space instead of a private vehicle that serves nobody but the owner? That seems fine to me.
And the curb space in front of Trader Joe’s on Columbus should just be made into a commercial loading zone already. There’s always a truck double parked there anyway, just move it to the curb.
I would support the elimination of 1 or 2 metered spaces per block to accommodate these trucks, on the condition that they pay a substantial annual fee for the right to park there. The spaces could be shared between FD, Amazon and maybe someone else. The losers here would be NJ drivers who take up metered parking. To hell with ’em.
Also, eliminate NYP parking passes. And give us residential parking permits.
I suggested just this solution to multiple City Council members. We’ll see if they take my letter to heart!
This is an excellent idea.
Brilliant!!!! Now let’s put each of your suggestions into effect. Great thinking!
Blame deBlasio! The bike lanes that nobody uses(except food delivery people) have so clogged the streets. They force the delivery trucks to double park. For once, Whoopi was right!
We all know your elitists take blew up in your face and your lies about “6 lanes of traffic” were embarrassing- did you write that from the back of your towncar while getting chauffeured? (I know your regular driver, Whoopie).
DeBlasio is what he is, but bikelanes came with Bloomberg.
Be accurate, if not fair.
I cycle in the bike lanes every day as my regular transport. So do tens of thousands of others. Private cars should pay very heavy congestion pricing. Whoopi is pissed that her limo could not get tot he curb.
First, you’re wrong that only bike delivery people use the bike lanes but second, do bike delivery people not deserve to be able to bike through the neighborhood safely? Are the only people who deserve to bike safely UWS residents?
“…except food delivery people” — what, they don’t deserve a bike lane? Apparently, given the numbers of delivery persons on bikes, they service a large number of UWS’ers.
And even if you do really mean that they don’t deserve a bike lane, you’re flat-out wrong that they are the only users of the bike lanes (says I, having just used one myself this cold evening)
AND if you think even with delivery persons AND bike commuters like me aren’t enough, I can’t wait for your complaints about how many bike riders there are when there are more of us.
Trucks didn’t double park before the bike lanes were put in? I think you have some revisionist memory.
Not sure what you’d expect them to do? More and more parking is being taken over by Citibike access points, construction sites, and dumpsters.
CB7 has done nothing as the entire UWS has been ruined in large part by decisions they made. Semer is worried about environmental impact now? Where was she and CB7 when they turned Upper West End avenue into a parking lot of stress inducing horn honking and poisonous emissions from the constant lines of traffic.
Agree with Bike lanes commenter – double parked trucks didn’t used to close down Amsterdam and Columbus like cholesterol on arteries before the virtue signalling real estate grab of huge swaths of street width on behalf of occasional/weekend bikers and, ironically, the delivery guys who compete with the trucks decried by the author
It’s not just the e-commerce sites. Drive past Fairway at 9:30 most mornings and Broadway is down to ONE lane because delivery trucks double and triple park.its crazy!
Even worse, trucks double parked in front of West Side Market on Bway and 97 st reduce 2 lanes to 1, often backing traffic up several blocks. I’ve never seen the Fairway double parked trucks actually causing traffic congestion.
Trader Joes stopping delivery is an unspeakable tragedy.
“n recent years, the Smiths say, three grocery stores near their home – a Gristedes, a Key Food and a Food Emporium – have closed”
So all we’ve done is replace all of the trucks delivering to these stores with other trucks. What’s the big deal?
Is there any service as useless as 311? They have passed along to me phone numbers that no one ever answers. When I speak to them about problems with “apples”, they pass along advice about “oranges”.
311 is totally useless. I have contacted them at least 20 times about the Waterline Square construction that takes place at 2:30am, 3:30am, 4:30am…..They close the case, quickly. What will 311 do when delivery trucks come to that site in the middle of the night with their constant beeping noises?
Re: “The result is a two-tiered justice system for parking scofflaws: one set of consequences for ordinary folks, another for companies including Fresh Direct.”
OMG!!! Yet MORE inequality and “Tale of Two Cities” abuses! We’re mad as hell and not going to take it any more (sorry, Mr. Beale).
Better call Mayor BdB! Ooops, sorry; he’s either at his gym or busy focusing on running for pres.
Indeed an issue that needs to be addressed. First, with FedEx & UPS, they use MUCH smaller trucks and tend to be in and out pretty quickly. PART of that is they no longer actually ring apartment doorbells or deliver to your apartment door. Might want to add the USPS to that as more and more they are making the “last mile” delivery even for the commercial outfits.
We must understand that the current method is one of minimizing costs. No question that to address the parking issues, solutions will drive the cost up… and I’m fine with that being an old f**k and doing my own food shopping. Think about this as well, when one wants to cross a street, with all the huge trucks double parking, one loses sight of oncoming traffic. Always makes me very nervous!
this is a problem in the UWS, and everywhere: people complain about the corporatization of everything, but continue to order everything online.
My building is a Prime example (pun intended). Everyone decries when an independent store closes …. meanwhile the package area is stacked half to the ceiling daily with packages.
Worst are the food delivery and Blue Aprons of the world. And no, they aren’t being ordered by people with limited mobility. Why order Fresh Direct when Fairway, Zabars, etc… are a few blocks away??
I order Fresh Direct because I can’t carry the groceries home, I work long hours and don’t want to spend my free time shopping, and they have a better selection. Also, it is worth remembering that FD employers an awful lot of NYers.
I think the only problem with FD that seems like a real unfairness to me is that they don’t have to pay for their parking. I think the idea above, of setting aside some commercial parking spots on each block that FD and others would have to pay a fair price to use (not gouging) is a great idea.
Private cars should be disadvantaged. In a crowded city, shared resources should often have priority over private ones.
My wife and I both work full time and have two young children. Fresh Direct saves us a lot of time and energy. We can get our food quickly and easily and avoid being the annoying people blocking the aisles at Fairway with our stroller. So just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t be able to benefit. And I would rather use my free time to spend quality time with my children, friends and neighbors rather than hanging out in the aisles of the supermarkets.
I do not love the big delivery trucks blocking the intersections. I observe it and wish there was a better way. Others have proposed some decent options. I am OK with paying a small additional premium for my Fresh Direct if it means that the company is paying its fair share as compensation for creating congestion.
I am torn about the bike lanes. I think that biking should generally be encouraged, though bikers should be very strictly held to following the laws. The solution developed on Columbus and Amsterdam is far from ideal – it creates a very difficult traffic flow, and cars and trucks are not disappearing anytime soon so they need to be accommodated and not just told to go away. The bike lanes clearly do exacerbate the problem of the delivery trucks, which also aren’t going anywhere. There needs to be a way for them to co-exist.
Thank you for your nuanced comment!
This person with limited mobility orders from FD.
We order from Fresh Direct — which was started by the Fairway’s founder, by the way — so that we don’t have to shop alongside whack-jobs at Zabar’s and Fairway! You want to shuffle around and taste the lox, wait in line at registers, make an afternoon of it? You go ahead, that’s all yours! Meanwhile, I’ll order a week’s groceries in 10 minutes or less; saving me the hour-plus it takes to go get the same stuff, aisle by aisle, plus checkout time and round-trip travel. It also save my sanity, but just barely, given articles like this one.
Soon they will be delivering by drone so relax.
Not in NYC- the most crowded air corridor in America.
So now we lose delivery from our tried and true sources of food so that Fresh Direct can clog up the streets, run their engines and refrigeration systems and deliver mounds of corrugated cardboard! And UWsiders call them selves green. Balderdash.
Pedestrian, Trader Joe’s has not been here as long as FD – so it is odd to call Trader Joe’s tried and true as compared to FD. You literally cannot have been relying upon delivery from TJ’s as long as I have been relying on delivery from FD.
FD engines don’t idle they no longer use cardboard boxes pay many thousands in parking fines…
Jack, don’t offer facts, it annoys people.
It’s hardly a “takeover of the neighorhood” and it’s nothing like madness. I live on this corner and there are two trucks, the Fresh Direct, and, more recently, the unmarked privately rented Amazon Fresh trucks. Both services offer better produce, products, variety, and convenience than any of the local grocery stores. Shopping local is a fabricated virtue unless the quality and selection can compete … and Fresh Direct IS local, is HQ is NYC, it started in NYC. Jeff and Sandy ought to take a vacation; it’s cold, go somewhere nice.
OMG – the inconvenience of it all!! Perhaps it’s time for a bit of data (facts) to inform the discussion among many constituencies.
Fresh Direct trucks stay longer but delivery trucks of all stripes continuously block traffic. They make bus travel an. Unpredictable nightmare, the only alternative for those of us who can’t climb subway steps.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND. If you want less delivery trucks blocking streets, stop ordering on-line and buy-local. There will still be delivery trucks delivering your merchandise to brick and mortar stores, but much less. It will be the equivalent of all customers taking one bus to the store rather than each arriving in their own car with driver.
I’m assuming that the Smiths don’t regularly buy from Amazon Fresh or Fresh Direct. Good for them. But their neighbors are buying from both, and many more, and demanding almost immediate delivery. the point is whether we are going to lose all retail in our neighborhoods. Using empty stores for “mini-warehouses” is a solution that adds nothing to the neighborhood except encouragement of online purchasing. Imagine what it will be like to walk down the street and pass by those warehouses. Boxes on the sidewalk, stairs going down into basements left open with no guards, on and on. Not a pretty picture, no matter how it plays out.
I must say that I find all of this a sad commentary on our contemporary life–shops closing because people would prefer to order online means fewer interactions with shopkeepers, restauranteurs, fellow shoppers/diners, etc. Same with watching Netflix at home rather than going to a cinema. The loss of a sense of belonging to a community. The social implications are enormous….
This can change for the better. Hopefully soon.
I was told when a Fresh Direct truck sat below our apartment, in a bus stop, for endless hours and then a second truck would come, reload the original truck, and now they’re blocking two lanes, with the a.c running—it was summer—or the refrigeration running— they don’t care about ticketing because the company just pays a huge fine annually. Don’t know if that last bit is true. Do know the trucks drive us crazy and Gail Brewer was helpful.
i shop at the store. I usually go to West Side Market at 97 & Bway, the produce is great, but it’s a little pricey. Occasionally i’ll go to Associated on Amsterdam; the aisles are so tight it’s hard to get around, and the prices are not so great either… but the produce is just as good as at WSM, or almost so… though less varied.
the bottom line with all this online ordering seems to what proud Internet grocery shopper “89th and Amsterdam” said above:
“We order from Fresh Direct… so that we don’t have to shop alongside whack-jobs at Zabar’s and Fairway!”
Judging from that, it sure seems to be an anti-social impulse.
Shopping at stores is much, much more energy efficient — “greener.” So in fact there is a large “externality.” We are all paying for the Internet shopper’s convenience.
Key Food really did a number on that Associated after they bought it. Jacked the prices way up. I avoid it as much as possible now. I still miss Food City on Columbus.
For some of us, deliveries are our only option. I’m wheelchair bound and do not have someone to shop for me as needed. The only option for me is to have stuff delivered. Believe me, it is not cheap (delivery fees, surcharges, etc.) and food is not always available as needed.
I can’t just get out the door to shop and rely heavily on various services (including the overpriced fees of Amazon Fresh).
It’s clear that I’m not the only one who, for different or the same reasons, avail themselves of these services.
Other than fairway and zabars (available only from the overpriced Instacart for deliveries so I don’t use), there are no real places to shop besides Trader Joe’s, which I can’t access even if I could get out (picture being in a wheelchair in a typical trader joe’s. Not gonna happen.)
ALthough I appreciate the legitimate concerns expressed here, some of us absolutely need these options. There should be some way to make this work so that so many folks are not inconvenienced by it.
And frankly, from what I’ve seen and heard from others, it’s more UPS, USPS and FedEx trucks that don’t seem to move much or are constantly replaced one after another. Maybe that’s why there’s the “way too many trucks” issue with food deliveries.
I agree that delivery is a godsend to people who have disabilities or for some other reason are not able to shop.
Back in the day (i.e. a few years ago), the local supermarkets had delivery services, with people delivering by handtruck. That is now gone, for the most part.
There’s the same problem on Central Park West too. So many delivery trucks double park and block lanes and especially the bike lanes that someone got killed in last year!
I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the very obvious problem of illegal parking by NYPD and city vehicles (and personal vehicles with placards, which do not authorize illegal parking to begin with but are routinely given a pass by traffic agents). By blocking the loading zones that do exist, they make it difficult for delivery trucks to operate. That doesn’t excuse dangerous behavior by delivery drivers, but it is a big part of the problem.
We definitely need more loading zones, and the demand for “free” parking is one of the obstacles to better use of our curb space. If the drivers occupying most of the curb had to pay competitive rates for parking, there would be many fewer cars clogging the street. So tell the city to give some cars the boot and make more short-term loading!
yes parking problems are torture but so is Trader Joe’s on 72nd st./Bway. They are an unwelcome addition to an already crowded dirty street. The lines, the hordes of people, the homeless that gather there, go away! Take your moldy fruit, your spoiled food, and your frantic shoppers and please go elsewhere. We want and need a real supermarket with brand names, good fresh food, and local shoppers who actually live here. We don’t need commuters who have no respect for our neighborhood and who leave all their trash on our sidewalks. I live here and rarely if ever go into the store; so many of us just want a Morton Williams or any supermarket that thrives on the UES. Why is the UWS the dumping ground for junk?…Marshalls being another example. Anyway, TJ is a blight ….end of story.
I bet you people all denigrate the suburbs. It’s an absolute pleasure to grocery shop here, rain or shine. And no Fresh Direct trucks here in the close-in Westchester suburbs.
Fairway in Harlem and the UWS, a mess. Fairway in Pelham Manor, beautiful.