Access and Circulation at a Distribution Center

The equation for solving access-related issues seems to be a simple one: increase accessibility, reduce conflict points and voila! Problem solved, right? Not so fast. As any traffic engineer can attest to, identifying and implementing solutions to any traffic-related conflict – particularly those that impact accessibility – is seldom as cut and dry as one might think.

[Check out our Traffic Corner Tuesday video – Access and Circulation at a Distribution Center]

Strategy

When looking at access-management issues, we generally consider four strategies in developing a plan of action:

  1. Eliminate Access – Can the access points be moved or shut down entirely? This may not always be a viable option, but the most effective way to combat access-related issues is to eliminate the access altogether.
  2. Consolidate Access – When eliminating access is not ideal, we look at consolidating access points. Just look at the reduction of conflict points that resulted in the example below when three driveways were consolidated to be serviced by one single access road.

  1. Reduce Movements – The use of medians, implementation of a one-way traffic pattern, and enforcement of no-left turn restrictions are all effective ways to reduce conflict-causing movement around the access point.
  2. Improve Safety – The use of signage to educate drivers of upcoming conflict points can be an effective way to increase awareness of the conflict area and improve safety conditions around the conflict points. Signs and education campaigns can also be aimed at pedestrians to ensure they use crossing areas and are also observing traffic (put those phones down!).

Case Study: Indiana Distribution Center

We recently had the opportunity to assess access conflict at a rural Indiana warehouse, located along a state road. The lack of adequate space for trucks to maneuver in a way that allows them to back into the docking bay was forcing truckers to stop on the state road and reverse into the center access point to reach the access bay. This creates a hazard for the truck drivers, warehouse employees and motorists passing by, who may be forced to stop or maneuver around a reversing truck.

Analysis: Our goal going into this project was to determine how we can improve truck operations so that trucks are able to safely and efficiently service the distribution center. Using the strategy we developed above, we began to analyze the viable options for this site.

Our first consideration was Can we eliminate the conflict? By relocating the docking bay and closing the center access point, the problem would be eradicated completely. Unfortunately, moving the docking bay would require an overhaul of the layout of the warehouse that would likely cause a significant disruption of operations. Furthermore, this type of renovation could cost the business millions of dollars.

Another way to eliminate the conflict would be to close the center access and shift the truck movement in a way that allows trucks to do their maneuvering into the docking bay safely on-site. With the limited space available in front of the docking bay, this option would require some testing to determine its viability, but would be an ideal solution to the problem at hand.

The next steps in our strategy called for us to look at options that would reduce conflict-causing movements. One-way operations on the highway or adding a median to restrict movements were not feasible improvements. This lead us to our most extreme option, which was to shift the highway west to provide trucks the necessary space for maneuvers while not impeding the highway through traffic. This option presented a litany of concerns, starting with the fact that the project would be very expensive and could create a precedent of changing infrastructure to accommodate a single private entity. It’s an option that shouldn’t be ruled out, but one that would be challenging to execute.

The final option considered was the use of warning signs to improve the overall safety of the area. By warning motorists of potential hazards approaching in the roadway, at the very least the surprise factor when a motorist unexpectedly approaches a truck maneuvering in the roadway would be reduced.

Conclusion: After looking at various options and going through our four-step strategy, we concluded the best solution to this scenario was actually a combination of our identified solutions. We wanted to

  • increase awareness of the truck traffic through the use of signage
  • consolidate the access points and eliminate the off-site truck maneuvering by creating space for trucks to back into the loading dock on-site

We presented two options for doing this.

The first option we presented included installing a 2’ wide barrier that would extend at least 90’ from the loading dock doors. We designed this barrier to taper at the ends, so as to create a crash cushion.  We would remove the existing barrier, relocate the parking that is located at the front of the building and pave over some greenery to open up the area in front of the loading docks and create ample space for trucks to back into the dock without impeding traffic.

Our second option was very similar to the first, but we also closed off the southernmost access. We recommended removing the parking that is to the right of the existing south entrance and paving over the greenery that sits in front of the parking. We created a new access approximately 25 feet south of the opposing intersection. In addition to better lining up the opposing access driveways, this created a gentler entry for trucks to exit the highway quickly and efficiently by eliminating the need for them to make slow, tight right turns onto the property.

Ultimately, while the solutions that we presented aren’t a perfect fix, they are cost-effective and can be implemented with limited disruption of operation. Most importantly, safety for the employees, truckers, and passing motorists would be improved over the existing conditions.

Are you interested in learning more about Access and Circulation? Check out our Traffic Corner Tuesday video – Access and Circulation at a Distribution Center

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