A Memphis business owner once said you could get away with murder downtown as long as you turn on your flashers.
Deliveries to restaurants and office buildings often bring big trucks to a halt on major thoroughfares like Front or Union during peak drive times. The truck drivers will brake, turn on their flashers (or hazard lights), hop out of the cab, open the cargo door, and unload their haul for as long as it takes — all the while blocking a lane of traffic.
"I work downtown, run into it every day, and can't stand it," said Memphian Ryan Jones. "There's got to be an alternative."
It's not murder, of course, but Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers are, indeed, instructed to look the other way when it comes to delivery trucks stopped downtown. MPD Major Keith Watson said Memphis is an old city, its streets aren't as wide as others, and his department has to help facilitate commerce downtown.
"We have to keep the city and the downtown area thriving because that's what it takes," Watson said.
Truck drivers know the police won't ticket them for on-street parking, Watson said. However, MPD will take action if a truck is completely blocking traffic, threatens traffic safety, has been abandoned, or does not have its hazard lights flashing.
Watson said civilian drivers just have to be careful. If a truck is blocking a lane of traffic, drivers should pull around them and "if they're able to drive on paved streets without going off the pavement, then it's a win-win situation for everyone."
"I would advise the citizenry or those individuals who may experience this to just have a little patience and allow commerce and trade to occur," Watson said. "If they partake in any of these businesses or companies that are recipients of these deliveries, it's needed. We have to allow it to occur."
Almost anyone who has driven in downtown Memphis has come across a truck blocking traffic. But Terence Patterson, president and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC), said he hasn't heard any complaints about it.
"It's urban living, and there are certain things that have to take place," Patterson said. "But, no, I haven't heard any complaints about [delivery trucks] stopping traffic or there being any safety concerns about it."
Patterson is willing to help, though, and said anyone with concerns about idled delivery trucks should contact his office.
Memphis is certainly not the only city dealing with downtown deliveries. The Federal Highway Administration said trucks delivering in downtown areas across the country cause 947,000 hours of vehicle delay annually.
Many cities have issued special guidelines for downtown delivery trucks drivers. In Columbia, Missouri, for example, smaller trucks are urged to use public alleys for loading and unloading.
But New York City and Pensacola, Florida, are taking it a step further. Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) gave the cities $200,000 for pilot programs testing an off-hours delivery program. The funds will help businesses there to re-tool their operations to make and receive deliveries at night when traffic counts are low.
DOT officials said if the program is successful, it could be launched in other cities, like Memphis.
"Moreover, it can become part of the solution to the larger congestion problem, bringing relief to people tired of spending hours stuck in traffic every day," DOT said in a blog post.