Improving Truck Loading/Unloading in Downtown Nantucket

Sponsor: Nantucket Planning Office
Sponsor Liaison: Patrick Reed
Student Team: David Clancy, Cole Rabe, Allan Villatoro, Mike Wilkinson
Abstract: Nantucket relies heavily on freight from the mainland via the ferry. Due to the limited space and high seasonal tourist traffic, Nantucket’s downtown core district faces severe congestion and limited curbside space for freight trucks to distribute their cargo, especially in summer. Our project goal was to analyze the effects trucking has on downtown and propose strategies to alleviate them. Based on our interviews, observations, and research, we recommend that Nantucket consider the following actions to address the issues faced and caused by trucks downtown: (1) Provide clearer information about routes out of the core, (2) Reconfigure some existing loading zones and create some new ones, (3) Improve signage about loading zones, and (4) Increase fines for illegally parking in loading zones.

Final Report: Trucks_Final_Report

Final Presentation: Trucks_Final_Presentation

Executive Summary

Now more than ever, we rely on delivery services to bring goods and products to businesses and homes. In 2020, delivery services carried 24.8 billion parcels in the United States, an increase of 12.6 billion from 2015 (UPU, 2021). In commercial and population centers, however, the last leg of freight transportation can become a problem. Large numbers of trucks are required to meet the high demand, and they become major causes of congestion and pollution in places like downtown Nantucket.

The town of Nantucket finds itself in a unique position as an island, tourist destination, and a national historic landmark. At the peak of the tourist season, the town’s daytime population can increase to over 60,000 people, all of which are primarily supported by freight delivered by trucks that must first be ferried to the island. Relying on ferries means that instead of arriving throughout the day, trucks are offloaded in groups that drive off the ferry straight onto the narrow streets of Nantucket’s historic core. As a result, they compete for space with residents and tourists alike, contributing to congestion on the already packed roads. The spike in demand for curbside space can also overwhelm the available supply, which leads to trucks disrupting traffic by stopping in travel lanes to unload. Even trucks that find curbside space to load or unload can obstruct visibility for pedestrians, and others are forced to pull up over the curb onto the sidewalk by the narrow streets, reducing its effective width for the high volumes of foot traffic. 

To that end, the goal of our project was to propose strategies to alleviate the problems associated with truck loading/unloading in downtown Nantucket. We accomplished this goal through the following four project objectives:

  1. Identify current practices and lessons learned in the management of truck loading/unloading in selected towns that face similar problems and constraints to Nantucket.
  2. Determine the periods and locations of peak demand for loading/unloading in downtown Nantucket and identify contributing factors to curbside inefficiencies.
  3. Solicit stakeholder perspectives on the causes, consequences, and solutions to the loading/unloading problems in downtown Nantucket.
  4. Review and evaluate potential strategies to address truck loading and unloading problems in downtown Nantucket in consultation with the selected stakeholders.

To achieve this goal and accomplish our objectives, we researched strategies for transportation management in several other locations and spoke with transportation officials. We also used existing data, interviews with stakeholders, and our own observations to determine when, where, and why trucks cause problems while loading and unloading in downtown Nantucket and what issues arise. 


Conclusions and Recommendations

Through our research, we have developed several conclusions regarding truck loading/unloading and freight movement in downtown Nantucket that each have at least one accompanying recommendation. Our conclusions and recommendations address both the identified core issues and seasonal challenges.


Conclusion 1: Tourists and new truck drivers lack the knowledge required to navigate Nantucket.  Experienced truck drivers have a solid understanding of the layout of Nantucket, but the newer ones have trouble navigating downtown. Tourists also have trouble navigating downtown, and sometimes park in loading zones, which creates many issues for truck drivers.

Recommendation 1: The Town should consider developing an online guide or graphic for navigation in downtown Nantucket. This guide will make it easier to navigate downtown, and reduce the amount of tourists who unknowingly park illegally.


Conclusion 2: The loading zones in downtown Nantucket are not used to full capacity.  Limited zone size, absence of crosswalks, and limited room to maneuver deter truck drivers from using the loading zones as intended and can lead trucks to park illegally, block traffic, and exacerbate congestion.

Recommendation 2: Nantucket should consider reconfiguring three of its existing loading zones to increase their utility to truck drivers and alleviate related issues, such as trucks blocking pedestrian crosswalks.


Conclusion 3: Current number of loading zones do not provide enough capacity to meet demand. Even with the full utilization of every loading zone in downtown Nantucket, the demand for space to stop and unload can still overwhelm the available supply.

Recommendation 3: Nantucket should consider creating some new loading zones to expand coverage in underserved areas and add capacity elsewhere, while also creating some new spaces for passenger vehicle parking.


Conclusion 4: The current signage for loading zones in downtown is unclear.  Signs marking loading zones blend into the background and the instructions are confusing for truckers and tourists; some signs are missing or poorly placed.

Recommendation 4: Nantucket should consider clarifying the signage used for loading zones so fewer people overlook them.


Conclusion 5: Current fines are not sufficient enough to deter illegal parking.  Fines for parking illegally in loading zones in Nantucket are very low compared with other jurisdictions. Other jurisdictions have found raising fines to be an effective policy to ease congestion.

Recommendation 5: Nantucket should consider increasing the fine for illegal parking in loading zones.