Understanding the Final 50 Feet in Urban Goods Delivery
What is the Final 50 Feet?
Established by the Urban Freight Lab, the “Final 50 Feet” extends beyond the last mile, the final mile, and the middle mile of goods delivery, zooming in to the final segment of the supply chain for urban deliveries.
The Final 50 Feet journey begins with a delivery driver searching for adequate parking, then transferring items from the delivery truck, navigating a route across traffic and through urban obstacles (like intersections, bike lanes, curb cuts, sidewalks, and building security protocols), concluding when the intended recipient takes receipt of their parcel. The Final 50 Feet involves both public and private elements, and plays a pivotal role in preserving brand reputation and ensuring customer satisfaction.
Significance of the Final 50 Feet
The Final 50 Feet stands out as the most resource-intensive and time-consuming stage of the delivery process, contributing significantly (25% to 50%) to overall transportation supply chain costs. Recognizing the ripe opportunity for improvement and innovation, the Urban Freight Lab has undertaken the re-engineering of this critical segment for optimized performance and maximum efficiency.
Urban Freight Lab’s Final 50 Feet Research Program
Launched in 2016, the Urban Freight Lab’s Final 50 Feet Research Program employs a systems engineering approach to improve the final segment of supply chain. This marks the first instance of research analyzing both the street network and the city’s vertical space, including residential and commercial high-rise towers, as one integrated goods delivery system.
The Final 50 Feet Research Program has two primary goals: reducing carbon emissions (per package per hour) and increasing curb efficiency for goods delivery (number of packages delivered per meter of curb per hour). Research projects under the Final 50 Feet umbrella analyze processes, develop potential solutions, and pilot test operational improvements in the street network and the city’s vertical spaces, including offices, hotels, retail and residential towers.
Ecommerce Boom Fuels Demand for Already Scarce Space in the Final 50 Feet
The explosive growth of ecommerce has disrupted traditional delivery operations, placing immense pressure on the goods delivery system. This has resulted in increased congestion, unloading challenges, and noise pollution. As cities continue to grow, businesses must find ways to navigate increasing traffic and meeting the ever-increasing customer expectations for quick deliveries.
For the last four decades, deliveries were primarily performed by a private sector shipping industry operating within general city traffic conditions. However, the explosion of ecommerce has disrupted traditional operations, placing tremendous pressure on the goods delivery system. This has presented unprecedented challenges for shippers, who must now cope with increased volume while aiming to meet customer expectations for near-instant delivery, further straining already congested city streets. This is evident in common urban scenes in cities: delivery vehicles parked in travel lanes or bike lanes, couriers unloading on crowded sidewalks, and commercial truck noise during late nights and early mornings.
Optimizing the Last Leg of the Urban Goods Delivery System for Efficiency and Customer Satisfaction
As cities continue to attract new residents high expectations for near-instant gratification, businesses operating in urban environments face a formidable challenge. Seattle, now the fifth-fastest growing and the fourth most congested city in the U.S., must find ways to navigate aggravating traffic, compete for limited street space, and meet the ever-increasing customer demands for quick deliveries. Urban Freight Lab research suggests that if cities do not redesign the way they manage the increasing number of commercial vehicles unloading goods in streets and alleys and into buildings, the risk reaching total gridlock:
- During most business hours, Commercial Vehicle Load Zones (CVLZ) experience exceptionally high occupancy rates, often reaching 90% or higher, as shown in our curb parking utilization study
- In Seattle’s urban core, a mere 13% of buildings have private loading bays or docks, while the remaining 87% rely solely on curb and alley load/unload spaces, as demonstrated in our loading bay inventory study
- An overwhelming 90% of alleys in downtown Seattle are constrained to a single lane width, which limits alley parking to one or two vehicles at a time, as demonstrated by our alley inventory and occupancy study
Innovative Solutions to the Final 50 Feet Problem
Since beginning in 2016, the Final 50 Feet Research Program has been at the forefront of piloting groundbreaking solutions to address the challenge, including testing innovative approaches.
- Common Carrier Lockers Unlock Efficiency and Create Density: Common parcel lockers can create delivery density and optimize operations by enabling carriers to leave deliveries in one secure location. Our Final 50 Feet Urban Goods Delivery System: Common Carrier Locker Pilot Test at the Seattle Municipal Tower study reduced the average time delivery workers spent in the building by 73% and failed deliveries decreased to zero.
- Common Neighborhood Microhubs: Also known as “logistics hotels” or “urban consolidation centers”, microhubs are centralized drop-off/pick-up points. By consolidating trips and providing additional services conveniently onsite, these hubs can minimize emissions and vehicle miles traveled when the customer completes their own last mile. We tested a Neighborhood Delivery Hub in Seattle’s Uptown neighborhood and saw the efficiency microbhubs can create.
- Cargo Bike Delivery: Compared to conventional delivery trucks and vans, cargo bikes offer heightened agility and a smaller spatial footprint. Our Cargo E-Bike Delivery Pilot Test in Seattle showed that traditional commercial vehicles spend an average of 50 minutes per day searching for parking space, while cargo bikes have the advantage of potentially parking anywhere, a distinct advantage that can significantly increase efficiency.
- Integrated Planning: While passenger and freight transport often utilize the same infrastructure, predominantly in urban areas, they are largely perceived as different systems and remain separate. However, our Freight and Transit Lane Case Study found that restricted multi-use lane strategies have the potential to address urban freight challenges.
Completed Final 50 Feet Research Projects
- The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System (2016-2018)
- Common Carrier Locker Pilot Test at Seattle Municipal Tower (2017-2018)
- Documenting Loading Bays, Demonstrating Parcel Lockers’ Proof of Concept, and Tracking Curb Use in Seattle’s Interconnected Load/Unload Network (2017-2019)
- Pilot Test of an Innovative Improvement Strategy (2017-2019)
- Developing Design Guidelines for Commercial Vehicle Envelopes on Urban Streets (2017-2019)
- Seattle Center City Alley Infrastructure Inventory and Occupancy Study (2018)
- Cordon Data Collection for Trucks and Cars: Greater Downtown Seattle Area (2018-2019)
Published Reports in the Final 50 Feet Program
- The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System (Executive Summary) (2018)
- The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System (Final Report) (2018)
- Evaluation of Sound Transit Train Stations and Transit-Oriented Development Areas for Common Carrier Locker Systems Phase 1 (Executive Summary) (2018)
- Evaluation of Sound Transit Train Stations and Transit-Oriented Development Areas for Common Carrier Locker Systems Phase 1 (Final Report) (2018)
- The Final 50 Feet Urban Goods Delivery System: Common Carrier Locker Pilot Test at the Seattle Municipal Tower Final Report (2018)
- Seattle Center City Alley Infrastructure Inventory and Occupancy Study (2018)
- The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System: Tracking Curb Use in Seattle (2019)
- Technology Integration to Gain Commercial Efficiency for the Urban Goods Delivery System, Meet Future Demand for City Passenger and Delivery Load/Unload Spaces, and Reduce Energy Consumption Year One Progress Report (2019)
- Cargo E-Bike Delivery Pilot Test in Seattle (2020)
- The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System: Completing Seattle’s Greater Downtown Inventory of Private Loading & Unloading Infrastructure (2020)
- The Final 50 Feet: Urban Goods Delivery System Toolkit (2020)