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Lost in Translation? Considering Overseas Freight Planning Designs through a North American Lens

Publication: Goods Movement 2030: An Urban Freight Blog
Publication Date: 2023

At the spring Urban Freight Lab (UFL) meeting, members heard about four innovative approaches to planning streets so both people and goods can move more efficiently, safely, and sustainably. The catch? Europe is the only place most of these ideas have successfully scaled. So, how might these ideas translate or get adapted to a North American context as we look toward 2030?

In our last blog, we talked about an integrated freight and pedestrian approach Gothenburg, Sweden, has had on its streets for two decades. London, for its part, has had a low-emission zone (LEZ) for a decade and a half, with plans to expand its ultra-low-emission zone (ULEZ) in summer 2023. Meantime, in North American cities by and large we’re still figuring out how to pilot innovations — let alone roll them out on city streets in a big way.

And that’s no surprise, said Philippe Crist of the The International Transport Forum (ITF).

“Going from what is possible to what is actionable is going to be challenging in some instances, quite difficult in some instances, and in a handful of leading cities we’ll see some real progress,” Crist told UFL members. “And that’s OK because that’s how progress happens.”

So, what can we tackle first to make headway here? Ramp up modeling of innovative strategies, then test them on the street — much like the UFL has done with parcel lockers, a zero-emission last-mile delivery hub, and a first-of-its-kind real-time and forecasting curb parking app for commercial delivery drivers. Maybe that’s how we come up with a homegrown U.S. approach that works for our diverse physical and political landscape.

Here, we explore UFL member reflections to four innovative strategies presented and discussed at the spring meeting. We share overall reactions as well as questions and concerns raised about the challenges such strategies might face in a North American environment.

Recommended Citation:
“Lost in Translation? Considering Overseas Freight Planning Designs through a North American Lens.” Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, May 15, 2023.

Mapping the Challenges to Sustainable Urban Freight

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Publication Date: 2022

Just as there has been a push for more climate-friendly passenger travel in recent years, that same push is building for freight travel. At the same time ecommerce is booming and goods delivery in cities is rising, sustainability has become a policy focus for city governments and a corporate priority for companies.

Why? Cities report being motivated to be responsive to residents, businesses, and the goals of elected leaders. Companies report being motivated by cost reduction, efficiency, branding and customer loyalty, and corporate responsibility.

For its part, Amazon in 2019 pledged to become a net-zero carbon business by 2040. In the wake of that pledge, Amazon financially supported this Urban Freight Lab research examining two key questions:

  1. What is the current state of sustainable urban freight planning in the United States?
  2. What are the challenges to achieving a sustainable urban freight system in the United States and Canada?

Because the research literature reveals that denser, more populous cities are the areas most impacted by climate change, we focused our analysis on the 58 cities representing the largest, densest, and fastest-growing cities in the U.S. found within the nation’s 25 largest, densest, and fastest-growing metro areas. Our population, growth, and density focus resulted in heavy concentration in California, Texas, and Florida and light representation in the Midwest.

Within those 58 cities, we reviewed 243 city planning documents related to transportation and conducted 25 interviews with public and private stakeholders. We intentionally sought out both the public and private sectors because actors in each are setting carbon-reduction goals and drafting plans and taking actions to address climate change in the urban freight space.

In our research, we found that:

  1. The overwhelming majority of cities currently have no plans to support sustainable urban freight. As of today, ten percent of the cities considered in this research have taken meaningful steps towards decarbonizing the sector.
  2. Supply chains are complex and the focus on urban supply chain sustainability is relatively new. This reality helps explain the myriad challenges to moving toward a sustainable urban freight system.
  3. For city governments, those challenges include a need to adapt existing tools and policy levers or create new ones, as well as a lack of resources and leadership to make an impact in the industry.
  4. For companies, those challenges include concerns about the time, cost, technology, and labor complexity such moves could require.

“Sustainability” can mean many things. In this research, we define sustainable urban freight as that which reduces carbon dioxide emissions, with their elimination—which we refer to as decarbonization—as the ultimate end goal. This definition represents just one environmental impact of urban freight and does not include, for example, noise pollution, NOx or SOx emissions, black carbon, or particulate matter.

We define urban freight as last-mile delivery within cities, including parcel deliveries made by companies like Amazon and UPS and wholesale deliveries made by companies like Costco and Pepsi. We do not include regional or drayage/port freight as those merely transit through cities and face distinct sustainability barriers.

Authors: Urban Freight Lab
Recommended Citation:
Urban Freight Lab (2022). Mapping the Challenges to Sustainable Urban Freight.
Technical Report

Characterization of Seattle’s Commercial Traffic Patterns: A Greater Downtown Area and Ballard/Interbay Vehicle Count and Evaluation

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Publication Date: 2021

Seattle now ranks as the nation’s sixth-fastest growing city and is among the nation’s densest. As the city grows, so do truck volumes — volumes tied to economic growth for Seattle and the region as a whole. But many streets are already at capacity during peak hours and bottleneck conditions are worsening. This project is designed to deliver critical granular baseline data on commercial vehicle movement in two key areas of the city to help the city effectively and efficiently plan for growing freight demand.

This timely research from the Urban Freight Lab (UFL) on behalf of the Seattle Department of Transportation produces Seattle’s first complete estimate of Greater Downtown area traffic volumes. And it offers a detailed analysis of commercial vehicle traffic in and around one of the city’s two major industrial centers, the Ballard-Interbay Northern Manufacturing Industrial Center.

These efforts are significant because the city has lacked a comprehensive estimate of commercial vehicle volumes until now. In the Greater Downtown area, the cordon counts (tracking traffic in and out of 39 entry/exit points) alongside traffic volume estimates will provide a powerful tool for local government to model, evaluate, develop, and refine transportation planning policies. This study lays the groundwork for the first commercial vehicle traffic model that will enable the evaluation of different freight planning and traffic management strategies, economic growth scenarios, and application of new freight vehicle technologies. Ballard-Interbay is slated for major infrastructure projects in the coming years, including new Sound Transit stations and critical bridge replacements. This analysis will help inform these projects, which are critical to an efficient, reliable transportation system for goods and people.

One overall finding merits attention as it suggests the need to update some of the freight network element categories defined in the current Seattle Freight Master Plan. The SCTL research team finds that the volume of smaller commercial vehicles (such as pick-ups, vans, and step vans) is significant in both the Greater Downtown area and Ballard-Interbay, representing more than half of all commercial vehicles observed (54% in the Greater Downtown area and 60% in Ballard-Interbay.) Among those smaller commercial vehicles, it is service vehicles that constitute a significant share of commercial traffic (representing 30% in the Greater Downtown area and 40% in Ballard-Interbay.) Among the myriad possible ramifications of this finding is parking planning. An earlier SCTL research paper (1) found service vehicles tend to have longer dwell times, with 44% of all observed service vehicles parked for more than 30 minutes and 27% parked for an hour or more. Given this study’s finding of service vehicles representing a significant share of commercial traffic volume, these vehicles may have a disproportionate impact on parking space rates at the curb.

Comprehensive planning requires comprehensive data. Yet cities like Seattle often lack the detailed data needed for effective freight planning, from peak hours and fleet composition to activity type and gateways of entry/exit. And if cities do have data, they are often too highly aggregated to be useful for management or planning or suffer from lack of comparability or data confidentiality problems.

Currently, urban traffic volume estimates by Puget Sound agencies are limited in spatial and vehicular detail. For example:

  • Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is responsible for recording traffic counts through the year on selected arterial streets in Seattle, providing a seasonally adjusted average weekday total vehicle traffic for all lanes at all count locations.
  • Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) provides annual average daily traffic volumes in select locations of their jurisdiction, including the major interstates and state highways in the Seattle area. This data includes truck volume separated into three types: single, double, and triple units.
  • Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) regional truck model has three levels of vehicle classification: light commercial, medium trucks, and heavy trucks. This is based on WSDOT Annual Traffic Flow’s count locations and additional manual counts for model validation through the Puget Sound Region.

But none of these existing efforts produce enough detail to understand Seattle’s vehicle movements or connect them with economic activity. To fill the gap, Seattle could consider adopting a standard freight-data reporting system that would emphasize collecting and distributing richer and better data for time-series analysis and other freight forecasting, similar to systems used in cities like Toronto and London. Seattle is a national leader when it comes to freight master plans. This study offers a critical snapshot of the detailed data needed for effective policy and planning, potentially informing everything from road maintenance and traffic signals to electric vehicle charging station sites and possible proposals for congestion pricing. That said, Seattle could benefit greatly from sustained, ongoing detailed data reporting.

Recommended Citation:
Urban Freight Lab (2021). Characterization of Seattle's Commercial Traffic Patterns: A Greater Downtown Area and Ballard/Interbay Vehicle Count and Evaluation.
Technical Report

Improved Freight Modeling of Containerized Cargo Shipments between Ocean Port, Handling Facility, and Final Market for Regional Policy and Planning

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Publication: Transportation Northwest (TransNow)
Publication Date: 2008
The proposed research will address an emerging need by local, state and regional transportation planners and policymakers to better understand the transportation characteristics, functions and dynamics of ocean port-to-handling facility and handling facility-to-final market freight movements. The research will also address a gap in the academic literature for freight transportation models that capture underlying economic forces. This research effort will focus on the development and refinement of a regional freight model of urban container movements from the port to a handling facility and beyond. Existing regional transportation planning models and analytical tools have evolved from passenger travel demand models that are ill-suited to fully capture the business decisions and economic influences driving urban freight flows and have been further constrained by access to appropriate freight data. This research activity proposes a modeling approach which will capture the fundamental economic choices individual shippers consider when trading-off the marginal benefits/costs associated with warehouse inventory management/control relative to transportation access and flow while incorporating the primary freight generation activity centers (warehouse/distribution centers) in the Puget Sound region. This work will identify, evaluate and incorporate data for the Puget Sound region recently available from a variety of existing sources. Some data collection may also be necessary. The final product of this research study will be an improved tool to understand current and future freight movements through the Puget Sound region, and a methodology which will expand the current state of knowledge, and may be applied in other regions, both domestic and international. It will allow more in-depth and timely evaluation and analysis of different local/regional transportation policy initiatives such as the impact of migration of the main warehousing region, and development of inland inter-modal port facilities.



Authors: Dr. Anne Goodchild, Kaori Fugisawa, Eric Jessup
Recommended Citation:
Goodchild, Anne V., Eric L. Jessup, and Kaori Fugisawa. Improved Freight Modeling of Containerized Cargo Shipments between Ocean Port, Handling Facility, and Final Market for Regional Policy and Planning. No. TNW2008-08. 2008.

Freeway Truck Travel Time Prediction for Freight Planning Using Truck Probe GPS Data

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Publication: European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research.
Volume: 16
Pages: 76-94
Publication Date: 2016

Predicting truck (heavy vehicle) travel time is a principal component of freight project prioritization and planning. However, most existing travel time prediction models are designed for passenger vehicles and fail to make truck specific forecasts or use truck specific data. Little is known about the impact of this limitation, or how truck travel time prediction could be improved in response to freight investments with an improved methodology. In light of this, this paper proposes a pragmatic multi-regime speed-density relationship based approach to predict freeway truck travel time using empirical truck probe GPS data (which is increasingly available in North American and Europe) and loop detector data. Traffic regimes are segmented using a cluster analysis approach. Two case studies are presented to illustrate the approach. The travel time estimates are compared with the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) model and the Akçelik model outputs. It is found that the proposed method is able to estimate more accurate travel times than traditional methods. The predicted travel time can support freight prioritization and planning.

Recommended Citation:
Wang, Zun, Anne V. Goodchild, and Edward McCormack. "Freeway truck travel time prediction for freight planning using truck probe GPS data." European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research 16, no. 1 (2016).