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The Freight Space Race: Planning Streets for More Efficient & Sustainable Movement of People & Goods

Publication Date: 2023

Space is the scarcest resource in cities. How can we best use street space to do more for more street users?

Mention the “space race” and it tends to conjure up the Cold War-era competition between the United States and the then-USSR to “conquer” outer space. But at the winter meeting of the Urban Freight Lab (UFL), members heard about a different race playing out on our streets right under our noses. It’s what Philippe Crist of the International Transportation Forum (ITF) dubs the freight space race.

That race is about managing the competing demands for space in cities. Users of the space are competing to retain and grow space for their needs to improve deliveries, urban function, and residents’ well-being. For urban freight advocates it’s about making deliveries in cities less disruptive and more sustainable by focusing on the street space use of freight activities. It’s a race involving freight carriers, freight receivers, governments, and communities.

The freight space race isn’t new. But it’s been amplified and made more visible in the wake of the intertwined ecommerce boom and the Covid-19 pandemic, as planners in many cities scrambled to create public spaces for people through things like street closures, parks, and pedestrian ways.

Meantime, by and large, considering city space for goods has been an afterthought. And when goods delivery is considered, it tends to be siloed from the work of planning streets for people. So, there’s a freight plan, maybe. (Our research into 58 of the largest, densest, and fastest-growing cities found most do not have freight plans.) A bike plan. A transit plan. A pedestrian plan. But there’s nothing that integrates everything at the street level across all users.

This siloing hasn’t served cities or the freight sector particularly well. The rise of the “complete streets” concept is a rejoinder of sorts. (And, notably, UFL member Seattle Department of Transportation for the first time plans to create a multimodal and integrated 20-year transportation plan, later this year.) Unsurprisingly, given the less-than-stellar siloed approach to planning, UFL members prioritized planning streets for people and goods as a key topic in the Goods Movement 2030 project.

Recommended Citation:
“The Freight Space Race: Planning Streets for More Efficient & Sustainable Movement of People & Goods” Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, April 4, 2023.

What is Microfreight? Downsizing Delivery for a Multimodal and Sustainable Future

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

“Why deliver two-pound burritos in two-ton cars?”

That’s the question posed by sidewalk delivery robot company Serve, which is delivering food in places like Los Angeles. Sure, using something other than a car for items like a burrito makes sense. But what about a sofa? Urban delivery is all about right-sizing, context, and connecting logically and efficiently to the broader delivery network.

At the Urban Freight Lab (UFL), we talk about things like sidewalk delivery robots and e-bikes as microfreight. Microfreight is about moving goods using smaller, more sustainable modes where possible. Think micromobility, but for moving goods, not people, in the last mile of delivery.

Microfreight was one of the four topics UFL members voted to explore as part of the Urban Freight in 2030 Project. In the right city context, using microfreight can be both economical for freight businesses and more sustainable in terms of decarbonization and city dweller quality of life. We intentionally chose to hold the UFL spring meeting on microfreight in New York City, a city on the leading edge of the multimodal goods movement. The city’s perch on that leading edge makes sense, as the densest city in the U.S.; a city with sky-high delivery demand coming from people living in sky-high towers; and a city government working to proactively manage that reality. To be sure, NYC is one of a kind when it comes to dense, vertical living. Because of this density and intense interaction between modes, the Big Apple is an important place to watch — and a great place for us to share learning, expertise, and ideas.

And when we watched the Midtown Manhattan streets during that UFL meeting, we saw throngs of people on e-bikes and cargo bikes making food and ecommerce deliveries. But microfreight is about much more than just bikes. It includes personal delivery devices (PDDs) and drones. It even includes walking, an element that permeates nearly every last-mile delivery segment, especially the final 50 feet of a trip. Yet walking is something normally talked about for moving people, much less so for moving goods. To be sure, we saw plenty of deliveries being made on foot while in NYC, too!

Here’s a rundown of what we consider to be microfreight.

Recommended Citation:
"What is Microfreight? Downsizing Delivery for a Multimodal and Sustainable Future." Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, June 19, 2023.

What Policies Would Speed Cargo Bike Adoption in U.S. Cities? Urban Freight Lab Members Weigh In.

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

It becomes easier to understand the barriers to scaling up cargo bikes for last-mile delivery when you hear Mark Chiusano, Owner/CEO of Cornucopia Logistics and affiliates, talk about the complexity of operations in New York City. Cornucopia works with Amazon (both companies are Urban Freight Lab members) to run a fleet of more than 100 cargo bikes making thousands of weekly deliveries for Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods locations in Manhattan. (Amazon owns Whole Foods.)

Pricey Midtown Manhattan space is leased in a private parking garage across from an Amazon warehouse to store the bike and trailer fleet. But fire prevention and other safety rules prevent the bikes from being charged there, so bike batteries have to be transported to a separate charging station, then back to the Midtown garage. And other rules — both federal and state — wind up limiting the models of cargo bikes that can be used and how they can be used. The bike fleet requires constant maintenance, yet vendors that supply skilled commercial e-bike mechanics are still few and far between. While bikes don’t require a commercial driver’s license to operate (unlike vans or trucks), wages for bikers must compete with those of van/truck drivers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost per delivery can be higher with cargo bikes than with a traditional van.

These are among the challenges of trying to scale cargo bikes for last-mile delivery in the U.S. — a key discussion at the spring meeting of the Urban Freight Lab, held in New York City. We talked a lot about potential policy solutions to surmount such challenges, too, given the growing focus on building a net-zero future. And we shared research, emerging pilots and expertise from both the public and private sectors.

To tease out possible paths to scale, members weighed in on the feasibility and effectiveness of six strategies for overcoming roadblocks in this blog post.

Recommended Citation:
“What Policies Would Speed Cargo Bike Adoption in U.S. Cities? Urban Freight Lab Members Weigh In.” Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, July 20, 2023.

Goods Movement 2030: What Have We Done and What is Next?

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

A year and a half ago, our members decided to dig into four topics for the Goods Movement 2030 project (Electrification, Digital Transformation, Planning Streets for People and Goods, and Microfreight). They all — public and private sector alike — saw these areas as transformative. And they identified six priorities around which we hope to see improved outcomes for 2030 (Reducing CO2 Emissions, Reducing Congestion, Reducing Roadway Fatalities, Increasing and Improving Protected Spaces for Vulnerable Users, Making Transparent the Cost of Delivery, and Improving Equity).

From myriad lively discussions, debates, and expert-led learning over the last 18 months, this much is clear: Each of the four topics we’ve explored together cries out for deep and broad collaboration between the public and private sectors if we’re going to move the needle on our consensus priorities.

And the good news? Our members have already shown that they’re willing and able to approach that needed collaboration with curious minds and radical transparency (not to mention their demonstrated commitment to innovating and having tough conversations.) All of this bodes well for both the present — and the future we’ve all been working to imagine and shape.

While all six priorities surfaced throughout this project, it’s decarbonization that came up in virtually every discussion on every topic. On equity, we had to grapple early on with what that even means in urban freight.

This blog presents a Cliffs Notes recap of big-picture project takeaways.

Recommended Citation:
“Goods Movement 2030: What Have We Done and What Is Next?” Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, October 24, 2023.

Generating Opportunity for All (GOAL): Microfreight Hubs Feasibility in North Fort Smith, Arkansas

(This project is part of the Urban Freight Lab’s Technical Assistance Program, where UFL contributes to the project by providing 1:1 match funds in terms of staff and/or research assistants to complete project tasks.)

This project seeks to examine how microfreight hubs can increase equity to services, benefit historically marginalized communities, and be joined to share micromobility options, social service agencies, and minority businesses in North Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The Urban Freight Lab will assist Frontier MPO and the City of Fort Smith by sharing knowledge and providing feedback as they develop a cohesive strategy to develop a microfreight hub pilot project that leverages community resources.

The proposed goal is to create a cohesive strategy to develop a sound planning process, grow collaborative relationships, produce a sustainable business model, and implement a microfreight hub pilot project that leverages community resources.

Summary of Project Phases and Associated Tasks:

  • Assessment Phase
    • Task 1: Gather and review background information regarding the plans, policies, codes, and data related to establishing and implementing microfreight hubs within North Fort Smith.​
    • Task 2: Conduct literature review on microfreight hub operations and business model.
    • Task 3: Gather, review, and provide feedback on existing partnerships and stakeholders.
    • Task 4: Identify and review potential microfreight hub locations particularly locations that will enhance accessibility to vulnerable groups
  • Outreach and Learning Phase
    • Task 1: Deliver virtual interactive coaching session on establishing and building collaborative relationships and pilot lessons learned.
    • Task 2: Convene community champions, partners, freight carriers, and other stakeholders to develop clear understanding of community and stakeholder needs, concerns, and challenges.
    • Task 3: Develop next steps and any action plans for moving a microfreight hub forward.

Partner Organization: Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization, City of Fort Smith, Arkansas

The Urban Freight Lab awarded Technical assistance to the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization (FMPO) in Fort Smith, West Arkansas.