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Seattle Microhub Delivery Pilot: Evaluating Emission Impacts and Stakeholder Engagement

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Publication: Case Studies on Transport Policy
Publication Date: 2023

Urban freight deliveries using microhubs and e-cargo cycles have been gaining attention in cities suffering from congestion and emissions. E-cargo cycle deliveries and microhubs used as transshipment points in urban cores can replace trucks to make cities more livable. This study describes and empirically evaluates an e-cargo tricycle pilot conducted with multi-sector stakeholders in Seattle to report the potential benefits and pitfalls of such practices. The pilot held stakeholder workshop sessions to collect inputs of interest and expectations from the project. Mobile devices used by drivers on e-cargo tricycle and cargo van routes collected delivery data to use for empirical assessment. Total vehicle miles traveled and tailpipe carbon emissions served as performance metrics when comparing e-cargo tricycle and cargo van deliveries. The results showed the net-benefit of the microhub and e-cargo tricycle routes depend on the upstream operations when replenishing packages.

The participatory approach to pilot design also provided insights into the factors of a successful pilot, with implications for scaling future e-cargo cycle delivery systems in North American cities. Namely, microhubs’ ability to host alternative revenue sources and value-added services is a boon for long-term financial competitiveness. However, lack of digital/physical infrastructure and work training/regulations specific to e-cargo cycle delivery operations present a barrier.

Recommended Citation:
Gunes, Seyma, Travis Fried, and Anne Goodchild. “Seattle Microhub Delivery Pilot: Evaluating Emission Impacts and Stakeholder Engagement.” Case Studies on Transport Policy. Elsevier BV, November 2023.

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.

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.

Ecommerce and Logistics Sprawl: A Spatial Exploration of Last-Mile Logistics Platforms

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Publication: Journal of Transport Geography
Volume: 112
Publication Date: 2023

The rise of ecommerce helped fuel consumer appetite for quick home deliveries. One consequence has been the placing of some logistics facilities in proximity to denser consumer markets. The trend departs from prevailing discussion on “logistics sprawl,” or the proliferation of warehousing into the urban periphery. This study spatially and statistically explores the facility- and region-level dimensions that characterize the centrality of ecommerce logistics platforms. Analyzing 910 operational Amazon logistics platforms in 89 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) between 2013 and 2021, this study estimates temporal changes in distances to relative, population centroids and population-weighted market densities. Results reveal that although some platforms serving last-mile deliveries are located closer to consumers than upstream distribution platforms to better fulfill time demands, centrality varies due to facility operating characteristics, market size, and when the platform opened.

Ecommerce has transformed the “consumption geography” of cities. These transformations have major implications for shopping behaviors and retail channels, last-mile operations and delivery mode choice, the management and pricing of competing uses for street and curb space, and the spatial ordering and functional role of logistics land uses. In the latter case, researchers have observed a diversification of logistics platforms to more efficiently serve home delivery demand. These platforms range from “dark stores” and “microfullfilment centers” that fulfill on-demand deliveries and omni-channeled retail without a consumer facing storefront, multi-use urban distribution centers that convert unproductive sites (e.g., abandoned rail depots) to more lucrative land uses, and “microhubs” that stage transloading between cargo vans and e-bicycles suited for dense urban neighborhoods.

Logistics spaces play an important role in improving urban livability and environmental sustainability. Planning decisions scale geographically from the region-level to the curb. Facilities such as urban consolidation centers and loading zones can mitigate common delivery inefficiencies, such as low delivery densities and “cruising” for parking, respectively. These inefficiencies generate many negative externalities including climate emissions, air and noise pollution, congestion, and heightened collision risks, especially for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists. Limited commercial data has made it difficult, however, to observe spatial patterns with regards to ecommerce logistics platforms.

Using detailed proprietary data, this paper explores the evolving spatial organization of ecommerce logistics platforms. Given the company’s preeminence as the leading online retailer in the U.S., the paper presents Amazon as a case study for understanding warehousing and distribution (W&D) activity in the larger ecommerce space. Utilizing proprietary data on Amazon logistics facilities between 2013 and 2021, this research explores the geographic shape and explanatory dimensions of ecommerce within major U.S. metropolitan areas. In the following section, this study defines the state of research related to broader W&D land use and its implications to ecommerce’s distinct consumption geography. Afterwards, two methodologies for measuring logistics centrality are tested: a temporally relative barycenter-based metric, the prevailing method in literature, and another GIS-based, population-weighted service distance metric. The two measurements reveal nuances between facility- and region-level differences in the spatial organization of ecommerce platforms, which has yet to be fully researched. After presenting results from an exploratory regression analysis, this study discusses implications for future urban logistics land use and transport decisions.

Recommended Citation:
Fried, T., & Goodchild, A. (2023). E-commerce and logistics sprawl: A spatial exploration of last-mile logistics platforms. Journal of Transport Geography, 112, 103692.
Student Thesis and Dissertations

Micro-Consolidation Practices in Urban Delivery Systems: Comparative Evaluation of Last Mile Deliveries Using e-Cargo Bikes and Microhubs

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Publication Date: 2021

The demand for home deliveries has seen a drastic increase, especially in cities, putting urban freight systems under pressure. As more people move to urban areas and change consumer behaviors to shop online, busy delivery operations cause externalities such as congestion and air pollution.

Micro-consolidation implementations and their possible pairing with soft transportation modes offer practical, economic, environmental, and cultural benefits. Early implementations of micro-consolidation practices were tested but cities need to understand their implications in terms of efficiency and sustainability.

This study includes a research scan and proposes a typology of micro-consolidation practices. It focuses on assessing the performance of microhubs that act as additional transshipment points where the packages are transported by trucks and transferred onto e-bikes to complete the last mile.

The purpose of the study is to assess the performance of delivery operations using a network of microhubs with cargo logistics and identify the conditions under which these solutions can be successfully implemented to improve urban freight efficiencies and reduce emissions. The performance is evaluated in terms of vehicle miles traveled, tailpipe CO2 emissions, and average operating cost per package using simulation tools. Three different delivery scenarios were tested that represents 1) the baseline scenario, where only vans and cars make deliveries; 2) the mixed scenario, where in addition to vans and cars, a portion of packages are delivered by e-bikes; and 3) the e-bike only scenario, where all package demand is satisfied using microhubs and e-bikes.

The results showed that e-bike delivery operations perform the best in service areas with high customer density. At the highest customer demand level, e-bikes traveled 7.7% less to deliver a package and emitted 91% less tailpipe CO2 with no significant cost benefits or losses when compared with the baseline scenario where only traditional delivery vehicles were used. Cargo logistics, when implemented in areas where the demand is densified, can reduce emissions and congestion without significant cost implications.

Authors: Şeyma Güneş
Recommended Citation:
Gunes, S. (2021). Micro-Consolidation Practices in Urban Delivery Systems: Comparative Evaluation of Last Mile Deliveries Using e-Cargo Bikes and Microhubs, University of Washington Master's Thesis.

Defining Urban Freight Microhubs: A Case Study Analysis

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Publication: Sustainability
Volume: 14 (1), 532
Publication Date: 2021

Urban freight distribution has confronted several challenges, including negative environmental, social, and economic impacts. Many city logistics initiatives that use the concept of Urban Consolidation Centers (UCCs) have failed.

The failure of many UCCs does not mean that the idea of additional terminals or microhubs should be rejected. There is limited knowledge about the advantages and disadvantages of using microhubs, requiring further exploration of this concept.

To expand this knowledge, this research combines 17 empirical cases from Europe and North America to develop a framework for classifying different microhubs typologies. This research presents an integrated view of the cases and develops a common language for understanding microhub typologies and definitions. The research proposes microhubs as an important opportunity to improve urban freight sustainability and efficiency and one possible step to manage the challenge of multi-sector collaboration.

Authors: Şeyma GüneşTravis FriedDr. Anne Goodchild, Konstantina Katsela (University of Gothenburg), Michael Browne (University of Gothenburg)
Recommended Citation:
Katsela, Konstantina, Şeyma Güneş, Travis Fried, Anne Goodchild, and Michael Browne. 2022. "Defining Urban Freight Microhubs: A Case Study Analysis" Sustainability 14, no. 1: 532.

The Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub Pilot Project: An Evaluation of the Operational Impacts of a Neighborhood Delivery Hub Model on Last-Mile Delivery

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Publication Date: 2021

As one of the nation’s first zero-emissions last-mile delivery pilots, the Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub served as a testbed for innovative sustainable urban logistics strategies on the ground in Seattle’s dense Uptown neighborhood. Providers could test and evaluate new technologies, vehicles, and delivery models — all in service of quickly getting to market new more fuel- and resource-efficient solutions, reducing emissions and congestion, and making our cities more livable and sustainable.

These technologies are also an important part of the City of Seattle’s Transportation Electrification Blueprint, including the goal of transitioning 30% of goods delivery to zero emissions by 2030.

Recommended Citation:
Urban Freight Lab (2021). The Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub Pilot Project: An Evaluation of the Operational Impacts of a Neighborhood Delivery Hub Model on Last-Mile Delivery.

Exploring Benefits of Cargo-Cycles Versus Trucks for Urban Parcel Delivery Under Different Demand Scenarios

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Publication: Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board
Publication Date: 2020

Urban deliveries are traditionally carried out with vans or trucks. These vehicles tend to face parking difficulties in dense urban areas, leading to traffic congestion. Smaller and nimbler vehicles by design, such as cargo-cycles, struggle to compete in distance range and carrying capacity. However, a system of cargo-cycles complemented with strategically located cargo-storing hubs can overcome some limitations of the cargo-cycles. Past research provides a limited perspective on how demand characteristics and parking conditions in urban areas are related to potential benefits of this system. To fill this gap, we propose a model to simulate the performance of different operational scenarios—a truck-only scenario and a cargo-cycle with mobile hubs scenario—under different delivery demand and parking conditions. We apply the model to a case study using data synthesized from observed freight-carrier demand in Singapore. The exploration of alternative demand scenarios informs how demand characteristics influence the viability of the solution. Furthermore, a sensitivity analysis clarifies the contributing factors to the demonstrated results. The combination of cargo-cycles and hubs can achieve progressive reductions in kilometers-traveled and hours-traveled up to around densities of 150 deliveries/km ² , beyond which savings taper off. Whereas the reduction in kilometers-traveled is influenced by the the carrying capacity of the cargo-cycle, the reduction in hours-traveled is related to to the cargo-cycle ability to effectively decrease the parking dwell time by reducing, for instance, the time spent searching for parking and the time spent walking to a delivery destination.

Authors: Dr. Giacomo Dalla Chiara, André Romano Alho, Cheng Cheng, Moshe Ben-Akiva, Lynette Cheah
Recommended Citation:
Dalla Chiara, Giacomo and Alho, André Romano and Cheng Cheng, Moshe Ben-Akiva and Cheah, Lynette. “Exploring Benefits of Cargo-Cycles versus Trucks for Urban Parcel Delivery under Different Demand Scenarios.” Transportation Research Record, (May 2020). doi:10.1177/0361198120917162.
Technical Report

Common MicroHub Research Project: Research Scan

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Publication Date: 2020

This research scan revealed a lack of an established and widely accepted definition for the concept of consolidation centers or microhubs. Many recent implementations of urban freight consolidation have focused on bundling goods close to the delivery point by creating logistical platforms in the heart of urban areas. These have shared a key purpose: to avoid freight vehicles traveling into urban centers with partial loads.

To establish definitions of micro-consolidation and its typologies, it is important to review previous efforts in the literature that have explained and evaluated urban consolidation centers and lessons that have led to the search for new alternatives. Starting in 1970s, the urban consolidation center (UCC) concept was implemented in several European cities and urban regions. These were mostly led by commercial enterprises with temporary or even structural support from the government to compensate for additional transshipment costs. Allen et. al. defined the UCC as a “logistic base located in the vicinity of the place of performing services (e.g., city centers, whole cities, or specific locations like shopping malls) where numerous enterprisers deliver goods destined for the serviced area from which consolidated deliveries as well as additional logistic and retailed services are realized”.

Many of these implementations failed to operate in the long term because of low throughput volumes, the inability to operate without financial support from government, and dissatisfaction with service levels. The cost of having an additional transshipment point often prevented the facilities from being cost-effective, and they could not operate when governmental subsidies were removed (4). From a commercial perspective, experiences with publicly operated UCCs were mostly negative, and centers that have operated since 2000 are often run single-handedly by major logistics operators.

Although it appears that many UCCs were not successful, that does not mean that the idea of an additional transshipment point should be sidelined completely (4). Several studies have mentioned the micro-consolidation concept as a transition from the classic UCC. Learning from previous experiences, Janjevic et. al. defined micro-consolidation centers as facilities that are located closer to the delivery area and have a more limited spatial range for delivery than classic UCCs. Similarly, Verlinde et. al., referred to micro-consolidation centers as “alternative” additional transshipment points that downscale the scope of the consolidation initiative further than a UCC.

In this project, a delivery microhub (or simply a microhub) was defined as a special case of UCC with closer proximity to the delivery point and serving a smaller range of service area. A microhub is a logistics facility where goods are bundled inside the urban area boundaries, that serves a limited spatial range, and that allows a mode shift to low-emission vehicles or soft transportation modes (e.g., walking or cargo bikes) for last-mile deliveries.

Recommended Citation:
Urban Freight Lab (2020). Common MicroHub Research Project: Research Scan.

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.