Skip to content

How Can Digitization in the Private Sector Benefit Everyone?

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

We’ve dug into how digitization continues to spark new developments in the urban freight landscape across the private and public sectors alike — with cities lagging behind digitization veterans like Amazon.

As Urban Freight Lab members noted at the fall meeting, it’s understandable why the private sector is ahead. Digitization helps companies improve operations toward lowering costs, saving time and money, and keeping customers satisfied. In other words, digitization helps companies with their fundamental concern: The bottom line.

And yet, companies’ choices and behavior in using digital tools can have the effect of helping more than their bottom lines. Private sector digitization can have spillover benefits, winding up helping communities and society at large, too. (To be clear, when we talk here about societal benefits, that includes mitigating and/or reducing the negative impacts of delivering goods to our homes and businesses.) But too often we treat the private and public sectors as wholly separate and siloed systems — though clearly they’re not.

The efficiencies digitization supports in urban freight might well wind up contributing to quality of life in city neighborhoods and communities. Those efficiencies can impact everything from congestion and traffic flow to pollution and Co2 emissions that contribute to climate change.

In this blog, we map three digitization moves in the private sector that could generate benefits for the public.

Recommended Citation:
"How Can Digitization in the Private Sector Benefit Everyone?" Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, February 14, 2023.

How Could a More Integrated Private-Public World Advance Goods Movement?

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

Consider it the left-hand, right-hand challenge of the urban freight landscape. But a gentler riff on the whole “the left-hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.” Each hand does know something about what the other hand is doing, but probably not enough.

On the left, there are Urban Freight Lab (UFL) member companies like Amazon and UPS that use the public right of way to move goods. On the right, various levels of government manage and regulate that public right of way for all users. The hands are connected. Yet each is independently engaged in digitization. If we’re serious about driving progress on the UFL’s six collective priorities by 2030, the left and the right hands need to be more synced.

This blog examines three digital ideas that could foster the private-public integration that we believe is needed to advance these priorities. Here’s a 2030 vision for that more integrated world — and how we might tap digitization to get there.

Recommended Citation:
"How Could a More Integrated Private-Public World Advance Our Goods Movement 2030 Priorities?" Goods Movement 2030 (blog) Urban Freight Lab, March 8, 2023.

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.

The Freight of the West

Download PDF  (0.64 MB)
Publication: Thinking Cities
Volume: December 2017
Pages: 82-85
Publication Date: 2017

More than 80 percent of Americans have purchased goods online and, in 2016, more than 8 percent of all retail sales in the U.S. took place online. The growth of ecommerce is putting increasing pressure on local governments to rethink how they manage street curb parking and alley operations for trucks and other delivery vehicles. It is also forcing building developers and managers to plan for the influx of online goods.

To develop practical solutions to these problems, in 2016 the University of Washington launched the Urban Freight Lab (UFL), a partnership between private and public industry stakeholders. The UFL provides a place for companies and public agencies to work together to develop and ground-test low-cost, promising solutions to deliver these goods while maintaining livability and economic vitality.

As part of this research effort, a three-year strategic research partnership with the City of Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has been established to advance understanding of urban goods movement in support of the City’s goals for safe, predictable and efficient goods movement and economic vibrancy.

By entering into a long-term strategic partnership with the university and industry, SDOT demonstrated its interest in developing innovative solutions to achieve their policy goals. The city’s willingness to pilot test and potentially adopt solutions that provided both public and private good was essential in attracting private sector firms to engage fully in the work.

The Urban Freight Lab

In 2016, the Urban Freight Lab recruited founding industry members from Charlie’s Produce, Costco Wholesale, Nordstrom, UPS, and the United States Postal Service (USPS) to develop solutions to improve the way goods are delivered in the urban environment.

Private sector members of the Urban Freight Lab at the University of Washington, in partnership with SDOT, are using a systems engineering approach to solve delivery problems that overlap the spheres of control of the city and business sector.

The Lab has created a multi-year strategic research plan with principles and innovative approaches to produce evidence-based improvement strategies.

The role of the Urban Freight Lab is to be a living laboratory where potential solutions are generated, evaluated, and then pilot-tested on real city streets. Members provide clear and open input as to whether proposed solutions are sustainable in their and other firms’ business models.

The Final 50 Feet

The Urban Freight Lab and its members have defined and focused on the Final 50 Feet; the urban supply chain segment that begins where delivery vehicles park at the curb, alley or in a building’s freight parking space. It tracks the delivery process inside buildings and ends at the receipt of goods by the receiver. The Final 50 Feet concept represents the first time that the Lab have identified the importance of analyzing deliveries moving along the street grid and in cities’ vertical space (office, hotel, retail and residential towers) as a unified goods delivery system.

Development of the Final 50 Feet concept is the necessary first step in defining rigorous, goal-oriented improvement teams that can take coordinated action to reduce truck trips, delivery delays, cost, emissions, and improve delivery service to tenants and consumers. It provides them with the ability to analyze and improve the process flows meaningfully from the beginning-to-end of the last piece of the urban goods system.

The Urban Freight Lab members and SDOT have identified two priority goals, with both public and private benefits, for the 2017-2020 research partnership:

  1. Reduce the number of failed first delivery attempts. The failed first delivery can be as high as 15 percent. Benefits of reducing failed first deliveries include:
    • Improve urban online shoppers’ experiences and protect retailers’ brands;
    • Cut business costs for the retail sector and logistics firms;
    • Lower traffic congestion in cities, as delivery trucks could make up to 15 percent fewer trips while still completing the same number of deliveries.
  2. Reduce dwell time. The time a truck is parked in a load/ unload space. There are both public and private benefits to reaching this goal, including:
    • Lower costs for delivery firms, and therefore potentially lower costs for their customers;
    • Better utilization of public and private truck load/unload spaces;
    • Less congestion, as spaces turn over more quickly.

Overview of the Innovative Approaches Taken to Identify and Quantitatively Assess the Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System

Building the first comprehensive database of urban off-street infrastructure for delivery and pick-up operations

The urban goods delivery system includes both public and private facilities. While on-street parking facilities are well documented in Seattle’s databases, facilities out of the public right of way (i.e. privately held) are not. SCTL research assistants, developed a ground-truthed data collection method to build a comprehensive database inventory, capturing geospatial locations and documenting the visible features of all private freight parking infrastructure in five urban centers in the Seattle area.

For this task, the team collaborated with one of the private carrier members of the Urban Freight Lab to further improve the accuracy of the data collection method. Carrier drivers with deep knowledge of city routes and infrastructure, review the closed door locations.

This review allowed the Lab to rule out 98 percent (206) of the locations behind closed doors, reducing uncertainty in the final database from 38 percent to less than 1 percent.

Researchers found that 87 percent of buildings in the City’s dense urban centers are completely reliant on nearby public commercial vehicle load zones (CVLZs) and alley truck load/unload spaces to receive goods deliveries. These buildings do not have underground or adjacent freight bays on their property.

Building a delivery process flow for delivery inside the building environment

The Lab created detailed process flow maps of the Final 50’ in and around five prototype city buildings in Seattle, Washington.

The team collected original data by following delivery persons from the buildings’ freight bays or nearby commercial vehicle zones (CVLZs) into each of the buildings, until delivery was completed or the return to the truck when there was a failed delivery. The Lab designed and built an application for collectors to enter the precise time that the delivery people began and ended each process step. The team then collected data for up to a week in peak delivery periods for each building. They analyzed the range and average of delay in the process steps to understand where improvement strategies will have the most significant ability to achieve project goals (13). Based on this analysis, the Lab found that the greatest opportunities to reduce the number of failed first deliveries and dwell time in truck load/unload spaces are inside buildings when delivery persons:

  • Interact with security personnel; and
  • Attempt to locate tenants.

In the next phase of the Final 50 Feet project, the Urban Freight Lab and SDOT will pilot test promising improvement strategies in and on the streets around the Seattle Municipal Tower over four weeks.


Final 50’ project findings will be used to provide decision support to city officials and private-sector firms managing scarce resources. By applying systems engineering and evidence-based planning, we can make receiving online goods as efficient as ordering them – without clogging city streets and curb space.

We have received requests from many other cities, including Washington, D.C., to share results and lessons learned during the Freight Master Plan development process and early actions coming out of this three-year program. Seattle is committed to being a leader in urban goods policy and problem-solving and keeping our economy thriving.

According to City of Seattle officials Mr. Christopher Eaves and Ms. Jude Willcher, “Seattle is one fastest growing cities in the country. The Seattle Department of Transportation is committed meeting the urban goods delivery challenges facing most big cities in the U.S. We know that issuing parking tickets to companies who are simply trying to meet the daily delivery needs of residents and businesses isn’t the right solution. So, our goal is to identify and implement scalable strategies that improve deliveries at existing building, as well as initiate strategic research to mine new data to improve and inform new construction designs that support freight and delivery in the city. And we are incredibly grateful to have found a strong and innovative partner in the UW Freight Lab and SCTL”.

Recommended Citation:
Urban Freight Lab. “The freight of the West” Thinking Cities Magazine, December 2017, 82-85

The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System (Final Report)

Download PDF  (6.73 MB)
Publication Date: 2018

Urban Freight Lab’s foundational report is the first assessment in any American city of the privately-owned and operated elements of the Final 50 Feet of goods delivery supply chains (the end of the supply chain, where delivery drivers must locate both parking and end customers). These include curb parking spaces, private truck freight bays and loading docks, street design, traffic control, and delivery policies and operations within buildings.

Goods delivery is an essential but little-noticed activity in urban areas. For the last 40 years, deliveries have been mostly performed by a private sector shipping industry that operates within general city traffic conditions. However, in recent years e-commerce has created a rapid increase in deliveries, which implies an explosion of activity in the future.

Meeting current and future demand is creating unprecedented challenges for shippers to meet both increased volumes and increasing customer expectations for efficient and timely delivery. Anecdotal evidence suggests that increasing demand is overwhelming goods delivery infrastructure and operations. Delivery vehicles parked in travel lanes, unloading taking place on crowded sidewalks, and commercial truck noise during late night and early morning hours are familiar stories in urban areas.

These conditions are noticeable throughout the City of Seattle as our population and employment rapidly increase. However, goods delivery issues are particularly problematic in Seattle’s high-density areas of Downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union, Pioneer Square, First Hill, Capitol Hill and Queen Anne, described as Seattle’s “Center City”. Urban goods transportation makes our economy and quality of life possible.

As the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) responds to the many travel challenges of a complex urban environment, we recognize that goods delivery needs to be better understood and supported to retain the vitality and livability of our busiest neighborhoods.

U.S. cities do not have much information about the urban goods delivery system. While public agencies have data on city streets, public transportation and designated curbside parking, the “final 50 feet” in goods delivery also utilizes private vehicles, private loading facilities, and privately-owned and operated buildings outside the traditional realm of urban planning.

Bridging the information gap between the public and private sectors requires a new way of thinking about urban systems. Specifically, it requires trusted data sharing between public and private partners, and a data-driven approach to asking and answering the right questions, to successfully meet modern urban goods delivery needs.

The Urban Freight Lab (UFL) provides a standing forum to solve a range of short-term as well as long-term strategic urban goods problem solving, that provides evidence of effectiveness before strategies are widely implemented in the City.

Recommended Citation:
Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center. (2018) The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System.

Common Microhub (Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub)


The importance of efficient urban logistics has never been greater. The response to COVID-19 has put new constraints and demands on the urban freight system but also highlighted the essential and critical nature of delivery and distribution. New requirements for reducing human contact only add weight to many of the strategies such as neighborhood kitchens, locker deliveries, and autonomous driverless delivery vehicles, already envisioned before the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing and virus vector management also add new requirements and metrics for evaluating and managing logistics that are catalyzing innovation and motivating change in the urban logistics space.

What is a Common Microhub?

Also known as an urban consolidation center or a delivery transfer point, a microhub is a central drop-off/pick-up location for goods and services, which can be used by multiple delivery providers, retailers, and consumers. Microhubs can reduce energy consumption, noise pollution, congestion, and cost, and increase access, sustainability, and livability in cities, by allowing the final mile of delivery to be shifted to low-emission vehicles or soft transportation modes (cargo bike or walking), In addition to allowing for consolidation or deconsolidation of shipments, the design also enables neighbors to engage with additional services.

Microhubs provide:

  • access points for shared mobility
  • touchless pick-up and drop-off points
  • a home base for zero-emissions last-mile delivery, autonomous, and modalities
  • a shared public space
  • charging infrastructure
  • increased delivery density, reducing traffic and delivery vehicle dwell time
  • trip chaining capability

Urban Freight Lab’s Common Microhub Pilot: The Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub

The Urban Freight Lab’s Common Microhub project—the Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub—provides an opportunity for members to test and evaluate urban logistics strategies on the ground in Seattle’s Uptown neighborhood. As third-party logistics companies entering the last-mile space and more cities committing to environmental focus and zero-emissions vision, the interest in creating logistics places in urban proximity is growing. The outcomes of this research can guide the development of future microhub implementations in other cities. Participating stakeholders, while collaborative, operate with relative independence within the hub space. Data collection and analysis are ongoing; key indicators being measured include both operator performance and expected local impacts. In addition, lessons learned are encountered continuously and shared with UFL members as the project progresses.

Participants and Products

Product: Common Carrier Parcel Lockers
Host: Urban Freight LabDescription: The Urban Freight Lab is operating a common carrier parcel locker — a secure, automated, self-service storage system designed to accommodate deliveries from multiple transportation providers delivering a range of parcel sizes and open to all neighbors and commuters. Such lockers create delivery density, enabling vehicles to transport many packages to a single stop, rather than making multiple trips to accomplish the same task. This new approach reduces dwell time and failed first deliveries, both of which produce congestion and emissions, and increase costs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockers also provide a no-contact solution for customers.

REEF neighborhood kitchen

Product: Neighborhood Kitchen and Infrastructure
Host: REEF

Description: Neighborhood kitchens are non-customer-facing modular vessels where food is prepared for mobile app or delivery orders. Removing front-of-house operations reduces a restaurant’s footprint, increases sustainability, and gives food entrepreneurs a platform by reducing overhead costs.

REEF is also the infrastructure partner, leveraging their parking lot holdings for the Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub location.

Coaster Cycles bike

Product: Electric-Assist Cargo Bike Fleet
Host: ​​Coaster Cycles

Description: Montana-based Coaster Cycles is providing an electric-assist cargo trikes fleet. These trikes are customized to carry BrightDrop EP1s, providing an agile, sustainable last-mile delivery solution in dense urban areas, reducing the emissions, congestion, and noise produced by traditional truck delivery.
(Watch the Coaster Cycle / EP1 deployment:

Screenshot of Axlehire app

Product: Last-Mile Delivery Routing Software

Description: Berkeley-based logistics startup Axlehire provides last-mile delivery routing software that creates the fastest, most efficient routes possible. AxleHire is using the Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub site as a transshipment point, where trucks will transfer packages transported from a suburban depot to smaller, more nimble Coaster Cycle electrically-assisted bicycles, which are driven by Axlehire operators to a final customer.

Brightdrop's EP1 electric pallet

Product: Electric Pallet (EP1)
Host: ​BrightDrop (General Motors)

Description: BrightDrop (a subsidiary of General Motors) focuses on electrifying and improving the delivery of goods and services. BrightDrop’s first product to market is the EP1, a propulsion-assisted electric pallet designed to easily move goods over short distances. Because the pallet is electric-powered, it supports sustainability efforts, improves driver safety and freight security, lowers labor costs, and reduces errors and package touches.

Product: MUST Devices and Data Collection
Host: University of Washington Smart Transportation Application & Research (STAR) Lab

Description: To assess performance, researchers have deployed a multitude of sensors, including STAR Lab’s Mobile Unit for Sensing Traffic (MUST) sensors, cameras with vehicle recognition technology, GPS tracking sensors, and parking occupancy sensors. Researchers can gain a comprehensive understanding of delivery operations (such as miles traveled, infrastructure usage, speed, battery usage, interaction with other vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians) and activities at the site itself (such as parking occupancy, duration and, mode distribution of vehicle types at the site).


The Seattle Neighborhood Delivery Hub is located at 130 5th Ave. N. in Seattle’s Uptown neighborhood.


The goals of the Common Microhub Research Project are to:

    1. Conduct a research scan of published reports that provide data-based evidence of the results of projects that have elements that are similar to Common Microhubs.
    2. Identify and characterize informal microhub activities observed in cities worldwide.
    3. Solicit input from UFL members as to the perceived benefits of microhubs and  the desired physical characteristics of a microhub
    4. Compare and contrast the priorities of UFL members with established metrics in the literature.
    5. Seek agreement from UFL members as to the microhub characteristics and location that would be feasible and desirable to operate in the Seattle region. Priority will be given to current UFL members, but should a third party external to UFL be necessary to run the microhub, proposals to host the microhub would be sought.
    6. Collect and analyze field data to measure both operator performance (including VMT, parking demand, fuel, and energy consumption) and expected local impacts (including travel and parking activity) before and after implementation. Data collection will rely on VMT, GPS, and travel time sources where available, but we expect to develop and implement customized methods to collect additional traffic and travel time data as needed. We may also interview the microhub operator and users to obtain qualitative data on the operations. The following tasks will be completed by the Urban Freight Lab in the two-year project.

Project Tasks

The following tasks will be completed by the Urban Freight Lab in the two-year project.

Task 1: Research Scan


  1. Conduct a research scan of published reports that provide data-based evidence of the results of projects that have elements that are similar to Common MicroHubs.
  2. Identify and characterize informal microhub activities observed in cities worldwide.
  3. Write a summary of the results.

Task 2: Develop MicroHub Priorities


  1. Solicit input from UFL members as to:
    • the perceived benefits of microhubs
    • the desired physical characteristics of a microhub
  2. Compare and contrast the priorities of UFL members with priorities demonstrated in the literature.

Task 3: Select Operator and Define Operational Model


  1. With the help of a microhub operator, seek agreement from UFL members as to the microhub characteristics, services, operational goals and location that would be feasible and desirable to operate in the Seattle region.
    • Priority will be given to current UFL members to operate the Hub, but should a third party external to UFL be necessary to run the microhub, proposals to host the microhub would be sought.
  2. Go/No Go decision by researchers, UFL members, and microhub operator as to whether a pilot test will move forward.
    • Sufficient interest amongst participating UFL members and an understanding of the operating model and participants’ business objectives will be necessary to move forward as per the operator’s approval.
    • The operator will work independently with participants and/or the University of Washington to establish operating model(s) under separate agreement(s).

Task 4: Select Operator and Define Operational Model


  1. Define key metrics for evaluation and data collection plan.
  2. With the support of UFL members participating in the pilot, collect “before” data to contrast with data collected during pilot operations.

Task 5: Implementation


  1. Support the implementation of a microhub with UFL partners that have agreed to the terms of the pilot.
  2. Project schedule will allow for 6 months of operations, followed by 3 months for analysis.
  3. Collect and analyze field data to measure both operator performance (including VMT, parking demand, fuel, and energy consumption) and expected local impacts (including travel and parking activity) after implementation. Data collection will rely on VMT, GPS, and travel time sources where available, but we expect to develop and implement customized methods to collect additional traffic and travel time data as needed. We may also interview the operator and users to obtain qualitative data on the operations.

Task 6: Evaluate Operations


  1. Provide progress reports at quarterly UFL meetings.
  2. Final report with key project findings.

Where’s My Stuff? Examining the Economic, Environmental, and Societal Impacts of Freight Transportation

Download PDF  (0.09 MB)
Publication: U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
Volume: 5-Dec-19
Publication Date: 2019

Written Testimony of
Anne Goodchild
Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering
Director of the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center
University of Washington

Joint Hearing on:
“Where’s My Stuff? Examining the Economic, Environmental, and Societal Impacts of Freight Transportation”
before the United States House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

December 5, 2019

Good morning, Chairs Norton and Lipinski and Ranking Members Davis and Crawford as well as distinguished Members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you about this important topic. My name is Anne Goodchild and I am a professor and the Director of the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center at the University of Washington. I am an urban freight expert.  The freight system, ultimately, allows for economic specialization; it supports city living, provides markets to producers, and strengthens competition.  On its own, the transportation and logistics sector represents approximately 10% of the US gross domestic product – a larger sector than either retail, or financial services.  The freight system is more than interstates, ports, pipelines and rail facilities.  The freight system is city streets, local highways, sidewalks, bike lanes, and front steps – the last mile of where these supply chains is carried out. It is the delivery man walking to your door or mailbox.  When we talk about freight infrastructure investment and building a better freight system, we must remember to include the last mile and particularly the Final Fifty Feet to the final delivery destination.  Without completing this final step, supply chains fail to deliver the economic and social benefits they promise.

Last mile costs businesses a disproportionate amount of time and money

The last mile is essential, and expensive; the most difficult and costly mile of all.  While estimates vary, the cost of the last mile has been estimated at between 25% and 50% of total supply chain transportation costs.

The last mile is costly because:

  1. It relies more on human labor than the other segments of supply chain transportation with drivers going door-to-door to drop off packages.  In cities, drivers can spend 80 or 90% of their time outside the vehicle
  2. Goods are more fragmented the farther you travel down the supply chain.  Upstream, goods are moved in large, consolidated shipments such as single commodities but the closer goods get to the consumer the more they are broken down into shipments for individual customers
  3. 80% of Americans live in congested regions  where travel speeds are slower and less reliable.  This increases the number of vehicles and drivers required to do the same work
  4. There can be high rates of failed deliveries requiring repeated delivery attempts and resulting in ballooning costs. Failed delivery attempts can mean that two or three additional trips are require to accomplish the same task.

While the high cost of the last mile is in part due to the distributed nature of deliveries, the cost is inflated by congestion, a lack of reasonable parking options, and other constraints put on commercial vehicle operations such as specific street or time of day bans.

Online shopping growing and speeding

Online shopping rates are growing and this is increasing demand for last mile delivery.  UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company, experienced 23% revenue growth from 2014 to 2018 (5.5% annually ).  With one-click shopping and free home delivery it is now often cheaper and easier to order something online than it is to go to the store.  Retail e-commerce sales as a percent of total retail sales in United States rose to 9% in 2017 and this figure is expected to reach 12.4% in 2020.  With store-based shopping, most Americans use their personal vehicles for shopping trips; driving to the store alone, purchasing a few items, and returning home in their car.  With an online purchase, the trip – now a delivery – is made with a commercial vehicle, extending the supply chain from the store or warehouse and bringing increasing numbers of commercial vehicles into towns and neighborhoods.  The volume of daily deliveries to homes has soared – from fewer than 360,000 a day in New York City in 2009 to more than 1.5 million today .  Households now receive more deliveries than businesses; and this, with online retail representing only 10% of all retail.  Imagine how many more trips there will be when online retail hits 20% or 50%.

In addition to growth in the number of deliveries, the pace of delivery of speeding.  Amazon, which currently holds about a 50% share of the online market in the US has, in the last 3 years, halved their average click-to-door speed from about 6 days to about 3 days .  Other retailers are attempting to keep pace.  Just this week I received an email from Amazon notifying me that Amazon Fresh would now deliver at “ultrafast speeds” in my area: “You can schedule same-day deliveries from 6:00am – 10:00pm and get FREE 2-hour scheduled delivery windows on orders over $35”.  Free two-hour delivery.  This was not in response to a request, rather this is being rolled out to all Prime members.  Depending on your location, you can also get 1-hour delivery for a small additional fee.  This is also available in DC and Northern VA.  There has also been a proliferation of on-demand delivery services, particularly in the food delivery sector, where online platforms now serve close to 30% of the market.

The US leads the world in online shopping activity and speed of delivery .  Supply chains have spent decades investing in technology and building the information systems required to deliver on home delivery and service promises.  More recently, venture capital has also invested in transportation and logistics, with PitchBook reporting $14.4 billion invested globally in privately owned freight, logistics, shipping, trucking, transportation management system (TMS), and supply chain tracking startups since 2013 . Not only do these changes affect transportation and logistics companies, but these changes affect peripheral sectors as companies reorganize their operations to service these new demands.

As customers are offered, and accept, shorter and shorter click-to-delivery times, delivery companies have less opportunity to make consolidated, efficient deliveries.  Instead of waiting for more orders and sending out full trucks, vehicles are sent out to meet their quick delivery promise; reducing vehicle utilization.  This increases the number of vehicles on the road, increases the cost per delivery, and increases vehicle emissions.

Significant impact on cities

It is the roads and sidewalks built by American cities and towns that enable this last mile delivery. In Seattle, 87% of buildings in greater downtown rely solely on the curb for freight access.  These buildings have no off-street parking or loading bays.

Our cities were not built to handle the nature and volume of current freight activity and are struggling to accommodate growth .  At the same time, delivery of goods is just one of the many functions of our transportation networks.  The same roads and sidewalks are also used by pedestrians, cyclists, emergency vehicles, taxis, ride hailing services, buses, restaurants, and street vendors, to name a few.

Capacity on our transportation networks is increasingly scarce.  Texas Transportation Institute’s 2019 Urban Mobility Report, a summary of congestion in America, is titled “Traffic is Bad and Getting Worse”.  Over the past 10 years, the total cost of delay in our nation’s top urban areas has grown by nearly 47%.  It is on top of this already congested network, that we add this growing last mile traffic. American cities have yet to make any headway with congestion, and delivery traffic both adds to, and suffers from, this condition.

To address congestion, many state Departments of Transportation are working to provide safe and competitive alternatives to single occupancy vehicle travel such as transit, bicycling, and walking. Other federal agencies are also working on addressing this issue, such as the Department of Energy, which has awarded UW and Seattle an EERE grant.  In building dedicated bicycle facilities, one common solution is to convert the curb lane to a bike lane, removing commercial vehicle load and unload space.  At the same time, American’s are increasingly using ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft .  This also increases the demand for curb space as passengers request pickup and drop-off instead of parking their own vehicle off-street.

The result is too much demand for too little space, and there is ample evidence of a poorly functioning system.  From a study in Seattle, 52% of vehicles parked in commercial vehicle load zones were passenger cars, and 26% of all commercial vehicles parked in passenger load zones.  In New York City, UPS and Fedex received 471,000 parking violations in 2018.  Everyone has seen an image of a truck parked in a bike lane, or been stuck behind a delivery truck occupying an entire residential street.  While we might expect a small percentage of violations, these levels reflect a failure of planning and design to deliver reasonable alternatives to commercial vehicles, and a city that has not caught-up with the changes in supply chain and shopping patterns.

In addition to these operational challenges, commercial vehicles have impacts on American’s health and safety.  Per mile, trucks produce disproportionately more carbon dioxide and local pollutants (NOx, PM) than passenger vehicles so a substitution of delivery trucks for passenger vehicles has the potential to increase emissions.  However, delivery services also present an opportunity to reduce emissions per package as they can consolidate many packages into one vehicle; the same way transit or carpooling can be an emissions advantage over single occupancy vehicle trips.  Research shows that in most cases a well-run delivery service would provide a carbon dioxide reduction over typical car-based shopping behavior.  While there is the opportunity for delivery services to provide this emissions benefit, the move towards very fast delivery erodes that benefit as delivery services are unable to achieve the same level of consolidation and begin to look more like butler services.

Diesel powered vehicles, often used for the movement of freight, produce disproportionately more particular matter and NOx pollution than gasoline engines, so the use of these vehicles in urban areas, where human exposure levels are higher, has significant negative outcomes for human populations in terms of asthma and heart disease.  This is particularly true for the very young, elderly, or immunosuppressed.

While it may seem intuitive that replacing a car trip to the store with a truck delivery would be bad for the city, in fact, delivery services can reduce carbon emissions and total vehicle miles travelled.  This is because the truck is not just delivering to one home, but to many.  In this sense, the truck delivery behaves like a transit vehicle or very large carpool.  This can reduce congestion by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.  Delivery trucks can be an asset when performing in this efficient manner because they consolidate many goods into a single vehicle reducing per package cost, emissions, and congestion impacts.

Banning trucks and requiring or encouraging the use of smaller vehicles INCREASES the number of vehicles and the vehicle miles travelled; exacerbating traffic and parking problems.

Growth in two and one-hour delivery INCREASES the number of vehicles and vehicle miles travelled; exacerbating traffic and parking problems.

The Urban Freight Lab as a Public and Private Sector Collaboration

Businesses are challenged by the high cost of the last mile, and the increasing time pressure for deliveries.  Cities are working to manage congestion, the competing demands of many users, emissions, and intense pressure for curb space.  This presents a complex set of problems, where:

  • private carriers are struggling to comply with city regulations and remain financially competitive while meeting customer expectations
  • customers are benefiting from high levels of convenience but also experiencing high levels of congestion and suffering from the effects of growing emissions
  • cities and towns are struggling to meet demands of multiple stakeholders and enforce existing rules

All of this, in a context where there are very limited data regarding truck or commercial vehicle activity, numbers of deliveries, or other measures of efficiency.  The Freight Analysis Framework , which compiles the nation’s most significant freight datasets such as the Commodity Flow Survey, breaks the country into 153 zones, so that most states can only see what came into or out of the state, not how vehicles move around within cities and towns.  The more recently developed National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS) , presents truck specific data, and allows for highway speeds to be monitored at a county level, but does not show vehicle volumes, or give any insights into origin-destination patterns.  At the national level, mode-specific datasets provide more spatial, temporal, and activity detail.   For example, the Carload Waybill sample  provides important data on rail cargo movements and the Air Operators Utilization Reports  provide important data on airplane activity.  Unfortunately, the Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey, which provided detailed data on truck and goods movements, was discontinued in 2002.  This leaves cities and towns have no nationally consistent sources of or guidelines for collecting truck activity data.

The most economically efficient solutions to these challenges will be identified through collaboration between cities and private partners.  One particularly successful and innovative solution can be found in the Urban Freight Lab at the University of Washington (  As the director of the Urban Freight Lab, I have built a coalition of private companies and public agencies who work together to identify and measure problems, and develop and pilot-test solutions that will provide benefits for a diverse group of public and the private sector stakeholders.  The goal is to find win-win solutions for businesses and city dwellers, and to avoid short-sighted solutions like blanket truck bans.

The Urban Freight Lab is successful because:

  • All participants have skin in the game.  Private sector contributions elevate public sector research funding and ensure that all participants fully engage.  This is fundamentally different from an advisory board or oversight committee because members must report back to their leadership and justify participation with measurable returns on investment.  This participation from the private sector improves relevance and timeliness of public sector support.
  • Collaboration amongst the private and public sector ensures that products of the lab are as mutually beneficial as possible.
  • Problems, evaluation metrics, and research ideas come from the group and are connected directly to real-world challenges faced, not the research directors, the public, or private sector alone.
  • Private- and public-sector participants are senior executives who have the authority to make decisions in quarterly meetings.  They do not need to return to the organization for approval.
  • Cities need freight planning capacity but currently don’t have any.  The work of the Urban Freight Lab fills gaps in problem definition, data collection, solution generation, orchestration and evaluation of pilot tests.
  • Robust analysis is conducted by University researchers – they serve an important role in taking an unbiased view and base their analysis on data.
  • Quarterly meetings are working meetings with detailed agendas and exit criteria.  The focus is on making progress, making decisions, and moving forward, not simply information sharing.
  • Private sector partners are operational and technical staff with knowledge of operations.
  • Public sector partners represent a breadth of functions including planning, engineering, curb management, mobility, and innovation.
  • University research focusses on practical outcomes and does not hide in theoretical concepts.
  • Solutions are tested on the ground through pilots and real tests.  The slow work of collaboration building and overcoming obstacles to implementation is part of the research.

Current private-sector lab members include Boeing HorizonX, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) – Seattle King County, curbFlow, Expeditors International of Washington, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Kroger, Michelin, Nordstrom, PepsiCo, Terreno Realty Corporation, US Pack, UPS, and  the United States Postal Service (USPS).  The Seattle Department of Transportation represents the public-sector.

Seattle is a growing City and has now been ranked in the top 4 for growth among major cities for five consecutive years.  It is a geographically constrained city surrounded by water and mountains, and boasts some of the highest rates of bike, walk, and transit commuting in the country ; with less than a quarter of City Center commuters now driving alone to work. It is a technologically oriented City; with the region serving as the home to many technology companies such as Amazon, Convoy, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Tableau.  The City was one of the first to launch PayByPhone, electronic toll tags, weigh-In-motion, high-occupancy-toll lanes, passive bicycle counters, real-time transit monitoring, bike and car share programs, and most recently, an Open Data Portal .  In this sense, the City provides an excellent example for experimentation where the public and private sector face intense pressure to look for new solutions and approaches; and levels of congestion and pressure that other US Cities can anticipate in their future as populations grow and infrastructure construction does not keep pace.

With this private- and public-sector funding the Urban Freight Lab has:

  • produced foundational research on the Final Fifty Feet of the supply chain
    developed and applied approaches to quantify urban freight infrastructure
    developed and applied approaches to measure infrastructure
    generated and tested approaches to reducing dwell time and failed deliveries in urban areas including common lockers
    developed and implemented an approach to measuring the volume of vehicles entering and exiting the City of Seattle.

Ongoing work is supported in large part by a grant from the Department of Energy U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) titled 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.  This project, funded by DOE, provides $1.5 million over 3 years with matching funds from the City of Seattle, Sound Transit, King County Metro, Kroger, the City of Bellevue, and CBRE.  The project will evaluate the benefit of integrated technology applications on freight efficiency.  Within the scope of this grant, Urban Freight Lab members and the Seattle DOT will be involved in developing and testing applications of technology in the Belltown area of Seattle that will increase commercial efficiency and reduce impact of freight activity on city residents .

Moving Forward

Shopping patterns have evolved, but our infrastructure has not.  We need to rethink how we use our streets, curbs, and sidewalks if we want to maintain and grow our current shopping and delivery habits.

By consolidating many goods into a single route, delivery services could be an asset to communities; growing economic activity, reducing total vehicle miles travelled and associated carbon emissions, and supporting communities  less dependent on cars.  However, the current trend towards faster and faster deliveries; and businesses subsidizing delivery costs means we see lower vehicle utilization, higher numbers of vehicles and congestion, and increased emissions.

While some town and city governments have invested measuring the state of urban freight in their communities and developed improvements, most have limited resources and no guidance from the state or federal level.  For example, they do not know how many trucks operate in the region, what they carry, whether the current curb allocation is satisfactory, or what benefit might result from improvements.

New modes, technologies, and operational innovations provide opportunities for win-win solutions.  These new conditions may allow new modes such as electric assist cargo bikes  to outcompete existing modes. Electric and hybrid vehicles can reduce both global and local pollutants.  New technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and electronic curbs may fundamentally shift the existing infrastructure paradigms.  Private companies are ready to test these innovations, and the US and state DOTs can play a role in supporting these tests and conducting evaluations.

Investments in the freight system must include the last mile, and in particular the final fifty feet of the delivery route as a consideration to ensure economic vitality and support quality of life.  This includes supporting towns and cities in investigating and understanding the current state of goods movement at the municipal scale, identifying and evaluating new solutions for cities and towns to adapt to changing supply chains, integrating freight planning and passenger planning, and ultimately providing healthy environments for businesses to thrive and great places to live.

Recommended Citation:
“Where’s My Stuff? Examining the Economic, Environmental, and Societal Impacts of Freight Transportation." United States House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials (2019). (Anne Goodchild).
Technical Report

Improving Food Rescue in Seattle: What Can Be Learned from a Supply Chain View?

Download PDF  (0.68 MB)
Publication Date: 2020

Seattle is one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, presenting both opportunities and challenges for food waste. An estimated 94,500 tons of food from Seattle businesses end up in compost bins or landfills each year—some of it edible food that simply never got sold at restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, schools or dining facilities. Meantime, members of our community remain food insecure. It makes sense for food to feed people rather than become waste.

This is why Seattle Public Utilities continues to support efforts toward food rescue, where edible food that would otherwise enter the waste stream is gleaned from local businesses and re-distributed to local food programs. SPU has joined other cities, states, and regional coalitions in committing to cutting food waste by 50 percent from 2015 by 2030, leading with prevention and rescue.

Since 2018, SPU has engaged more than 80 stakeholders from 50-plus organizations in a Food Rescue Innovation Initiative—a collaborative effort to better understand food rescue challenges and explore potential solutions. The initiative surfaced transportation and logistics as one of the key challenges.

To that end, SPU asked the University of Washington Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center (SCTL) to conduct foundational research into the logistics of food rescue in Seattle. This research forms part of SPU’s broader work to identify barriers to making food rescue operations in Seattle as effective and efficient as possible—and work toward solutions to overcome those barriers with both the private and public sector. The SCTL research includes interviews with a representative cross-section of food suppliers, food bank agencies, meal program providers and nonprofit partners.

With this document, SPU seeks to inform the myriad businesses that donate food (and by doing so, reduce their waste costs); the wide range of nonprofit hunger relief partners who collect and redistribute donated food to community members in need; local government; and locally based companies with supply chain logistics expertise that could contribute solutions to this complex puzzle.


Recommended Citation:
Urban Freight Lab (2020). Improving Food Rescue in Seattle: What Can Be Learned from a Supply Chain View?

The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System (Executive Summary)

Download PDF  (1.91 MB)
Publication Date: 2018

Urban Freight Lab’s foundational report is the first assessment in any American city of the privately-owned and operated elements of the Final 50 Feet of goods delivery supply chains (the end of the supply chain, where delivery drivers must locate both parking and end customers). These include curb parking spaces, private truck freight bays and loading docks, street design, traffic control, and delivery policies and operations within buildings.

Two key goals have been identified early for the Final 50 Feet program:

  • Reducing truck time in a load/unload space in the city (“dwell time”)
  • Minimizing failed first package deliveries. About 8-10% of first delivery attempts in urban areas are unsuccessful, creating more return trips
Recommended Citation:
Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center. (2018) The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System: Executive Summary.