Final 50 Feet Research Program

The Final 50 Feet Research Program: Optimizing the Last Leg of the Urban Goods Delivery System

What is the "final 50 feet"? Urban Freight Lab researchers coined the term "final 50 feet" to describe the last leg of a product's journey from warehouse to customer: beginning at the load/unload space located at the curb, in an alley, or a private loading bay; tracking the freight carrier as they maneuver sidewalks, intersections and security in buildings, and ending when the customer receives their goods.

Two converging trends — the rise of e-commerce and growing urbanism — are creating big challenges for cities.

We are living in the convergence of the rise of e-commerce, ride-hailing services,
connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, creating pressure on fast-growing cities.
The Final 50 Feet is the final leg of the supply chain, beginning where a truck stops
and ending with the customer.
Photo by Urban Freight Lab.

Rising traffic congestion, limited curb space, and air and noise pollution are major challenges for cities. A significant part of congestion is caused by urban freight transport (trucks represent 7% of vehicles on the road and yet create 28% of congestion), particularly during the final step of the delivery process.

For the last 40 years, deliveries have been mostly performed by a private sector shipping industry that operates within general city traffic conditions. But the explosion of e-commerce has disrupted traditional operations, and put tremendous pressure on the goods delivery system, creating unprecedented challenges for shippers to meet increased volume and customer expectations for near-instant delivery — overwhelming current infrastructure operations, and straining the already congested city streets. Parked delivery vehicles in travel lanes, couriers unloading on crowded sidewalks, and commercial truck noise during late night and early morning hours are familiar scenes in cities.

E-commerce sales jumped to $453.5 billion in 2017, up 16% from 2016.
Image by Urban Freight Lab.

Urban Freight Lab (UFL) research predicts a 20% e-commerce compound annual growth rate (CAGR), which, if current methods don't change, will more than double goods deliveries and associated truck trips by 2023, thereby doubling the demand for already scarce curb, alley, and loading bay capacity. As we add new residents with appetites for near-instant gratification, how can businesses operating in urban environments like Seattle—now the fifth fastest-growing and the fourth most congested city in the U.S.—maneuver aggravating traffic, compete for street space, and meet customer expectations for quick deliveries?

Urban Freight Lab research indicates that if cities do not redesign the way they manage increasing numbers of commercial vehicles unloading goods in streets and alleys and into buildings, we will reach total gridlock:

What is the Final 50 Feet?

UFL researchers coined the term "final 50 feet" to describe the last leg of a product's journey from warehouse to customer: beginning at the load/unload space located at the curb, in an alley, or a private loading by; tracking the freight carrier as they maneuver sidewalks, intersections and security in buildings, and ending when the customer receives their goods.

In addition to being a key to customer satisfaction, the final 50 feet is both the most expensive and most time-consuming part of the delivery process—and ripe for improvement.

The Final 50 Feet Research Program

This research program uses a systems engineering approach to investigate solutions to optimizing operations in the final 50 feet of the supply chain. Research projects analyze processes, develop potential solutions, and pilot tests operational improvements to the street network and the city’s vertical spaces, such as office, hotel, retail and residential towers. This is the first time researchers have analyzed both the street network and cities' vertical spaces as one unified goods delivery system. It focuses on: the use of scarce curb and alley spaces and internal loading bays, how delivery workers move through intersections and sidewalks, and the delivery processes inside urban towers.

Program Goals

The program has two goals:

1. Reduce carbon emissions (per package per hour)

Reaching this goal has both environmental and economic benefits:

  • Reduce carbon footprint for retailers and logistics providers;
  • Lower costs for retailers and delivery firms, and therefore potentially lower costs for their customers;
  • Help cities reach their climate goals (the transportation sector is responsible for 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions);
  • Improve air quality for city residents 

2. Increase curb efficiency for goods (specifically, increase the number of packages per meter of curb per hour).

Reaching this goal will:

  • Help meet the increasing demand for urban deliveries;
  • Increase productivity of loading zones, and potentially reduce the required number of loading zones; 
  • Reduce cruising time for parking and unauthorized parking behavior among commercial vehicles;
  • Lower traffic congestion in cities;
  • Improve safety at the curb


  • Common Carrier Lockers: Lockers could create parcel delivery density by allowing carriers to leave deliveries in one secure location, provide secure drop-off location in publicly accessible locations, reduce congestion and emissions caused by commercial vehicle trips, and make commercial load/unload parking more productive. Our Final 50 Feet Urban Goods Delivery System: Common Carrier Locker Pilot Test at the Seattle Municipal Tower study provides evidence that a common carrier locker system can achieve a significant reduction in delivery time when compared to traditional floor-to-floor door-to-door delivery: the average time truck drivers spent in the tower decreased by 73% and failed deliveries decreased to zero.
  • Common Neighborhood Microhubs: A microhub is a central drop-off/pick-up location that aims to reduce congestion and vehicle emissions in urban areas by consolidating trips and offering additional services convenient onsite. We are currently testing a Neighborhood Delivery Hub in Seattle's Uptown.
  • Cargo Bike Delivery: Cargo bikes are more nimble, occupy less space, and reduce congestion and global and local pollutants. Our Cargo E-Bike Delivery Pilot Test in Seattle found that traditional commercial vehicles cruise for parking 50 minutes per day, while cargo bikes can potentially park anywhere.
  • Integrated Planning: Although passenger and freight transport share infrastructure, predominantly in urban areas, they are largely seen as different systems and remain separate, wasting scarce resources and contributing to congestion and the last mile problem. Our Freight and Transit Lane Case Study found that restricted multi-use lane strategies have the potential to tackle urban freight challenges.

Projects in the Final 50 Feet Research Program


Final 50 Feet Publications

Andisheh Ranjbari
UFL Manager and Research Scientist

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About the Urban Freight Lab (UFL): An innovative public-private partnership housed at the Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center at the University of Washington, the Urban Freight Lab is a structured workgroup that brings together private industry with City transportation officials to design and test solutions around urban freight management.

About the Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center: The Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center at the University of Washington is the go-to place to analyze and solve urban goods delivery, sustainability, logistic hubs and ports, and freight system performance management problems that overlap private and public spaces and control. Our work integrates in-depth consultation with industry and the public sector, transformative research, and executive education, and serves the powerful nexus of industry, transportation infrastructure, and policymakers.