Urban Freight Lab

The SCTL Center Urban Freight Lab is a living laboratory at the University of Washington comprised of:

Photo by Anna Bovbjerg:
SCTL Center Research Asst., student MSc(Eng.),
University of Washington

  • Retailers;
  • Urban truck freight carriers;
  • Technology companies supporting transportation and logistics;
  • Multifamily residential and retail/commercial building developers and operators; and
  • The City of Seattle Department of Transportation.  

Members of the Urban Freight Lab act to improve the management of both public and private operations of urban goods delivery systems by engaging in strategic applied research and identifying priority problems for future research projects.

Since the launch of the SCTL Center in October 2016, recognition of the Urban Freight Lab in print, TV, and web media, federal publications, and presentation invitations continues to grow in the U.S. and internationally.  

Founding Members of the SCTL Center Urban Freight Lab

  • Charlie's Produce
  • Costco
  • Nordstrom
  • UPS
  • USPS

Final-50-Feet Research Project & Goals

The Urban Freight Lab’s first task is pilot testing promising low-cost and high-value actions to optimize operations of the Final-50-Feet of the urban goods delivery system. The Final 50’ is shorthand for the supply chain segment that begins when trucks pull into a parking space and stop moving - in public load/unload spaces at the curb or in an alley, or in a building’s loading dock or internal freight bay. It tracks the delivery process inside buildings, and ends where the customer takes receipt of their goods.

At the first UFL meeting in December 2016, Costco, Nordstrom, UPS, USPS and the Seattle Department of Transportation established two top goals for the Final 50’ research project:

1. Reduce dwell time: the time a truck is parked in a load/unload space in the city.  There are both public and private benefits to reaching this goal.

Truck parked in loading zone
Photo by Barb Ivanov
SCTL Center,
University of Washington

  • Lower costs for delivery firms, and therefore potentially lower costs for their customers;
  • More efficient use of public and private truck load/unload spaces creates more capacity without building additional spaces; and
  • Room for other vehicles to move through alleys – trucks can legally unload at both ends of the alley, but when they’re there they can block other uses.

2. Reduce failed first deliveries. Several Urban Freight Lab members told the research team that 8-10% of first delivery attempts in urban areas fail. Reducing failed first deliveries will:

  • Improve urban online shoppers’ experiences and protect retailers’ brands;
  • Make the City of Seattle a more inviting place to live and work, thereby attracting more business development;
  • Cut business costs for the retail sector and logistics firms;
  • Cut crime and provide a safer environment for residents and workers;
  • Improve an amenity that adds value at multifamily properties – the ability to ensure that their tenants can shop online and get their order when they expect it;
  • Lower traffic congestion in cities, as delivery trucks could make up to 10% fewer trips while still completing the same number of deliveries; and
  • Ensure that all city neighborhoods can receive online orders, not just a few.

The Final 50’ project is the first time that SDOT and researchers have analyzed both the street network and the city’s vertical space (office, hotel, retail and residential towers) as one unified goods delivery system. UFL researchers spent the first half of 2017 documenting and geocoding the features of all privately-owned freight bays and loading docks visible from the street in three of Seattle’s urban centers. Next, the team identified and conducted research at five prototype buildings in Seattle to create detailed process flow maps of Final 50’ delivery processes. In-depth analysis of process step delays at one of the prototype building provided insight on where improvement strategies will have the greatest payoff. The UFL is currently investigating high-impact, low-cost solutions to pilot test at a 70-story office building in downtown Seattle in early 2018.

The full report on the UFL’s work to date will be available electronically in late 2017. Future UFL research will expand on this project, and may extend to demand management and other operational strategies in city streets and arterials. Speed, transportation and density form city shape, and the Urban Freight Lab will address them at the nexus of publicly- and privately-controlled delivery operations.

Subscribe to SCTL's blog, The Goods, to receive UFL and Final 50' project updates. Check out our In the News page to see the UFL in the media.  

Join the Urban Freight Lab

Membership in the Urban Freight Lab is limited to 15 private and public sector members. The 2018 membership fee is $15,000 per year per company.

Benefits of membership: 

  • Delivery of new data-based knowledge and insights about the effects of truck freight parking and freight-bay action strategies proposed for implementation in the City of Seattle, before they are broadly implemented.
  • Members will actively engage in pilot testing the most promising low-cost and high-value actions in the Urban Freight Lab.
  • In addition to deep expertise in supply chain transportation and logistics, the SCTL Urban Freight Lab will apply process flow improvement methods to analyze current and explore desired performance alternatives in the Final 50’ pilot research project.
  • Membership in the Urban Freight Lab also includes all benefits associated with membership in the SCTL Executive Forum at no additional cost.
  • To ensure that project results are reported openly and objectively, we have invited several nationally-known expert observers to independently evaluate the Urban Freight Lab’s innovations in project approach, methodologies and results:
    • Program Manager of Freight Planning Diniece Peters, who is responsible for the development of the NYC DOT Freight Plan 
    • Associate Professor Dr. Alison Conway, City College of New York (CUNY) 

Interested in becoming a member? Contact SCTL Center COO Barb Ivanov at ivanovb@uw.edu.