Final 50 Feet Research Program

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

The Urban Freight Lab's Final 50 Feet Research Programs zooms in on the “final 50 feet" of the urban goods delivery system — the last segment of the supply chain, which includes searching for parking, moving items from a delivery vehicle, navigating across traffic, sidewalks, bike lanes, building security, and ending with the recipient.

In addition to being a key to brand reputation and customer satisfaction, the final 50 feet is both the most expensive (this segment is estimated to drive 25-50% of the transportation supply chain costs) and most time-consuming part of the delivery process — and ripe for improvement.

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.
Photo by Urban Freight Lab.

The Challenge: As Ecommerce Skyrockets, Last-Mile Logistics Is More Important Than Ever

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

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.

Spending Shifts to Online

Ecommerce sales were up an incredible 32.4% in 2020 from 2019 ($791.7 billion in 2020 vs. $598.02 billion in 2019) — the highest annual U.S. ecommerce growth in at least two decades. Ecommerce now accounts for 19.6% of total retail sales, up from 15.8% in 2019 and 14.3% in 2018. A decade ago, ecommerce accounted for just 7% of total retail purchases.

Chart - ecommerce vs total retail sales over time
Online sales now represent nearly 20% of spending in the U.S. Image by Digital Commerce 360.
Data by U.S. Commerce Department.

Ecommerce Boom Fuels Demand for Already Scarce Space in the Final 50 Feet

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.

As cities 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:

Final 50 Feet Program Goals & Benefits

The Final 50 Feet Research Program has two goals: reducing carbon emissions (per package per hour) and increasing curb efficiency for goods delivery (number of packages per meter of curb per hour).

Innovative Approaches to Increasing Delivery Efficiency in the Final 50 Feet

Since our launch in 2016, the Final 50 Feet Research Program has pilot tested innovative solutions on the ground in Seattle:

  • 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 tested 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.

Completed Final 50 Feet Research Program Projects

Published Reports in the Final 50 Feet Program

Kelly Rula
Director of Policy and Partnerships, Urban Freight Lab

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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.