The Final 50 Feet Research Program: Optimizing the Last Leg of the Urban Goods Delivery System
Two converging trends — the rise of e-commerce 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.
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.
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:
Our curb parking utilization study showed 90% or higher occupancy rates in Commercial Vehicle Load Zones (CVLZ) for some Seattle areas during the majority of business hours.
Our loading bay inventory study showed that just 13% of buildings in Seattle's urban core have private loading bays or docks, meaning delivery workers largely rely on city curb and alley spaces.
- Our alley inventory and occupancy study showed that the vast majority of alleys in Seattle's center city are constricted to one lane wide, limiting alley parking to one or two commercial vehicles at a time.
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.
The program has two goals:
1. 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:
- Lower costs for delivery firms, and therefore potentially lower costs for customers;
- More efficient use of public and private load/unload spaces, creating more capacity without building additional spaces; and
- Space for other vehicles to move through alleys without blocking other users.
2. Reduce failed first delivery rate (the rate at which courier company was attempted to deliver but was unsuccessful)
According to Lab members, up to 15% of first delivery attempts in urban areas across the U.S. fail; in London, that rate is 30%.
Reducing failed first deliveries will:
- Lower traffic congestion in cities, as delivery trucks could make up to 15% fewer trips while still completing the same number of deliveries;
- Improve e-commerce experience for urban customers and protect retailers’ brands;
- Reduce business costs for the retail sector and logistics firms;
- Lower crime and provide a safer environment for residents and commuters;
- 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; and
- Ensure equity across all city neighborhoods.
Projects in the Final 50 Feet Research Program
Final 50 Feet Publications
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 overlay 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.