Research Projects

The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System (Task Order 1)

Project Funder: 
City of Seattle Department of Transportation
Principal Investigator(s): 
Project Timing: 
October 2016 to October 2017
Project Description: 

Urban 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 and an explosion of activity in the future. Meeting current and future demand is creating unprecedented challenges for shippers to deliver increased volumes and meet increasing customer expectations for efficient and timely delivery. 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 particularly problematic in Seattle’s high-density areas of Downtown, Uptown (lower Queen Anne), South Lake Union, and First and Capitol Hills. Please note that at the time this research report was published, this area was called Center City in Seattle’s planning documents, but is now referred to as the Greater Downtown area.

This was the first research project in SDOT’s strategic partnership with the Urban Freight Lab (UFL), which is part of the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center at the University of Washington. The Urban Freight Lab members come from retail, delivery, and building management sectors; SDOT and the members set clear and measurable goals for each research project. UFL researchers collect original and existent data, analyze it, and pilot test promising strategies in the real world.

This report provides the first assessment in any U.S. city of the privately-owned and operated elements of the Final 50 Feet of goods delivery supply chains. These include private truck freight bays and loading docks, and delivery policies and operations within buildings located in Center City.

Key Findings

The research showed that in three of Seattle’s Center City neighborhoods Downtown, South Lake Union and private loading bays and docks are scarce, forcing delivery drivers to park in public spaces. Researchers found that there are 144 entrances to internal loading bays, 93 exterior loading docks, and 9 exterior loading areas. Only 13% of all buildings in downtown, uptown, and South Lake Union have private loading bays and/or docks; 87% must use the city’s curb and alley space to receive deliveries. The research team also quantified and created maps of the Final 50 Feet delivery process flows in and around five prototype buildings in Seattle (the Seattle Municipal Tower, a 62-story office building; Insignia residential tower; the Dexter Horton historic building; the Four Seasons hotel and condominium; and Westlake Mall retail Center). The researchers then quantified delay in the process steps for the Seattle Municipal Tower to understand which improvement strategies will have the greatest payoff: clearing security took 12% of the total time; looking for tenants and/or their locations and riding the freight elevator took 61% of the total time. Data showed that a smart locker system in the loading bay level of the Seattle Municipal Tower would reduce the time delivery people spend in the building by up to 73%. It would almost eliminate failed first deliveries and dramatically cut the mean truck dwell time in parking spaces serving the Tower. This result led to the Final 50 Feet: Common Carrier Locker Pilot Test at Seattle Municipal Tower.

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