Skip to content

Delivering the Goods: NYC Urban Freight in the Age of Ecommerce

Delivering the Goods: NYC Urban Freight in the Age of Ecommerce
Delivering the Goods: NYC Urban Freight in the Age of Ecommerce
December 21, 2022   //   

By AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, AIANY Planning and Urban Design, and AIANY Committee on the Environment

The Goal

The goal of AIA (American Institute of Architects) New York’s Freight and Logistics Initiative is to advance freight policy in New York City by advocating for more efficient, equitable, and sustainable goods movement. By focusing on the middle-mile to last-mile segments of the supply chain with four existing delivery scenarios and offering alternative prototypes to the current state of goods movement, we see opportunities for improvements that will benefit the entire city.

The Situation

Impacts of Urban Freight | Each year, 365 million tons of freight moves through the New York City area.1 It is a flow of goods that brings the benefits of prosperous business but also gives rise to a set of complex challenges, especially in the final stage of freight delivery, the Last Mile. As freight moves through city neighborhoods so do its impacts, often in ways that are distributed unevenly. In many cases, the weight of freight falls disproportionately on disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. Typical impacts include vehicle emissions (CO2 and particulates), congestion (streets, sidewalks, curb), waste issues (inefficient material flows, uncontainerized refuse), and safety risks (crashes, injuries, and deaths). On the supply side, freight delivery has its own challenges, particularly in New York City, where the geographic configuration of the five boroughs limits and concentrates access. Optimal sites for distribution facilities that are close to the final destination—consumers—often compete with other land uses.


  • The primary stakeholders in the middle-mile/last-mile segments of this complex freight delivery ecosystem are:
    • Consumers, who generate demand for products to support their basic needs as well as lifestyle choices
    • Local communities, which experience the greatest impacts—both positive and negative—from close proximity to freight delivery routes and distribution warehouses along the supply chain
    • Local businesses, which rely on the supply chain to get products they manufacture to consumer
    • The general public, which benefits from orderly commercial activity
    • The goods movement industry with its three main subsets:
      • Freight haulers, who deliver goods from point A to point B along the supply chain
      • The real estate industry, which develops physical distribution spaces where goods are transferred, stored, and sorted for eventual delivery
      • Logistics operators, who are the linchpin in the commercial process of supplying the products that consumers purchase


The initiative developed from a multi-committee task force within the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter and expanded to include experts from academia, urban design, and traffic engineering fields. We began by immersing ourselves in previous research on the subject. We then interviewed various stakeholders affected by goods movement and held three listening sessions with experts in the field, each with a separate focus: best practices from comparable cities, community perspectives, industry perspectives, and agency perspectives. From here, we documented representative local goods movement scenarios in New York City and developed a series of future prototypes illustrating opportunities to improve land use and street/curb conflicts. This analysis resulted in a series of recommendations —some short-term and easier to implement, some longer-term and more visionary — that offer a framework for discussion about how to shape goods movement in the city over the coming decades.

Participatory Planning Approaches

  • Create an institutional platform to enable cooperative planning across all stakeholders
  • Promote stakeholder data collection and open data access
  • Actively cultivate engagement and knowledge sharing

The delivery and distribution network for goods and products is inherently cross-jurisdictional, involving multiple governments and impacting multiple stakeholders along the way. Even the simplest local material or product delivery trip illustrates the many challenges related to street design and land use that confront cities, local neighborhoods, and the goods movement industry.

Local community boards have limited tools to influence decision-making for the neighborhoods that they represent. The competitive nature of private enterprise discourages transparency and information sharing. And separate government agencies with discrete areas of responsibility often lack a centralized mechanism through which to build trust, coordinate policies, and test new ideas. But there are strategies to address these challenges.

Models for Stakeholder Engagement

Regular meetings between government agencies and the freight industry offer a forum for open communication and collaborative problem-solving. Seattle’s University of Washington Urban Freight Lab, for example, hosts a structured public/private working group that brings together freight industry partners and city officials to test strategies to improve urban freight management, while the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Goods Movement Task Force connects regional planning agencies with the freight industry.

Examples of community-based planning in New York City include the 197-a Plan process, which enables community boards and borough presidents to develop community-based plans for their district or borough to inform decision-making on land use. While community-drafted 197-a Plans articulate a consensus vision for districts, plan recommendations remain advisory rather than determinative. Furthermore, the capacity and resources needed by community boards to develop such plans and gain City approval are formidable. To date, just 11 197-a Plans representing the city’s 59 community boards have been approved, the most recent in 2009. Missing from these examples is a platform that brings together all stakeholders—community, industry, and government—to develop a consensus approach to problem-solving.

Building Inclusive Coalitions and Collaborations

The recently released Hunts Point Forward plan exemplifies a more inclusive approach to neighborhood planning. Created by a coalition of community organizations, business and industry representatives, city agencies, and elected officials, the plan lays out a shared vision for the Hunts Point peninsula in the South Bronx, where the massive public/private Hunts Point Food Distribution Center and other industrial uses surround a vibrant residential enclave.

To support community-based planning initiatives like Hunts Point Forward, the City could expand its Freight Advisory Committee to include community representatives, thus providing an inclusive community/industry/government forum to share knowledge, dissolve blind spots, and test strategies. Facilitated by a neutral third-party organization similar to Seattle’s Urban Freight Lab, the forum would provide a platform to build consensus and resolve conflicts between stakeholders. The cross-jurisdictional collaborative model would also enable fair and equitable access to innovation and experimentation that may otherwise be prohibitive when approached independently.