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Evaluating Spatial Inequity in Last-Mile Delivery: A National Analysis

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Publication: International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management
Publication Date: 2024

Despite large bodies of research related to the impacts of e-commerce on last-mile logistics and sustainability, there has been limited effort to evaluate urban freight using an equity lens. Therefore, this study proposes a modeling framework that enables researchers and planners to estimate the baseline equity performance of a major e-commerce platform and evaluate equity impacts of possible urban freight management strategies. The study also analyzes the sensitivity of various operational decisions to mitigate bias in the analysis.

The model adapts empirical methodologies from activity-based modeling, transport equity evaluation, and residential freight trip generation (RFTG) to estimate person- and household-level delivery demand and cargo van traffic exposure in 41 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs).

Evaluating 12 measurements across varying population segments and spatial units, the study finds robust evidence for racial and socio-economic inequities in last-mile delivery for low-income and, especially, populations of color (POC). By the most conservative measurement, POC are exposed to roughly 35% more cargo van traffic than white populations on average, despite ordering less than half as many packages. The study explores the model’s utility by evaluating a simple scenario that finds marginal equity gains for urban freight management strategies that prioritize line-haul efficiency improvements over those improving intra-neighborhood circulations.

Presents a first effort in building a modeling framework for more equitable decision-making in last-mile delivery operations and broader city planning.

Authors: Travis FriedDr. Anne Goodchild, Ivan Sanchez Diaz (Chalmers University), Michael Browne (Gothenburg University)
Recommended Citation:
Fried, T., Goodchild, A.V., Sanchez-Diaz, I. and Browne, M. (2024), "Evaluating spatial inequity in last-mile delivery: a national analysis", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management.

The Future of Delivery: Urban Freight in 2030

Publication: Goods Movement 2030: An Urban Freight Blog
Publication Date: 2023

We have digitization to thank for today’s urban freight landscape. Digitization has long been the backbone of things we now take for granted — from TNCs (Transportation Network Companies) Uber and Lyft to online shopping and the complex supply chain needed to make that ecommerce happen. Digitization is what gives ecommerce’s biggest player — Amazon — visibility into its packages and enables it to deliver faster and more reliably than ever. So digitalization isn’t new. But it continues to spur new developments.

But what does digitization even mean in urban freight?

In this blog, we think about three buckets under the broad umbrella. Though all three can — and do — interconnect, the first two center on the public sector and the third on the private sector.

Recommended Citation:
"The Future of Delivery: Urban Freight in 2030" Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, January 27, 2023.

More Online Shopping Means More Delivery Trucks. Are Cities Ready?

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Publication: The Conversation
Publication Date: 2016

Two converging trends — the rise of e-commerce and urban population growth — are creating big challenges for cities. Online shoppers are learning to expect the urban freight delivery system to bring them whatever they want, wherever they want it, within one to two hours. That’s especially true during the holidays, as shipping companies hustle to deliver gift orders on time.

City managers and policymakers were already grappling with high demand and competing uses for scarce road, curb, and sidewalk space. If cities do not act quickly to revamp the way they manage increasing numbers of commercial vehicles unloading goods in streets and alleys and into buildings, they will drown in a sea of double-parked trucks.

The University of Washington has formed a new Urban Freight Lab to solve delivery system problems that cities and the business sector cannot handle on their own. Funders of this long-term strategic research partnership include the City of Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and five founding corporate members: Costco, FedEx, Nordstrom, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service.

The core problem facing cities is that they are trying to manage their part of a sophisticated data-powered 21st-century delivery system with tools designed for the 1800s — and they are often trying to do it alone. Consumers can order groceries, clothes, and electronics with a click, but most cities only have a stripe of colored paint to manage truck parking at the curb. The Urban Freight Lab brings building managers, retailers, logistics and tech firms, and city government together to do applied research and develop advanced solutions.

Moving more goods, more quickly

We have reached the point where millions of people who live and work in cities purchase more than half of their goods online. This trend is putting tremendous pressure on local governments to rethink how they manage street curb parking and alley operations for trucks and other delivery vehicles. It also forces building operators to plan for the influx of online goods. A few years ago, building concierges may have received a few flower bouquets. Now many are sorting and storing groceries and other goods for hundreds of residents every week.

In the first quarter of 2016, almost 8 percent of total U.S. retail sales took place online. Surging growth in U.S. online sales has averaged more than 15 percent year-over-year since 2010. Black Friday web sales soared by 22 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Online shoppers’ expectations for service are also rising. Two out of three shoppers expect to be able to place an order as late as 5:00 p.m. for next-day delivery. Three out of five believe orders placed by noon should be delivered the same day, and one out of four believe orders placed by 4:00 p.m. or later should still be delivered on the same day.

City living and shopping is still all about location, location, location. People are attracted to urban neighborhoods because they prefer to walk more and drive less. Respondents in the 2015 National Multifamily Housing Council-Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Survey preferred walking to grocery stores and restaurants rather than driving by seven points. But this lifestyle requires merchants to deliver goods to customers’ homes, office buildings or stores close to where they live.

Smarter delivery systems

SDOT recently published Seattle’s first draft Freight Master Plan, which includes high-level strategies to improve the urban goods delivery system. But before city managers act, they need evidence to prove which concepts will deliver results.

To lay the groundwork for our research, an SCTL team led by Dr. Ed McCormack and graduate students Jose Machado Leon and Gabriela Giron surveyed 523 blocks of Seattle’s downtown (including Belltown, the commercial core, Pioneer Square and International District), South Lake Union and Uptown urban centers in the fall of 2016. They compiled GIS coordinates and infrastructure characteristics for all observable freight loading bays within buildings. Our next step is to combine this information with existing GIS layers of the city’s curbside commercial vehicle load zones and alleys to produce a complete map of Seattle’s urban delivery infrastructure.

In our first research project, the Urban Freight Lab is using data-based process improvement tools to purposefully manage both public and private operations of the Final-50-Feet space. The final 50 feet of the urban delivery system begins when a truck stops at a city-owned curb, commercial vehicle load zone or alley. It extends along sidewalks and through privately owned building freight bays, and may end in common areas within a building, such as the lobby.

One key issue is failed deliveries: Some city residents don’t receive their parcels due to theft or because they weren’t home to accept them. Could there be secure, common drop-off points for multiple carriers to use, attached to bus stops or on the sidewalk?

The most pressing issue is the lack of space for trucks to park and deliver goods downtown. It may be possible to use technology to get more use out of existing commercial vehicle load zones. For example, trucks might be able to use spaces now reserved exclusively for other uses during off-peak hours or seasons.

To analyze the fundamental problems in the urban logistics system, our research team will create process flow maps of each step in the goods delivery process for five buildings in Seattle. We will collect data and build a model to analyze “what if” scenarios for one location. Then we will pilot test several promising low-cost, high-value actions on Seattle streets in the fall of 2017. The pilots may involve actively managing city load zones and alleys to maximize truck use, or changing the way people use freight elevators.

By using information technologies and creative planning, we can make receiving online goods as efficient as ordering them — without clogging our streets or losing our packages.

Recommended Citation:
Goodchild, A., & Ivanov, B. (2016, December 20). More online shopping means more delivery trucks. Are cities ready? The Conversation.

Where’s My Package? Common Carrier Freight Lockers Can Ease City Traffic and Prevent Failed Deliveries

Publication: The Conversation
Publication Date: 2018

Online shopping is a big convenience for many Americans, but porch piracy can ruin the experience. For example, Mikaela Gilbert lived in a row house in West Philadelphia while she studied systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. By her junior year, Gilbert had lost enough packages to thieves that she devised an elaborate three-pronged security strategy.

Her first line of defense was having online purchases shipped to a friend who lived in a high-rise apartment where a doorman secured incoming packages. She also sent orders to her parents’ house in New Jersey when she had a visit home planned. But both of those options were hugely inconvenient, so sometimes she routed deliveries to her place after texting her seven housemates to be on the lookout.

When Amazon installed branded delivery lockers near the center of campus, Gilbert began receiving packages there, which was less stressful than managing a small army of collaborators. But it limited her shopping to just one retailer. When Amazon didn’t have something she wanted, she had to fall back on her circle of friends.

Retailers delivering to a customers’ homes also want to avoid these situations. Research at our lab has identified a promising alternative: publicly accessible common carrier freight lockers where all retailers can leave packages for pickup.

So many stops, so little time
Like Amazon’s branded lockers, common carrier lockers are automated, self-service storage units that provide a secure location for customers to receive online purchases. However, any retailer or delivery firm can access them. Some private buildings have such lockers now, but those are only open to residents. Our study examined the effectiveness of locating them in public spaces in dense urban areas, where they can be available to everyone.

The University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab is a structured research work group composed of leading retail, logistics and delivery firms. We partner with the Seattle Department of Transportation, collect and analyze data, and run pilot tests of promising solutions in Seattle’s Center City area. Our focus is on solving urban delivery issues in an age when e-commerce is exploding, city populations are expanding, and gridlock is reaching epic levels.

In its first report, published in early 2018, the Lab analyzed the “Final 50 Feet” of the urban goods delivery system – the last leg of the supply chain. It begins when trucks pull into a parking space and stop moving, whether at the curb, in an alley, or at a building’s loading dock or internal freight bay. From there, it follows delivery people inside urban towers, ending where customers receive their packages.

Researchers discovered two especially thorny challenges in this segment of the chain: extended “dwell time,” when trucks are parked in load/unload spaces too long, and failed first delivery attempts due to causes that include porch piracy. Solving these puzzles could reduce delivery costs, traffic congestion and crime rates, and improve online shoppers’ experiences.

Delivering packages one at a time to individual homes or offices is time-consuming and requires driving to multiple locations and parking in multiple spaces. It also results in failed first delivery rates of up to 15 percent in parts of some cities, according to some of our lab’s member companies. Instead, we decided to try creating delivery density in a single location right where the trucks unloaded.

Centralized lockers where people live and work
Accordingly, the Urban Freight Lab’s second research project pilot-tested placing a common carrier locker system in the 62-floor Seattle Municipal Tower in downtown Seattle’s financial district. This step cut the time required to make deliveries in the tower by 78 percent. The next question was where to locate more of these delivery density points, or “mini-distribution nodes,” as the study called them.

Amazon, which is headquartered in Seattle, had already approached regional transportation agency Sound Transit about locating its branded lockers at the agency’s Link light rail stations. But public stewards of the property – the Seattle Department of Transportation, Sound Transit and King County Metro – did not want to advantage one carrier or retailer over others. Instead, we suggested locating common carrier lockers.

The transit agencies saw that this could reduce delivery truck traffic in neighborhoods they served, easing congestion and reducing vehicle emissions. And their mobility hub policies aimed to create lively public spaces that offered not only multiple transportation modes but lots of convenient amenities.

In a survey of 185 riders at three transit stations, our lab’s third research study found strong interest in the lockers, with up to 67 percent of respondents at each station willing to use them and the vast majority willing to carry a package three to six blocks to do so. These responses, plus the fact that some 137,000 people lived within a 30-minute walk of the three stations, suggested that tens of thousands of Seattle residents would be willing to use common carrier lockers at those stations.

For retailers like Nordstrom, the lockers represent a potential solution to porch piracy and other glitches associated with online shopping. “Rather than leaving the package at a door, some carriers want customers to come to their location to collect the package, while others might redeliver,” Loren VandenBerghe, director of transportation for Nordstrom, told us. “Whatever the process, the customer has to track down the package. Instead, we’d prefer to get the package in our customer’s hands when they expect it.”

Researchers have developed criteria for selecting locker locations and chosen five possible sites at or near the transit stations for pilot testing. We have received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to expand use of common carriers lockers in public spaces to a larger area in Seattle’s dense urban core and start actively managing the load/unload space network with new technology. Delivery drivers will be able to pull right up to lockers and unload goods, and riders can pick up their packages when they hop on or off a bus – making it much more convenient than waiting for a truck and scanning the street for porch pirates.

Recommended Citation:
Goodchild, A. (2018, December 18). Where’s my package? Common carrier freight lockers can ease city traffic and prevent failed deliveries. The Conversation.

How Many Amazon Packages Get Delivered Each Year?

Publication: The Conversation
Publication Date: 2022

How many Amazon packages get delivered each year? – Aya K., age 9, Illinois

It’s incredibly convenient to buy something online, right from your computer or phone. Whether it’s a high-end telescope or a resupply of toothpaste, the goods appear right at your doorstep. This kind of shopping is called “e-commerce” and it’s becoming more popular each year. In the U.S., it has grown from a mere 7% of retail purchases in 2012 to 19.6% of retail and $791.7 billion in sales in 2020.

Amazon’s growing reach
For Amazon, the biggest player in e-commerce, this means delivering lots of packages.

In 2021 Amazon shipped an estimated 7.7 billion packages globally, based on its nearly $470 billion in sales.

In 2021 Amazon shipped an estimated 7.7 billion packages globally.

If each of these packages were a 1-foot square box and they were stacked on top of one another, the pile would be six times higher than the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Laid end to end, they would wrap around the Earth 62 times.

Back in the early 2010s, most things bought from were shipped using a third-party carrier like FedEx or UPS. In 2014, however, Amazon began delivering packages itself with a service called “Fulfilled by Amazon.” That’s when those signature blue delivery vans started appearing on local streets.

Since then, Amazon’s logistics arm has grown from relying entirely on other carriers to shipping 22% of all packages in the U.S. in 2021. This is greater than FedEx’s 19% market share and within striking distance of UPS’s 24%. Amazon’s multichannel fulfillment service allows other websites to use its warehousing and shipping services. So your order from Etsy or eBay could also be packed and shipped by Amazon.

The supply chain
To handle that many packages, shipping companies need an extensive network of manufacturers, vehicles and warehouses that can coordinate together. This is called the supply chain. If you’ve ever used a tracking number to follow a package, you’ve seen it in action.

People who make decisions about where to send vehicles and how to route packages are constantly trying to keep costs down while still getting packages to customers on time. The supply chain can do this very effectively, but it also has downsides.

More delivery vehicles on the road produce more greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, along with pollutants like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that are hazardous to breathe. Traffic congestion is also a major concern in cities as delivery drivers try to find parking on busy streets.

Urban freight solutions
Are there ways to balance the increasing number of deliveries while making freight safe, sustainable and fast? At the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab, we work with companies like Amazon and UPS and others in the shipping, transportation and real estate sectors to answer questions like this. Here are some solutions for what we and our colleagues call the “last mile” – the last leg of a package’s long journey to your doorstep.

  • Electrification: Transitioning from gasoline and diesel vehicles to fleets of electric or other zero-emission vehicles reduces pollution from delivery trucks. Tax credits and local policies, such as creating so-called green loading zones and zero-emission zones for clean vehicles, create incentives for companies to make the switch.
  • Common carrier lockers: Buildings can install lockers at central locations, such as busy transit stops, so that drivers can drop off packages without going all the way to your doorstep. When you’re ready to pick up your items, you just stop by at a time that’s convenient for you. This reduces both delivery truck mileage and the risk of packages being stolen off of porches.
  • Cargo bicycles: Companies can take the delivery truck out of the equation and use electric cargo bicycles to drop off smaller packages. In addition to being zero-emission, cargo bicycles are relatively inexpensive and easy to park, and they provide a healthier alternative for delivery workers.

To learn more about supply chains and delivery logistics, check with your town or city’s transportation department to see if they are testing or already have goods delivery programs or policies, like those in New York and Seattle. And the next time you order something for delivery, consider your options for receiving it, such as walking or biking to a package locker or pickup point, or consolidating your items into a single delivery.

Package delivery can be both convenient and sustainable if companies keep evolving their supply chains, and everyone thinks about how they want delivery to work in their neighborhoods.

Recommended Citation:
Goodchild, A. How many Amazon packages get delivered each year? The Conversation.

Ecommerce and Logistics Sprawl: A Spatial Exploration of Last-Mile Logistics Platforms

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Publication: Journal of Transport Geography
Volume: 112
Publication Date: 2023

The rise of ecommerce helped fuel consumer appetite for quick home deliveries. One consequence has been the placing of some logistics facilities in proximity to denser consumer markets. The trend departs from prevailing discussion on “logistics sprawl,” or the proliferation of warehousing into the urban periphery. This study spatially and statistically explores the facility- and region-level dimensions that characterize the centrality of ecommerce logistics platforms. Analyzing 910 operational Amazon logistics platforms in 89 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) between 2013 and 2021, this study estimates temporal changes in distances to relative, population centroids and population-weighted market densities. Results reveal that although some platforms serving last-mile deliveries are located closer to consumers than upstream distribution platforms to better fulfill time demands, centrality varies due to facility operating characteristics, market size, and when the platform opened.

Ecommerce has transformed the “consumption geography” of cities. These transformations have major implications for shopping behaviors and retail channels, last-mile operations and delivery mode choice, the management and pricing of competing uses for street and curb space, and the spatial ordering and functional role of logistics land uses. In the latter case, researchers have observed a diversification of logistics platforms to more efficiently serve home delivery demand. These platforms range from “dark stores” and “microfullfilment centers” that fulfill on-demand deliveries and omni-channeled retail without a consumer facing storefront, multi-use urban distribution centers that convert unproductive sites (e.g., abandoned rail depots) to more lucrative land uses, and “microhubs” that stage transloading between cargo vans and e-bicycles suited for dense urban neighborhoods.

Logistics spaces play an important role in improving urban livability and environmental sustainability. Planning decisions scale geographically from the region-level to the curb. Facilities such as urban consolidation centers and loading zones can mitigate common delivery inefficiencies, such as low delivery densities and “cruising” for parking, respectively. These inefficiencies generate many negative externalities including climate emissions, air and noise pollution, congestion, and heightened collision risks, especially for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists. Limited commercial data has made it difficult, however, to observe spatial patterns with regards to ecommerce logistics platforms.

Using detailed proprietary data, this paper explores the evolving spatial organization of ecommerce logistics platforms. Given the company’s preeminence as the leading online retailer in the U.S., the paper presents Amazon as a case study for understanding warehousing and distribution (W&D) activity in the larger ecommerce space. Utilizing proprietary data on Amazon logistics facilities between 2013 and 2021, this research explores the geographic shape and explanatory dimensions of ecommerce within major U.S. metropolitan areas. In the following section, this study defines the state of research related to broader W&D land use and its implications to ecommerce’s distinct consumption geography. Afterwards, two methodologies for measuring logistics centrality are tested: a temporally relative barycenter-based metric, the prevailing method in literature, and another GIS-based, population-weighted service distance metric. The two measurements reveal nuances between facility- and region-level differences in the spatial organization of ecommerce platforms, which has yet to be fully researched. After presenting results from an exploratory regression analysis, this study discusses implications for future urban logistics land use and transport decisions.

Recommended Citation:
Fried, T., & Goodchild, A. (2023). E-commerce and logistics sprawl: A spatial exploration of last-mile logistics platforms. Journal of Transport Geography, 112, 103692.

Growth of Ecommerce and Ride-Hailing Services is Reshaping Cities Innovative Goods Delivery Solutions for Cities of the Future

Publication: Eno Transportation (August 9, 2018 Webinar)
Publication Date: 2018
Authors: Barbara Ivanov

Where’s My Stuff? Examining the Economic, Environmental, and Societal Impacts of Freight Transportation

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Publication: U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
Volume: 5-Dec-19
Publication Date: 2019

Written Testimony of
Anne Goodchild
Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering
Director of the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center
University of Washington

Joint Hearing on:
“Where’s My Stuff? Examining the Economic, Environmental, and Societal Impacts of Freight Transportation”
before the United States House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

December 5, 2019

Good morning, Chairs Norton and Lipinski and Ranking Members Davis and Crawford as well as distinguished Members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you about this important topic. My name is Anne Goodchild and I am a professor and the Director of the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center at the University of Washington. I am an urban freight expert.  The freight system, ultimately, allows for economic specialization; it supports city living, provides markets to producers, and strengthens competition.  On its own, the transportation and logistics sector represents approximately 10% of the US gross domestic product – a larger sector than either retail, or financial services.  The freight system is more than interstates, ports, pipelines and rail facilities.  The freight system is city streets, local highways, sidewalks, bike lanes, and front steps – the last mile of where these supply chains is carried out. It is the delivery man walking to your door or mailbox.  When we talk about freight infrastructure investment and building a better freight system, we must remember to include the last mile and particularly the Final Fifty Feet to the final delivery destination.  Without completing this final step, supply chains fail to deliver the economic and social benefits they promise.

Last mile costs businesses a disproportionate amount of time and money

The last mile is essential, and expensive; the most difficult and costly mile of all.  While estimates vary, the cost of the last mile has been estimated at between 25% and 50% of total supply chain transportation costs.

The last mile is costly because:

  1. It relies more on human labor than the other segments of supply chain transportation with drivers going door-to-door to drop off packages.  In cities, drivers can spend 80 or 90% of their time outside the vehicle
  2. Goods are more fragmented the farther you travel down the supply chain.  Upstream, goods are moved in large, consolidated shipments such as single commodities but the closer goods get to the consumer the more they are broken down into shipments for individual customers
  3. 80% of Americans live in congested regions  where travel speeds are slower and less reliable.  This increases the number of vehicles and drivers required to do the same work
  4. There can be high rates of failed deliveries requiring repeated delivery attempts and resulting in ballooning costs. Failed delivery attempts can mean that two or three additional trips are require to accomplish the same task.

While the high cost of the last mile is in part due to the distributed nature of deliveries, the cost is inflated by congestion, a lack of reasonable parking options, and other constraints put on commercial vehicle operations such as specific street or time of day bans.

Online shopping growing and speeding

Online shopping rates are growing and this is increasing demand for last mile delivery.  UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company, experienced 23% revenue growth from 2014 to 2018 (5.5% annually ).  With one-click shopping and free home delivery it is now often cheaper and easier to order something online than it is to go to the store.  Retail e-commerce sales as a percent of total retail sales in United States rose to 9% in 2017 and this figure is expected to reach 12.4% in 2020.  With store-based shopping, most Americans use their personal vehicles for shopping trips; driving to the store alone, purchasing a few items, and returning home in their car.  With an online purchase, the trip – now a delivery – is made with a commercial vehicle, extending the supply chain from the store or warehouse and bringing increasing numbers of commercial vehicles into towns and neighborhoods.  The volume of daily deliveries to homes has soared – from fewer than 360,000 a day in New York City in 2009 to more than 1.5 million today .  Households now receive more deliveries than businesses; and this, with online retail representing only 10% of all retail.  Imagine how many more trips there will be when online retail hits 20% or 50%.

In addition to growth in the number of deliveries, the pace of delivery of speeding.  Amazon, which currently holds about a 50% share of the online market in the US has, in the last 3 years, halved their average click-to-door speed from about 6 days to about 3 days .  Other retailers are attempting to keep pace.  Just this week I received an email from Amazon notifying me that Amazon Fresh would now deliver at “ultrafast speeds” in my area: “You can schedule same-day deliveries from 6:00am – 10:00pm and get FREE 2-hour scheduled delivery windows on orders over $35”.  Free two-hour delivery.  This was not in response to a request, rather this is being rolled out to all Prime members.  Depending on your location, you can also get 1-hour delivery for a small additional fee.  This is also available in DC and Northern VA.  There has also been a proliferation of on-demand delivery services, particularly in the food delivery sector, where online platforms now serve close to 30% of the market.

The US leads the world in online shopping activity and speed of delivery .  Supply chains have spent decades investing in technology and building the information systems required to deliver on home delivery and service promises.  More recently, venture capital has also invested in transportation and logistics, with PitchBook reporting $14.4 billion invested globally in privately owned freight, logistics, shipping, trucking, transportation management system (TMS), and supply chain tracking startups since 2013 . Not only do these changes affect transportation and logistics companies, but these changes affect peripheral sectors as companies reorganize their operations to service these new demands.

As customers are offered, and accept, shorter and shorter click-to-delivery times, delivery companies have less opportunity to make consolidated, efficient deliveries.  Instead of waiting for more orders and sending out full trucks, vehicles are sent out to meet their quick delivery promise; reducing vehicle utilization.  This increases the number of vehicles on the road, increases the cost per delivery, and increases vehicle emissions.

Significant impact on cities

It is the roads and sidewalks built by American cities and towns that enable this last mile delivery. In Seattle, 87% of buildings in greater downtown rely solely on the curb for freight access.  These buildings have no off-street parking or loading bays.

Our cities were not built to handle the nature and volume of current freight activity and are struggling to accommodate growth .  At the same time, delivery of goods is just one of the many functions of our transportation networks.  The same roads and sidewalks are also used by pedestrians, cyclists, emergency vehicles, taxis, ride hailing services, buses, restaurants, and street vendors, to name a few.

Capacity on our transportation networks is increasingly scarce.  Texas Transportation Institute’s 2019 Urban Mobility Report, a summary of congestion in America, is titled “Traffic is Bad and Getting Worse”.  Over the past 10 years, the total cost of delay in our nation’s top urban areas has grown by nearly 47%.  It is on top of this already congested network, that we add this growing last mile traffic. American cities have yet to make any headway with congestion, and delivery traffic both adds to, and suffers from, this condition.

To address congestion, many state Departments of Transportation are working to provide safe and competitive alternatives to single occupancy vehicle travel such as transit, bicycling, and walking. Other federal agencies are also working on addressing this issue, such as the Department of Energy, which has awarded UW and Seattle an EERE grant.  In building dedicated bicycle facilities, one common solution is to convert the curb lane to a bike lane, removing commercial vehicle load and unload space.  At the same time, American’s are increasingly using ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft .  This also increases the demand for curb space as passengers request pickup and drop-off instead of parking their own vehicle off-street.

The result is too much demand for too little space, and there is ample evidence of a poorly functioning system.  From a study in Seattle, 52% of vehicles parked in commercial vehicle load zones were passenger cars, and 26% of all commercial vehicles parked in passenger load zones.  In New York City, UPS and Fedex received 471,000 parking violations in 2018.  Everyone has seen an image of a truck parked in a bike lane, or been stuck behind a delivery truck occupying an entire residential street.  While we might expect a small percentage of violations, these levels reflect a failure of planning and design to deliver reasonable alternatives to commercial vehicles, and a city that has not caught-up with the changes in supply chain and shopping patterns.

In addition to these operational challenges, commercial vehicles have impacts on American’s health and safety.  Per mile, trucks produce disproportionately more carbon dioxide and local pollutants (NOx, PM) than passenger vehicles so a substitution of delivery trucks for passenger vehicles has the potential to increase emissions.  However, delivery services also present an opportunity to reduce emissions per package as they can consolidate many packages into one vehicle; the same way transit or carpooling can be an emissions advantage over single occupancy vehicle trips.  Research shows that in most cases a well-run delivery service would provide a carbon dioxide reduction over typical car-based shopping behavior.  While there is the opportunity for delivery services to provide this emissions benefit, the move towards very fast delivery erodes that benefit as delivery services are unable to achieve the same level of consolidation and begin to look more like butler services.

Diesel powered vehicles, often used for the movement of freight, produce disproportionately more particular matter and NOx pollution than gasoline engines, so the use of these vehicles in urban areas, where human exposure levels are higher, has significant negative outcomes for human populations in terms of asthma and heart disease.  This is particularly true for the very young, elderly, or immunosuppressed.

While it may seem intuitive that replacing a car trip to the store with a truck delivery would be bad for the city, in fact, delivery services can reduce carbon emissions and total vehicle miles travelled.  This is because the truck is not just delivering to one home, but to many.  In this sense, the truck delivery behaves like a transit vehicle or very large carpool.  This can reduce congestion by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.  Delivery trucks can be an asset when performing in this efficient manner because they consolidate many goods into a single vehicle reducing per package cost, emissions, and congestion impacts.

Banning trucks and requiring or encouraging the use of smaller vehicles INCREASES the number of vehicles and the vehicle miles travelled; exacerbating traffic and parking problems.

Growth in two and one-hour delivery INCREASES the number of vehicles and vehicle miles travelled; exacerbating traffic and parking problems.

The Urban Freight Lab as a Public and Private Sector Collaboration

Businesses are challenged by the high cost of the last mile, and the increasing time pressure for deliveries.  Cities are working to manage congestion, the competing demands of many users, emissions, and intense pressure for curb space.  This presents a complex set of problems, where:

  • private carriers are struggling to comply with city regulations and remain financially competitive while meeting customer expectations
  • customers are benefiting from high levels of convenience but also experiencing high levels of congestion and suffering from the effects of growing emissions
  • cities and towns are struggling to meet demands of multiple stakeholders and enforce existing rules

All of this, in a context where there are very limited data regarding truck or commercial vehicle activity, numbers of deliveries, or other measures of efficiency.  The Freight Analysis Framework , which compiles the nation’s most significant freight datasets such as the Commodity Flow Survey, breaks the country into 153 zones, so that most states can only see what came into or out of the state, not how vehicles move around within cities and towns.  The more recently developed National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS) , presents truck specific data, and allows for highway speeds to be monitored at a county level, but does not show vehicle volumes, or give any insights into origin-destination patterns.  At the national level, mode-specific datasets provide more spatial, temporal, and activity detail.   For example, the Carload Waybill sample  provides important data on rail cargo movements and the Air Operators Utilization Reports  provide important data on airplane activity.  Unfortunately, the Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey, which provided detailed data on truck and goods movements, was discontinued in 2002.  This leaves cities and towns have no nationally consistent sources of or guidelines for collecting truck activity data.

The most economically efficient solutions to these challenges will be identified through collaboration between cities and private partners.  One particularly successful and innovative solution can be found in the Urban Freight Lab at the University of Washington (  As the director of the Urban Freight Lab, I have built a coalition of private companies and public agencies who work together to identify and measure problems, and develop and pilot-test solutions that will provide benefits for a diverse group of public and the private sector stakeholders.  The goal is to find win-win solutions for businesses and city dwellers, and to avoid short-sighted solutions like blanket truck bans.

The Urban Freight Lab is successful because:

  • All participants have skin in the game.  Private sector contributions elevate public sector research funding and ensure that all participants fully engage.  This is fundamentally different from an advisory board or oversight committee because members must report back to their leadership and justify participation with measurable returns on investment.  This participation from the private sector improves relevance and timeliness of public sector support.
  • Collaboration amongst the private and public sector ensures that products of the lab are as mutually beneficial as possible.
  • Problems, evaluation metrics, and research ideas come from the group and are connected directly to real-world challenges faced, not the research directors, the public, or private sector alone.
  • Private- and public-sector participants are senior executives who have the authority to make decisions in quarterly meetings.  They do not need to return to the organization for approval.
  • Cities need freight planning capacity but currently don’t have any.  The work of the Urban Freight Lab fills gaps in problem definition, data collection, solution generation, orchestration and evaluation of pilot tests.
  • Robust analysis is conducted by University researchers – they serve an important role in taking an unbiased view and base their analysis on data.
  • Quarterly meetings are working meetings with detailed agendas and exit criteria.  The focus is on making progress, making decisions, and moving forward, not simply information sharing.
  • Private sector partners are operational and technical staff with knowledge of operations.
  • Public sector partners represent a breadth of functions including planning, engineering, curb management, mobility, and innovation.
  • University research focusses on practical outcomes and does not hide in theoretical concepts.
  • Solutions are tested on the ground through pilots and real tests.  The slow work of collaboration building and overcoming obstacles to implementation is part of the research.

Current private-sector lab members include Boeing HorizonX, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) – Seattle King County, curbFlow, Expeditors International of Washington, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Kroger, Michelin, Nordstrom, PepsiCo, Terreno Realty Corporation, US Pack, UPS, and  the United States Postal Service (USPS).  The Seattle Department of Transportation represents the public-sector.

Seattle is a growing City and has now been ranked in the top 4 for growth among major cities for five consecutive years.  It is a geographically constrained city surrounded by water and mountains, and boasts some of the highest rates of bike, walk, and transit commuting in the country ; with less than a quarter of City Center commuters now driving alone to work. It is a technologically oriented City; with the region serving as the home to many technology companies such as Amazon, Convoy, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Tableau.  The City was one of the first to launch PayByPhone, electronic toll tags, weigh-In-motion, high-occupancy-toll lanes, passive bicycle counters, real-time transit monitoring, bike and car share programs, and most recently, an Open Data Portal .  In this sense, the City provides an excellent example for experimentation where the public and private sector face intense pressure to look for new solutions and approaches; and levels of congestion and pressure that other US Cities can anticipate in their future as populations grow and infrastructure construction does not keep pace.

With this private- and public-sector funding the Urban Freight Lab has:

  • produced foundational research on the Final Fifty Feet of the supply chain
    developed and applied approaches to quantify urban freight infrastructure
    developed and applied approaches to measure infrastructure
    generated and tested approaches to reducing dwell time and failed deliveries in urban areas including common lockers
    developed and implemented an approach to measuring the volume of vehicles entering and exiting the City of Seattle.

Ongoing work is supported in large part by a grant from the Department of Energy U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) titled Technology Integration to Gain Commercial Efficiency for the Urban Goods Delivery System, Meet Future Demand for City Passenger and Delivery Load/Unload Spaces, and Reduce Energy Consumption.  This project, funded by DOE, provides $1.5 million over 3 years with matching funds from the City of Seattle, Sound Transit, King County Metro, Kroger, the City of Bellevue, and CBRE.  The project will evaluate the benefit of integrated technology applications on freight efficiency.  Within the scope of this grant, Urban Freight Lab members and the Seattle DOT will be involved in developing and testing applications of technology in the Belltown area of Seattle that will increase commercial efficiency and reduce impact of freight activity on city residents .

Moving Forward

Shopping patterns have evolved, but our infrastructure has not.  We need to rethink how we use our streets, curbs, and sidewalks if we want to maintain and grow our current shopping and delivery habits.

By consolidating many goods into a single route, delivery services could be an asset to communities; growing economic activity, reducing total vehicle miles travelled and associated carbon emissions, and supporting communities  less dependent on cars.  However, the current trend towards faster and faster deliveries; and businesses subsidizing delivery costs means we see lower vehicle utilization, higher numbers of vehicles and congestion, and increased emissions.

While some town and city governments have invested measuring the state of urban freight in their communities and developed improvements, most have limited resources and no guidance from the state or federal level.  For example, they do not know how many trucks operate in the region, what they carry, whether the current curb allocation is satisfactory, or what benefit might result from improvements.

New modes, technologies, and operational innovations provide opportunities for win-win solutions.  These new conditions may allow new modes such as electric assist cargo bikes  to outcompete existing modes. Electric and hybrid vehicles can reduce both global and local pollutants.  New technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and electronic curbs may fundamentally shift the existing infrastructure paradigms.  Private companies are ready to test these innovations, and the US and state DOTs can play a role in supporting these tests and conducting evaluations.

Investments in the freight system must include the last mile, and in particular the final fifty feet of the delivery route as a consideration to ensure economic vitality and support quality of life.  This includes supporting towns and cities in investigating and understanding the current state of goods movement at the municipal scale, identifying and evaluating new solutions for cities and towns to adapt to changing supply chains, integrating freight planning and passenger planning, and ultimately providing healthy environments for businesses to thrive and great places to live.

Recommended Citation:
“Where’s My Stuff? Examining the Economic, Environmental, and Societal Impacts of Freight Transportation." United States House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials (2019). (Anne Goodchild).

Growth of Ecommerce and Ride-Hailing Services is Reshaping Cities Connecting State and City DOTs, and Transit Agencies for Innovative Solutions

Publication: AASHTO 2018 Joint Policy Conference: Connecting the DOTs
Volume: 19-Jul-18
Publication Date: 2018

There is not enough curb capacity, now.

A recent curb parking utilization study in the City of Seattle indicated 90% or higher occupancy rates in Commercial Vehicle Load Zones (CVLZs) for some areas for much of the workday.

The Final Fifty Feet is a new research field.

The Final 50 Feet project is the first time that researchers have analyzed both the street network and cities’ vertical space as one unified goods delivery system. It focuses on:

  • The use of scarce curb, buildings’ internal loading bays, and alley space
  • How delivery people move with handcarts through intersections and sidewalks; and
  • On the delivery processes inside urban towers.
Authors: Barbara Ivanov

Analysis of Online Shopping and Shopping Travel Behaviors in West Seattle

Download PDF  (1.27 MB)
Publication Date: 2023

The purpose of this research is to explore consumers’ online shopping and in-person shopping travel behaviors and the factors affecting these behaviors within the geographical context of the study area of West Seattle.

West Seattle is a peninsula located southwest of downtown Seattle, Washington State. In March 2020, the West Seattle High Bridge, the main bridge connecting the peninsula to the rest of the city, was closed to traffic due to its increased rate of structural deterioration. The closure resulted in most of the traffic being re-distributed across other bridges, forcing many travelers to re-route their trips in and out of the peninsula. At about the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic caused business-shuttering lockdowns. Both events fundamentally changed the nature of shopping and the urban logistics system of the study area.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) engaged the Urban Freight Lab (UFL) at the University of Washington to conduct research to understand current freight movements and goods demands in West Seattle and identify challenges related to the bridge closure to inform data-driven mitigation strategies. The study took place in two phases: the first phase documented the challenges experienced by local businesses and carriers through a series of interviews and quantified the freight trip generated by land use in the case study area1 ; the second phase, described in the current report, performed an online survey to understand online shopping and in-person shopping travel behaviors for West Seattle residents.

The main objectives of the current study are twofold:

  • Describe online shopping and shopping travel consumer behaviors for West Seattle residents.
  • Understand what factors influence consumer shopping behaviors, from accessibility to local stores, to the characteristics of goods purchased, to socio-economic factors.


To address these objectives, the research team designed an online questionnaire that was advertised through a West Seattle Bridge Closure-related SDOT newsletter and other local online media outlets during the spring and summer of 2022. The questionnaire asked respondents about their socioeconomic conditions (age, income, education, etc.), where they live and their access to transportation (vehicle ownership and types of vehicles), their online shopping behavior, the impact of the West Seattle High Bridge closure on their shopping habits, and about their most recent purchase for a given category of goods among clothing items, groceries, restaurant food, and household supplies. The questionnaire was collected anonymously, and no personally identifiable information was collected. A total of 1,262 responses were collected, and after data processing, the final sample data consisted of 919 responses, corresponding approximately to 1 percent of the study area population.

Comparing the socioeconomic characteristics of the sample with those of the West Seattle study population it should be noted that individuals identifying themselves as white and female and of older age were oversampled, while individuals with lower than a college degree and with annual income less than $50,000 were under-sampled. Therefore, the sample in general is more representative of a more affluent, older population.

Key Findings

The key findings are summarized as follows:

Online shopping is widespread for clothing items and restaurant food.

Respondents receive on average 5 deliveries per week, across all goods categories. 38.7 percent of the respondents reported performing their most recent shopping activity online, considering all goods categories. However, the frequency of online shopping varied across different goods categories. Most of the respondents that purchased groceries or household supplies reported having shopped in person (89 and 75 percent of the respondents respectively), while, in contrast, for those that purchased restaurant food and clothing items, two-thirds of respondents reported buying online in both categories. Online shopping is widespread in the clothing and restaurant food markets, but less in grocery and household supplies markets. Of the consumers that shopped online for restaurant food, 76 percent of them decided to travel to take out (also referred to as curbside pickup), and only 24 percent of them chose to have the meal delivered directly to their home.

Online shopping is more widespread among mobility-impaired individuals

Participants were asked whether they had a disability that limited physical activities such as carrying, walking, lifting, etc. Of the 918 participants, 98 (11%) responded that they did have a disability that fit this description. The share of respondents that shop online was higher among mobility-impaired individuals (30 percent online for delivery and 19 percent online for pick-up) compared to individuals that did not report any mobility impairment (23 percent online for delivery and 12 percent online for pick-up).

Driving is the predominant shopping travel mode

Of the sample of respondents, 96 percent reported having access to a motorized vehicle within their household. Driving is also the most common shopping mode of in-person travel, with 81.3 percent of respondents reporting that they drove to a store to shop. Walking is a distant second preferred shopping travel mode, with 13.1 percent of respondents reporting having walked to a store. Biking and public transit were rarely adopted as a shopping travel mode, together they were observed 5.6 percent of the time. Though included as a travel option, only 1 participant reported using a rideshare vehicle to shop.

Electrification in West Seattle

Of the respondents that have access to a motorized vehicle in their households, 9.8 percent of them reported owning an electric vehicle. Car ownership is much more widespread than bike ownership, with 51.6 percent of the respondents reporting having access to a bike. Among these, 15.5 percent of them said that at least one of their bikes is electric.

The 10-minute city

The average walking time across all types of goods purchased was 10 minutes. The average driving time, for those respondents that reported driving to a store, was also about 10 minutes, except for those who reported purchasing clothing items, which reported on average of 27-minute trip time (both using a private car or using public transit). The longest travel times are seen mostly for respondents that took public transit as a shopping travel mode.

Living in proximity to stores reduces driving and online deliveries

A higher number of stores within a 10-minute walking distance (0.5 miles) is correlated with a higher number of consumers choosing to walk to a store, compared to those that chose to drive to a store or that shopped online. This is true across all goods types, but it is more significantly seen in grocery shopping. Moreover, accessibility to commercial establishments at a walking distance has a stronger impact on reducing the likelihood of driving, and at a lesser magnitude, reduces the propensity of shopping online.

Delivery to the doorstep is the most common destination for online deliveries

For those that chose to buy online, the most common delivery destination was at the respondents’ home doorstep (84 percent of respondents reported receiving online deliveries at home). The second most frequently used delivery destination was parcel lockers (15 percent of respondents), with 12 percent of respondents making use of private lockers, while only 3 percent made use of public lockers. The remaining one percent received deliveries at other destinations (e.g. office or nearby store).

The West Seattle High Bridge closure incentivized local shopping

When asked about the impacts of the West Seattle Bridge closure on individual online and shopping travel behaviors, more respondents reported buying more locally and online, vs. traveling farther for shopping and buying in person.

Recommended Citation:
Goodchild, A., Dalla Chiara, G., Verma, R., Rula, K. (2023) Analysis of Online Shopping and Shopping Travel Behaviors in West Seattle, Urban Freight Lab.