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Paper

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
Summary:

Purpose
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.

Design/methodology/approach
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).

Findings
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.

Originality/value
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.
Article

The State of Sustainable Urban Last-Mile Freight Planning in the United States

 
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Publication: Journal of the American Planning Association
Volume: 2024
Pages: 1-14
Publication Date: 2024
Summary:

Problem, research strategy, and findings
The transportation sector is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. To articulate how cities may combat rising emissions, municipalities throughout the country have produced climate action and sustainability plans that outline strategies to reduce their carbon footprints from transportation. At the same time, last-mile delivery—also known as urban freight—is becoming an increasingly important component of urban transport emissions due to the rise of e-commerce. However, few cities are overtly pursuing policies to reduce emissions from this subsector. In this research we used content analysis to determine the extent to which major cities (based on population and growth) were considering or actively developing sustainable urban freight practices. We developed a simple contextual scale to compare the comprehensiveness of planning trends between cities. This content analysis also identified the strategies those cities are considering. Our findings show that fewer than half (45%) of the studied cities have considered last-mile freight in sustainability planning at all. Of those, only 17 (29%) have articulated an intent to dedicate resources toward achieving that goal.

Takeaway for practice
We found that urban freight planning is still in its infancy in terms of actions taken by municipal agencies. Though some cities have comparatively comprehensive plans dedicated to the industry, most are just now scratching the surface. Those cities lacking dedicated last-mile freight plans can learn from those other cities initiating pilots and collecting data from the industry. We point out also, though, that urban freight planning requires an understanding of the stakeholders, namely, delivery companies, and the first step for many cities is to initiate communication and collaboration with the private sector to better understand the environmental impact of urban freight in their city.

Last-mile goods delivery, and the externalities associated with it, is on the rise in urban areas (Buldeo Rai et al., Citation2017; World Economic Forum, Citation2020). The increase in urban deliveries can be attributed to changes in consumer demand, new or better services offered by companies, and the increase in the urban population. E-commerce has changed the way customers interact with companies by offering platforms outside traditional shopping channels (Wagner et al., Citation2020). Services including same-day delivery, prepared food delivery applications, and grocery delivery services have resulted in the growth of e-commerce-related urban freight trips (Rotem-Mindali & Weltevreden, Citation2013) as well as an increase in the number of vehicles competing for limited space on city infrastructure (Chen et al., Citation2016; Viu-Roig & Alvarez-Palau, Citation2020). Cities, then, have been increasingly affected by the local air and noise pollution, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, congestion, and road safety hazards associated with last-mile delivery vehicle activities. Air and noise pollution have immediate, negative impacts on the health of urban populations, and GHG emissions are contributing to long-term climate change (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Citation2016). Dense, highly populated, and rapidly growing cities can expect to see an increase in goods-related vehicle traffic of up to 30% in the coming decade (World Economic Forum, Citation2020).

Our research is part of a larger project aimed at identifying ways to reduce emissions from last-mile goods movement and the challenges that exist to implementation of those strategies. Throughout this article we use urban freight and last-mile delivery or goods movement interchangeably. This research is centered on the planning aspect of urban freight. Policy problems, in this case emissions from freight, are often referenced in long-range planning documents and solutions are offered. Planning documents can be a useful tool to identify the scale and scope of resources being allocated to a problem. Our research is the first to ask: What is the state of sustainable urban last-mile freight planning in U.S. cities?

In particular, we address the following questions:

  • How do U.S. cities define urban freight?
  • What strategies are U.S. cities considering to reduce last-mile delivery emissions?
  • How often are freight strategies considered in urban planning?
  • What is the context in which sustainable last-mile strategies are referenced?

We answered these research questions by performing a scan of the relevant policy documents published by major U.S. cities. We first identified which sustainable last-mile strategies cities were seeking to implement. Then we evaluated the degree to which those strategies were incorporated into city planning documents: Were there tests or pilots ongoing, or was the reference intended to guide policy decisions in the future? Our analysis here provides a general overview of how widespread sustainable urban freight planning is in U.S. cities.

This article is organized as follows: The next section describes the methods used to select U.S. cities to evaluate, extract prescient references from those cities’ planning documents, and the evaluation tool developed for our research. Next, we describe findings from the review of the city plans, organized by research subquestions listed above. We show that the definition of urban freight has been inconsistent and that few cities have considered multiple strategies, much less dedicated resources to testing those strategies. Findings are followed by a discussion of the key findings and conclusions. We found that there were model cities pursuing multiple sustainable freight avenues from which other cities less familiar with the industry could gain valuable knowledge.

Recommended Citation:
Maxner, T., Dalla Chiara, G., & Goodchild, A. (2024). The State of Sustainable Urban Last-Mile Freight Planning in the United States. Journal of the American Planning Association, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2024.2324096
Paper

Ecommerce and Environmental Justice in Metro Seattle

 
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Publication: Research in Transportation Economics
Volume: 103
Publication Date: 2023
Summary:

Urban distribution centers (UDCs) are opening at unprecedented rates to meet rising home delivery demand. The trend has raised concerns over the equity and environmental justice implications of ecommerce’s negative externalities. However, little research exists connecting UDC location to the concentration of urban freight-derived air pollution among marginalized populations.

Using spatial data of Amazon UDCs in metropolitan Seattle, this study quantifies the socio-spatial distribution of home delivery-related commercial vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT), corresponding air pollution, and explanatory factors. Results reveal that racial and income factors are relevant to criteria air pollutant exposure caused by home deliveries, due to tracts with majority people of color being closer in proximity to UDCs and highways. Tracts with majority people of color face the highest median concentration of delivery vehicle activity and emissions despite ordering less packages than white populations. While both cargo van and heavy-duty truck emissions disproportionately affect people of color, the socio-spatial distribution of truck emissions shows higher sensitivity to fluctuations in utilization.

Prioritizing environmental mitigation of freight activity further up the urban distribution chain in proximity to UDCs, therefore, would have an outsized impact in minimizing disparities in ecommerce’s negative externalities.

Recommended Citation:
Fried, T., Verma, R., & Goodchild, A. (2024). Ecommerce and Environmental Justice in Metro Seattle. Research in Transportation Economics, 103, 101382. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.retrec.2023.101382
Paper

Seattle Microhub Delivery Pilot: Evaluating Emission Impacts and Stakeholder Engagement

 
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Publication: Case Studies on Transport Policy
Publication Date: 2023
Summary:

Urban freight deliveries using microhubs and e-cargo cycles have been gaining attention in cities suffering from congestion and emissions. E-cargo cycle deliveries and microhubs used as transshipment points in urban cores can replace trucks to make cities more livable. This study describes and empirically evaluates an e-cargo tricycle pilot conducted with multi-sector stakeholders in Seattle to report the potential benefits and pitfalls of such practices. The pilot held stakeholder workshop sessions to collect inputs of interest and expectations from the project. Mobile devices used by drivers on e-cargo tricycle and cargo van routes collected delivery data to use for empirical assessment. Total vehicle miles traveled and tailpipe carbon emissions served as performance metrics when comparing e-cargo tricycle and cargo van deliveries. The results showed the net-benefit of the microhub and e-cargo tricycle routes depend on the upstream operations when replenishing packages.

The participatory approach to pilot design also provided insights into the factors of a successful pilot, with implications for scaling future e-cargo cycle delivery systems in North American cities. Namely, microhubs’ ability to host alternative revenue sources and value-added services is a boon for long-term financial competitiveness. However, lack of digital/physical infrastructure and work training/regulations specific to e-cargo cycle delivery operations present a barrier.

Recommended Citation:
Gunes, Seyma, Travis Fried, and Anne Goodchild. “Seattle Microhub Delivery Pilot: Evaluating Emission Impacts and Stakeholder Engagement.” Case Studies on Transport Policy. Elsevier BV, November 2023. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cstp.2023.101119.

Measuring the Sustainability Impact of Misloaded Packages

The Urban Freight Lab and RFID device manufacturer Impinj are joining forces to create a conceptual framework aimed at assessing the repercussions of misloaded packages on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and emissions. Misloaded packages (packages placed on an incorrect delivery vehicle) can cause drivers to deviate from their intended routes miles to rectify the error, increasing both VMT and emissions. This collaborative effort will analyze the consequences of such incidents in order to optimize delivery efficiency, minimize environmental impacts, and contribute to more efficient and environmentally sustainable urban freight practices.

Background
Impinj, a leader in the manufacturing of radio frequency identification (RFID) devices, has developed a Misloaded Packages Carbon Calculator, a model that quantifies the environmental impact of misloaded packages. The Urban Freight Lab (UFL) is an internationally recognized laboratory with research experience in measuring behaviors and impacts of last-mile delivery systems.

Objective
The current project proposes a collaboration between Impinj and the UFL to:

  • Explore the operational and sustainability impacts of misloaded packages across different industry segments and communicate findings through a blog post.
  • Introduce a novel conceptual model framework based on the IMPINJ carbon calculator that could be implemented in a future project to estimate the marginal change in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and emissions from changes in the misload rate.

Project Outputs
The UFL team will output the following deliverables:

  • A presentation at the 2023 Impinj Executive Forum to introduce the Impinj-UFL collaboration and the model framework for the misload package carbon calculator
  • A blog post reporting on the operational impact of misloaded packages across different industry sectors, and reflection on the sustainability implications of changing the misload rate (percent of misload packages experienced in a typical day)
  • A conceptual model framework based on Impinj misload packages carbon calculator that take into account different behavioral responses to handle misload packages and different industry sectors

Tasks
The UFL team will complete the following tasks:

  1. The UFL research team will meet with Impinj executives and visit the facilities to learn how RFID technology can be leveraged to reduce misload rates and draft a preliminary list of Impinj customers UFL can interview.
  2. The UFL will present at the 2023 Impinj Executive Forum.
  3. Through Impinj introduction, the UFL team will reach out and schedule at least four interviews with practitioners to document the operational, behavioral and sustainability impacts of misload packages. Interviews will be conducted to cover different sectors, including urban, suburban, and long-haul deliveries.
  4. The UFL will write a draft blog post documenting the results from the interviews, discuss the potential environmental impact of reducing misload rates across different industry sectors, proposed a conceptual model framework on how companies can estimate the marginal change in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and emissions from changes in the misload rate.
Blog

EVs Need Charging Infrastructure. Is Urban Freight Any Different? (Part II)

Publication: Goods Movement 2030: an Urban Freight Blog
Publication Date: 2022
Summary:

Is public charging a realistic option for urban freight?

In Part 1, we focused our discussion on electrifying urban freight on grid capacity and installing the correct charger for the job. In this post, we continue the discussion by exploring an avenue for charging infrastructure: publicly available chargers.

Asked about their plans for electrifying urban freight fleets during August’s meeting, Urban Freight Lab (UFL) members stated they would rely primarily on depot charging: Trucks and vans would charge overnight in private facilities. These members agreed that public charging (i.e., curbside charging) was not key to electrifying the last-mile delivery sector. Policy research groups seem to support this take on charging needs. The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in 2021 estimated that more than 2 million depot-based chargers will be needed in the U.S. by 2050 to meet charging demand. When it comes to public chargers, they estimate that need will be fewer than 300,000. That same year, Atlas Public Policy estimated that 75-90% of freight-related charging will occur at depots.

Both reports suggest, however, that investment is still needed in public charging infrastructure. Why? Because more than 90% of trucking companies in the U.S. are owner-operators or small fleets of 6 trucks or fewer. These small companies represent only 18-20% of trucks on the road, but they may lack the financial resources to install a truck or van charger and/or access to depot-based overnight charging.

With that in mind we address the question: Is public charging a realistic option for urban freight?

Authors: Thomas Maxner
Recommended Citation:
"EVs Need Charging Infrastructure. Is Urban Freight Any Different? (Part II)" Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, December 10, 2022. https://www.goodsmovement2030.com/post/charging-infrastructure-urban-freight-p2
Blog

What Policies Would Speed Cargo Bike Adoption in U.S. Cities? Urban Freight Lab Members Weigh In.

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

It becomes easier to understand the barriers to scaling up cargo bikes for last-mile delivery when you hear Mark Chiusano, Owner/CEO of Cornucopia Logistics and affiliates, talk about the complexity of operations in New York City. Cornucopia works with Amazon (both companies are Urban Freight Lab members) to run a fleet of more than 100 cargo bikes making thousands of weekly deliveries for Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods locations in Manhattan. (Amazon owns Whole Foods.)

Pricey Midtown Manhattan space is leased in a private parking garage across from an Amazon warehouse to store the bike and trailer fleet. But fire prevention and other safety rules prevent the bikes from being charged there, so bike batteries have to be transported to a separate charging station, then back to the Midtown garage. And other rules — both federal and state — wind up limiting the models of cargo bikes that can be used and how they can be used. The bike fleet requires constant maintenance, yet vendors that supply skilled commercial e-bike mechanics are still few and far between. While bikes don’t require a commercial driver’s license to operate (unlike vans or trucks), wages for bikers must compete with those of van/truck drivers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost per delivery can be higher with cargo bikes than with a traditional van.

These are among the challenges of trying to scale cargo bikes for last-mile delivery in the U.S. — a key discussion at the spring meeting of the Urban Freight Lab, held in New York City. We talked a lot about potential policy solutions to surmount such challenges, too, given the growing focus on building a net-zero future. And we shared research, emerging pilots and expertise from both the public and private sectors.

To tease out possible paths to scale, members weighed in on the feasibility and effectiveness of six strategies for overcoming roadblocks in this blog post.

Recommended Citation:
“What Policies Would Speed Cargo Bike Adoption in U.S. Cities? Urban Freight Lab Members Weigh In.” Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, July 20, 2023. https://www.goodsmovement2030.com/post/cargo-bike-adoption.
Article

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

 
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Publication: The Conversation
Publication Date: 2016
Summary:

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. https://theconversation.com/more-online-shopping-means-more-delivery-trucks-are-cities-ready-67686.
Report

The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System (Final Report)

 
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Publication Date: 2018
Summary:

Urban Freight Lab’s foundational report is the first assessment in any American city of the privately-owned and operated elements of the Final 50 Feet of goods delivery supply chains (the end of the supply chain, where delivery drivers must locate both parking and end customers). These include curb parking spaces, private truck freight bays and loading docks, street design, traffic control, and delivery policies and operations within buildings.

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, which implies an explosion of activity in the future.

Meeting current and future demand is creating unprecedented challenges for shippers to meet both increased volumes and increasing customer expectations for efficient and timely delivery. Anecdotal evidence suggests that increasing demand is overwhelming goods delivery infrastructure and operations. 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 noticeable throughout the City of Seattle as our population and employment rapidly increase. However, goods delivery issues are particularly problematic in Seattle’s high-density areas of Downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union, Pioneer Square, First Hill, Capitol Hill and Queen Anne, described as Seattle’s “Center City”. Urban goods transportation makes our economy and quality of life possible.

As the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) responds to the many travel challenges of a complex urban environment, we recognize that goods delivery needs to be better understood and supported to retain the vitality and livability of our busiest neighborhoods.

U.S. cities do not have much information about the urban goods delivery system. While public agencies have data on city streets, public transportation and designated curbside parking, the “final 50 feet” in goods delivery also utilizes private vehicles, private loading facilities, and privately-owned and operated buildings outside the traditional realm of urban planning.

Bridging the information gap between the public and private sectors requires a new way of thinking about urban systems. Specifically, it requires trusted data sharing between public and private partners, and a data-driven approach to asking and answering the right questions, to successfully meet modern urban goods delivery needs.

The Urban Freight Lab (UFL) provides a standing forum to solve a range of short-term as well as long-term strategic urban goods problem solving, that provides evidence of effectiveness before strategies are widely implemented in the City.

Recommended Citation:
Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center. (2018) The Final 50 Feet of the Urban Goods Delivery System.
Paper

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
Summary:

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2023.103692