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Ecommerce and Environmental Justice in Metro Seattle

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

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.

Seeking Equity and Justice in Urban Freight: Where to Look?

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Publication: Transport Reviews
Publication Date: 2023

What do equity and social justice mean for urban freight planning and management? New Urban Freight Lab paper reviews transportation and mobility justice theory and finds that urban freight issues are absent from these discussions, which primarily concern passenger and personal mobility. When urban freight is considered, authors usually discuss topics such as emissions, pollution, congestion, noise, and collisions. This paper looks more in-depth at urban freight justice, including access to essential goods, community governance, employment opportunities and barriers, and regional and global perspectives.

Urban freight systems embed and reflect spatial inequities in cities and imbalanced power structures within transport decision-making. These concerns are principal domains of “transportation justice” (TJ) and “mobility justice” (MJ) scholarship that have emerged in the past decade. However, little research exists situating urban freight within these prevailing frameworks, which leaves urban freight research on socio-environmental equity and justice ill-defined, especially compared to passenger or personal mobility discussions. Through the lens that derives from TJ and MJ’s critical dialogue, this study synthesizes urban freight literature’s engagement with equity and justice.

Namely, the review evaluates:

  • How do researchers identify equitable distributions of urban freight’s costs and benefits?
  • At what scale do researchers evaluate urban freight inequities?
  • And who does research consider entitled to urban freight equity and how are they involved in urban freight governance?

The findings help inform researchers who seek to reimagine urban freight management strategies within broader equity and justice discourse.

Decades-long growth in urbanization and the more recent surge in e-commerce have spurred concerns around the uneven impacts of freight’s swelling urban footprint. Transport scholars note increasing conflicts between freight vehicles and vulnerable road users, like bicyclists and pedestrians in dense urban areas. Meanwhile, environmental justice (EJ) scholars have long measured unequal exposure to freight traffic pollution along socio-economic and ethnic lines.

However, relatively few urban freight studies engage with social equity. Those that do usually avoid critical discussions contained in justice-oriented theory, instead portraying the movement of goods as an “apolitical science of circulation”. In the U.S., for instance, politicizing urban freight overlooks a history of city industrial zoning practices, infrastructure construction, exclusionary decision-making, and consequent path dependency that placed key logistics facilities including highways, manufacturing plants, warehouses and distribution centers disproportionately near low-income households and non-white, populations of color. The longitudinal effects of these institutional decisions are still largely visible today.

Transportation research also inconsistently defines and measures equity. In a review of equity in transportation literature, Lewis et al. describe equity as an empty conceptual space that “authors then fill … either explicitly with clearly defined arguments or implicitly with whatever idea of justice intuitively comes to mind” (p. 2). Arbitrarily engaging with equity concepts, the authors argue, creates confusion that is both normative (e.g. what does an equitable urban freight system look like?) and positive (e.g. what measurable thresholds determine whether an urban freight outcome is inequitable?). Consequently, most equity research measure unequal distributions of burdens and/or benefits but spend less time identifying when and why unequal distributions are unjust.

Therefore, this paper synthesizes prevailing discourse around equity and, by extension, justice in transportation research and urban freight literature.

Authors: Travis FriedDr. Anne Goodchild, Ivan Sanchez Diaz (Chalmers University), Michael Browne (Gothenburg University)
Recommended Citation:
Travis Fried, Anne Goodchild, Michael Browne & Ivan Sanchez-Diaz (2023). Seeking Equity and Justice in Urban Freight: Where to Look? Transport Reviews, DOI:

An Evaluation of Logistics Sprawl in Chicago and Phoenix

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Publication: Journal of Transport Geography
Volume: 88
Publication Date: 2018

This paper evaluates whether or not there is a sprawling tendency to the spatial patterns of warehouse establishments in the Chicago and Phoenix metropolitan areas. The trend of warehouses to move away from the urban centers to more suburban and exurban areas is referred to as “Logistics Sprawl”. To measure sprawl, the barycenter of warehousing establishments was compared to the barycenter of all other industry establishments in the region between the years of 1998 and 2013 for Chicago; 1998 and 2015 for Phoenix. This shows that logistics sprawl is a behavior experienced by warehouses in the Chicago area, but not in the Phoenix area. This paper discusses if logistics sprawl is a national trend or a regional behavior by comparing these results to the previous case studies of the Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Seattle metropolitan areas.

Authors: Dr. Anne Goodchild, Melaku Dubie, Kai C. Kuo
Recommended Citation:
Dubie, Melaku, Kai C. Kuo, Gabriela Giron-Valderrama, and Anne Goodchild. (2018) An Evaluation of Logistics Sprawl in Chicago and Phoenix. Journal of Transport Geography, 88, 102298–.

Comparison of Vehicle Miles Traveled and Pollution from Three Goods Movement Strategies

Publication: Sustainable Logistics: Transport and Sustainability (Emerald Group Publishing Limited)
Volume: Volume 6
Pages: 63-82
Publication Date: 2014

This chapter provides additional insight into the role of warehouse location in achieving sustainability targets and provides a novel comparison between delivery and personal travel for criteria pollutants.

Purpose: To provide insight into the role and design of delivery services to address CO2, NO x , and PM10 emissions from passenger travel.Methodology/approach: A simulated North American data sample is served with three transportation structures: last-mile personal vehicles, local-depot-based truck delivery, and regional warehouse-based truck delivery. CO2, NO x , and PM10 emissions are modeled using values from the US EPA’s MOVES model and are added to an ArcGIS optimization scheme.Findings: Local-depot-based truck delivery requires the lowest amount of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and last-mile passenger travel generates the lowest levels of CO2, NO x , and PM10. While last-mile passenger travel requires the highest amount of VMT, the efficiency gains of the delivery services are not large enough to offset the higher pollution rate of the delivery vehicle as compared to personal vehicles.

Practical implications: This research illustrates the clear role delivery structure and logistics have in impacting the CO2, NO x , and PM10 emissions of goods transportation in North America.

Social implications: This research illustrates the tension between goals to reduce congestion (via VMT reduction) and CO2, NO x , and PM10 emissions.

Originality/value: This chapter provides additional insight into the role of warehouse location in achieving sustainability targets and provides a novel comparison between delivery and personal travel for criteria pollutants.

Authors: Dr. Anne Goodchild, Erica Wygonik
Recommended Citation:
Wygonik, Erica, and Anne Goodchild. "Comparison of vehicle miles traveled and pollution from three goods movement strategies." Sustainable Logistics, pp. 63-82. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2014.