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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

WAlking and PArking Dynamics of Drivers (WAPADD): Analysis and Model Development for Sustainable Urban Delivery

The project addresses the critical but often overlooked aspects of delivery drivers’ walking and parking behaviors in urban logistics. With 80% of a delivery driver’s time spent outside the vehicle during the last leg of delivery, comprehending these dynamics becomes pivotal for sustainable urban delivery routes.

For the first time, the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden) will work together to address this challenge, with the support of two established logistics companies operating in Stockholm (Sweden) and Seattle (WA, US) as well as input from Seattle and Stockholm planning agencies.

The project aims to develop empirical models to reproduce these walking and parking behaviors (in contrast with theoretical routes) and employ them into the evaluation of innovative solutions, such as e-carts (electric trolleys) and parking management strategies.

This project aims to answer two research questions:

(1) How do delivery drivers’ walking and parking behaviors affect the efficiency and sustainability of delivery routes in urban settings?

(2). Can new technological solutions help carriers reshaping delivery routes and achieve more sustainable and efficient urban delivery operations?

Zero-Emission Zones: Turning Ideas into Action

C40 Cities, a consortium of cities worldwide with the collective goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, introduced an initiative in 2017 to create “Zero Emission Areas.” These areas, or zones, would be closed off to fossil fuel-burning vehicles and serve as a testbed for scaling up zero-emission regulation. Seattle, along with U.S. counterparts Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, CA, is a signatory to the Zero Emission Area Programme and as such, is obligated to create such an area by 2030.

Zero Emission Zones (ZEZ) can introduce obstacles to the urban freight and logistics industry. Though large delivery companies like Amazon, UPS, and FedEx are introducing electric vehicles (EVs), parcel and package delivery are not the only service included in the complex sector of urban freight. EVs are not yet widely available on the market and the high capital costs of introducing EVs into a company’s fleet can act as a barrier. However, there are strategies being tested and explored to reduce emissions including but not limited to zero emission curb zones, parcel lockers, e-cargo bikes, pricing strategies at the curb and at the point of sale (e.g. taxes and fees), consolidation centers, and other strategies. Additionally, many of these zones are being envisioned in areas with a focus on improving equity outcomes and across neighborhoods of different characteristics. However, no guidance exists for cities about how to approach the selection of these areas or tactics co-developed with the private sector.

Research Objectives

  • Develop a framework for evaluating geographic locations, existing policy tools, and key learning objectives or measures of success based on two different neighborhood typologies
  • Incorporate private sector stakeholders into the design process

Tasks

  • Task 1: Define the characteristics and goals of a zero-emission delivery zone
  • Task 2: Perform literature and policy scan on existing tools to push deliveries towards zero emission (industry and consumer-side)
  • Task 3: Identify 2 different neighborhood typologies in Seattle for analysis and define the study area boundaries
    • One neighborhood should meet existing definitions of a Justice 40 or equity focus area community as defined by City of Seattle (e.g. Georgetown)
    • One neighborhood should represent high-density demand for e-commerce and congestion (define?) (e.g. Capital Hill, South Lake Union)
  • Task 4: Collect publicly-available baseline data on neighborhood characteristics collect data (land use, types of businesses, demographics of residents)
  • Task 5: Develop potential scenarios, tactics, and metrics that reflect the unique characteristics of the chosen neighborhoods/typologies
    • The team will leverage existing relationships to perform private sector outreach, based on interviews: understand their priorities, reactions to scenarios under development.
  • Task 6: Recommendations and framework
    • How do you choose the site / site selection criteria and methodology
    • Tactics based on neighborhood typology characteristics- using policies available right now or with limited policy effort
    • Equity-Community metrics- How does the makeup of the zone/neighborhood impact tactics + metrics?
    • Key metrics- What are you trying to test and how will you measure?
    • Tools to accelerate the implementation of zero-emission deliveries.

Deliverable

Create a framework for zero emission zone design and case study of two different neighborhoods in Seattle.

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 I)

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

How can charging infrastructure spark urban freight electrification?

With billions of federal dollars to be invested in building out the country’s charging network, EVs (Electric Vehicles) will soon be getting more places to juice up than ever before. The colossal infrastructure undertaking is meant to keep up with surging EV demand, projected to make up a quarter of all new car sales by 2025. For instance, meeting Seattle’s target of putting 174,000 passenger EVs on the road by 2030 will require 2,900 public Level 2 chargers and 860 DC fast chargers. That number is over five times more than the total chargers installed since 2019.

But estimates for charging stations often overlook the diverse plug-in needs of large commercial semi-trucks, box trucks, service and construction vehicles as well as smaller delivery vans and even electric cargo bicycles. Ramping up commercial fleet electrification will likely require cities, businesses, developers, and utility providers to reshape charging strategies.

So when it came to this month’s member meeting, UFL researchers wanted to know: how can charging infrastructure spark urban freight electrification? This blog discusses what the team had to say.

Authors: Travis Fried
Recommended Citation:
"EVs Need Charging Infrastructure. Is Urban Freight Any Different? (Part I)" Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, August 13, 2022. https://www.goodsmovement2030.com/post/charging-infrastructure-urban-freight
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 is Microfreight? Downsizing Delivery for a Multimodal and Sustainable Future

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

“Why deliver two-pound burritos in two-ton cars?”

That’s the question posed by sidewalk delivery robot company Serve, which is delivering food in places like Los Angeles. Sure, using something other than a car for items like a burrito makes sense. But what about a sofa? Urban delivery is all about right-sizing, context, and connecting logically and efficiently to the broader delivery network.

At the Urban Freight Lab (UFL), we talk about things like sidewalk delivery robots and e-bikes as microfreight. Microfreight is about moving goods using smaller, more sustainable modes where possible. Think micromobility, but for moving goods, not people, in the last mile of delivery.

Microfreight was one of the four topics UFL members voted to explore as part of the Urban Freight in 2030 Project. In the right city context, using microfreight can be both economical for freight businesses and more sustainable in terms of decarbonization and city dweller quality of life. We intentionally chose to hold the UFL spring meeting on microfreight in New York City, a city on the leading edge of the multimodal goods movement. The city’s perch on that leading edge makes sense, as the densest city in the U.S.; a city with sky-high delivery demand coming from people living in sky-high towers; and a city government working to proactively manage that reality. To be sure, NYC is one of a kind when it comes to dense, vertical living. Because of this density and intense interaction between modes, the Big Apple is an important place to watch — and a great place for us to share learning, expertise, and ideas.

And when we watched the Midtown Manhattan streets during that UFL meeting, we saw throngs of people on e-bikes and cargo bikes making food and ecommerce deliveries. But microfreight is about much more than just bikes. It includes personal delivery devices (PDDs) and drones. It even includes walking, an element that permeates nearly every last-mile delivery segment, especially the final 50 feet of a trip. Yet walking is something normally talked about for moving people, much less so for moving goods. To be sure, we saw plenty of deliveries being made on foot while in NYC, too!

Here’s a rundown of what we consider to be microfreight.

Recommended Citation:
"What is Microfreight? Downsizing Delivery for a Multimodal and Sustainable Future." Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, June 19, 2023. https://www.goodsmovement2030.com/post/microfreight-downsizing-delivery-for-a-multimodal-and-sustainable-future.
Blog

Goods Movement 2030: What Have We Done and What is Next?

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

A year and a half ago, our members decided to dig into four topics for the Goods Movement 2030 project (Electrification, Digital Transformation, Planning Streets for People and Goods, and Microfreight). They all — public and private sector alike — saw these areas as transformative. And they identified six priorities around which we hope to see improved outcomes for 2030 (Reducing CO2 Emissions, Reducing Congestion, Reducing Roadway Fatalities, Increasing and Improving Protected Spaces for Vulnerable Users, Making Transparent the Cost of Delivery, and Improving Equity).

From myriad lively discussions, debates, and expert-led learning over the last 18 months, this much is clear: Each of the four topics we’ve explored together cries out for deep and broad collaboration between the public and private sectors if we’re going to move the needle on our consensus priorities.

And the good news? Our members have already shown that they’re willing and able to approach that needed collaboration with curious minds and radical transparency (not to mention their demonstrated commitment to innovating and having tough conversations.) All of this bodes well for both the present — and the future we’ve all been working to imagine and shape.

While all six priorities surfaced throughout this project, it’s decarbonization that came up in virtually every discussion on every topic. On equity, we had to grapple early on with what that even means in urban freight.

This blog presents a Cliffs Notes recap of big-picture project takeaways.

Recommended Citation:
“Goods Movement 2030: What Have We Done and What Is Next?” Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, October 24, 2023. https://www.goodsmovement2030.com/post/goods-movement-2030-so-what-have-we-done-here-and-whats-next.
White Paper

Biking the Goods: How North American Cities Can Prepare for and Promote Large-Scale Adoption of E-Cargo Bikes

 
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Publication Date: 2023
Summary:

The distribution of goods and services in North American cities has conventionally relied on diesel-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Recent developments in electromobility have provided an opportunity to reduce some of the negative externalities generated by urban logistics systems.

Cargo e-bikes — electric cycles specially designed for cargo transportation — represent an alternative environmentally friendly and safer mode for delivering goods and services in urban areas. However, lack of infrastructure, legal uncertainties, and a cultural and economic attachment to motorized vehicles has hindered their adoption. Cities play a crucial role in reducing these barriers and creating a leveled playing field where cargo e-bikes can be essential to urban logistics systems.

This paper aims to inform urban planners about what cargo e-bikes are, how they have been successfully deployed in North America to replace ICE vehicles, and identify actionable strategies cities can take to encourage their adoption while guaranteeing safety for all road users.

Gathering data and opinions from key public and private sector stakeholders and building on the expertise of the Urban Freight Lab, this paper identifies nine recommendations and 21 actions for urban planners across the following four main thematic areas:

  1. Infrastructure: cycling, parking infrastructure, and urban logistics hubs
  2. Policy and Regulation: e-bike law, safety regulation, and policies de-prioritizing vehicles
  3. Incentives: rebates and business subsidies
  4. Culture and Education: labor force training, educational programs, and community-driven adoption

Acknowledgements

The Urban Freight Lab acknowledges the following co-sponsors for financially supporting this research: Bosch eBike Systems, Fleet Cycles, Gazelle USA, Michelin North America, Inc., Net Zero Logistics, Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans) Region 10, Seattle Department of Transportation, and Urban Arrow.

Technical contributions and guidance: Amazon, B-Line (Franklin Jones), Cascade Bicycle Club, Coaster Cycles, City of Boston, City of Portland, Downtown Seattle Business Association (Steve Walls), New York City Department of Transportation, People for Bikes (Ash Lovell), Portland Bureau of Transportation, University of Washington Mailing Services (Douglas Stevens), UPS,

Recommended Citation:
Dalla Chiara, G., Verma, R., Rula, K., Goodchild, A. (2023). Biking the Goods: How North American Cities Can Prepare for and Promote Large-Scale Adoption of Cargo e-Bikes. Urban Freight Lab, University of Washington.
Chapter

Overview on Stakeholder Engagement

Publication: Handbook on City Logistics and Urban Freight
Publication Date: 2023
Summary:

Until recently, urban transport authorities often overlooked freight, concentrating their attention on the movement of people. Even when motivated to tackle urban freight, many city authorities find it difficult to mobilize their own resources, and address the complex set of differing views of a large variety of stakeholders.

Historically, the role of city authorities, or local authorities within cities, has been confined largely to one of regulation as opposed to collaborative planning. Correspondingly, until recently there has been limited engagement of private companies in the local-authority transport-planning process.

Engaging stakeholders is very important as without their involvement it is very difficult to motivate changes in the urban freight and logistics system or design policies that might be mutually beneficial; successful implementation of effective urban logistics initiatives demands a solid understanding of both freight activity and the supply chains serving the urban area.

This chapter examines these issues and addresses how cities can more effectively engage with stakeholders. There is a strong need to identify obstacles, propose solutions and define implementation paths that consider the concerns of all stakeholders involved. This sounds rather straightforward but in practice there are many conflicts among and within public and private-interest groups and these often result in obstacles to success.

This chapter will address the range of complex issues involved and establish a framework for understanding the options related to stakeholder engagement to improve urban freight sustainability.

Authors: Dr. Anne Goodchild, Michael Browne (University of Gothenburg)
Recommended Citation:
Michael Browne & Anne Goodchild, 2023. "Overview on stakeholder engagement," Chapter in: Edoardo Marcucci & Valerio Gatta & Michela Le Pira (ed.), Handbook on City Logistics and Urban Freight, chapter 15, pages 311-326, Edward Elgar Publishing.