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The Future of Delivery: Priorities for Goods Movement in 2030

Urban Freight Lab members identified these six priorities around which we hope to see improved outcomes for 2030. These priorities guide our exploration in the Goods Movement 2030 Project.

The following six project priorities are the means by which we can quantify progress (or lack thereof) toward our collective vision of Goods Movement in 2030. 

  1. Reducing CO2 Emissions

    Emitted as a byproduct of vehicle engines that burn any form of petroleum, commonly gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel in the transportation industry, CO2 is a greenhouse gas contributing to heat being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere. In urban freight, we can see this play out as the number of home deliveries continues to increase. Fuel-consuming last-mile vehicles like box trucks and cargo vans repeatedly drive around cities, back and forth from warehouses, and spend time cruising when parking spaces aren’t available. Electrification is but one of myriad strategies that include reducing vehicle miles traveled.

  2. Reducing Congestion

    Congestion can take forms such as cruising for parking, in addition to queuing behaviors that last-mile vehicles may engage in, like keeping a vehicle standing in an unauthorized space until parking opens up. Curb reservation systems and curb occupancy sensors are promising options for reducing driver behaviors that lead to congestion by reducing the amount of time searching or waiting for parking. Cargo bicycles and autonomous delivery vehicles can provide an alternative mode of last-mile transportation instead of heavy-duty vehicles, requiring neither full-size parking spaces nor fossil fuels. Finally, coordination and collaboration between the public sectors can yield facilities like microhubs, package lockers, and urban consolidation centers that can decrease the amount of time a driver needs to spend parked at the curb ("dwell time").

  3. Reducing Roadway Fatalities

    Delivery vehicles are large, heavy, and difficult to maneuver. As a result, a higher delivery vehicle street presence has been linked with increased roadway injuries and fatalities. Urban spaces can be less safe than highways due to the higher volume of interactions between vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. Household income and percentage of BIPOC population are also correlated with fatality rates, making this a land use and environmental justice issue as well as a logistical one. Congestion mitigation and consideration of street design and speeds are promising areas for improvement.

  4. Increasing & Improving Protected Spaces for Vulnerable Users

    Freight vehicles in particular have relatively large blind spots that can lead to less awareness of cyclists or pedestrians. Freight vehicles also may be parked in insufficiently sized loading zones, which can mean they take up part of a bicycle lane. Protected bicycle lanes create barriers between vehicles and cyclists, which can reduce the risk of collisions. However, there is a variation both in what a protected lane looks like, and its effectiveness in reducing both injuries and fatalities. Total availability of protected space may not be a perfect metric by itself then, but further study into the best forms of protected spaces and their implementation can help communities determine what they want their roadways to look like.

  5. Making Transparent the Cost of Delivery

    Free delivery can make the difference between whether an online order is placed or not, but is any delivery really free? Time, fuel, and packaging are all resources being expended by home delivery, whether the consumer directly pays for them or not. Furthermore, in response to increasing ecommerce, there’s been a growing rate of “warehouse sprawl”, as fulfillment and distribution centers move closer to customers. Costs include increased air pollution in BIPOC communities due to high trucking activity and the monetary cost of switching a delivery fleet to electric vehicles. This is less an issue of reducing a high cost of delivery and more one of making the cost of delivery transparent. 

  6. Improving Equity

    Equity can take many forms in urban freight, from access to goods and services across different locations to small business viability in online marketplaces. Equity in urban freight is deeply linked with environmental justice as well, including the previously described roadway fatalities as well as other externalities from increased demand. Emissions as a result of freight movement can disproportionately affect communities of color, and the same is true for where warehouses and distribution centers tend to be located. Though equity is difficult to capture in a single metric, taking multiple measurements in different forms can guide and inform the decision-making process for urban freight in much the same way as in other fields, like healthcare and education. Asking about who may be the vulnerable parties as a result of new policies in addition to keeping data and investigating patterns can help us to bring equity into each aspect of our research. Of course, equity is already inherent in some of our earlier sections, such as protected space for vulnerable users, but we aim to have equity inform and permeate through each of our topics in the 2030 project.

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