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UW, Nordstrom and UPS to Tackle Last-Mile Delivery

Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) and the University of Washington are working with three big businesses to bring better delivery service to city residents.

A new research center dubbed the Urban Freight Lab recently launched in order to investigate high-impact, low-cost methods for businesses to deliver products in urban areas and help cities work through street space issues, the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce reported.

The lab will work with SDOT, Costco, Nordstrom and UPS to provide faster delivery service to urban consumers. As a new addition to the UW Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center, the lab will bring together transportation and urban planners with freight carriers, retailers, technology companies and real estate developers.

As city residents place more and more orders for delivery, companies and metropolitan areas are struggling to fulfill demand and efficiently transport goods through confined streets. The Urban Freight Lab will provide a solution to this logistics problem by focusing on the last leg of delivery. This final step begins when a delivery driver leaves a loading bay and ends when a parcel is dropped off in a residential lobby.

“From the first mile to the last fifty feet, freight delivery is changing,” SDOT director Scott Kubly said. “For big trucks coming out of the Port of Seattle and small trucks delivering to people’s homes and businesses, this joint project will address the rapidly evolving world of freight movement.”

Researchers at the Urban Freight Lab will map out the existing freight infrastructure for cities and document how deliveries are managed in other environments. Solution testing will also be conducted at the lab, in order to analyze if managing curb spaces or installing centralized drop-off lockers would help the greater urban delivery dilemma. The research team also hopes to develop “Urban Freight Score” in the future, which will eventually measure truck accessibility around Seattle’s landscape.

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Anne Goodchild, head of the Urban Freight Lab, said it will be challenging for cities to regulate their commercial vehicle load zones as residents continue to order more packages. She suggested that cities could charge more during daily peak hours and make zones available for commercial and transit vehicles to approach limited street space.

“As our cities grow, as congestion increases, the city wants to use the curb as efficiently as possible,” Goodchild said. “Coming up with that pricing scheme will not be easy.”

Retailers, including Nordstrom, are also exploring other delivery alternatives to efficiently navigate through cities and fulfill the growing demand of online deliveries among urban residents.

“We have more than 300 Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack stores—many in dense urban settings with a range of delivery settings, including common docks and unique situations,” said Nordstrom’s director of transportation, Loren VandenBerghe. “We are always interested in ways to better support our stores so we can better serve our customers.”