E-Commerce Shopping Boom Effects on Traffic | Big Picture Broward | Big Picture Broward

Fort Lauderdale city planners have a rare opportunity to make the global e-commerce boom one of the city’s great strengths.

**Update: Voting YES on the Penny Sales Tax question on the November 6 ballot will make this opportunity a reality.** 

The other day we were driving south down NW 1st Avenue after enjoying a midday coffee break at BREW in FATVillage and faced the ever-annoying blocked roadway situation just between Foundry and Exchange Lofts.

A FedEx truck was parked on the left side of the road and a few yards back a USPS truck was parked on the right side. We waited patiently while oncoming traffic weaved through the narrow space, and after a few cars snaked by we made our move.

We were only stopped for a minute, but it was still a tad bit frustrating having to rush back to work to make up for lost time.

Can you relate?

Do you leave for work 10 minutes early because you never know when you’re going to turn down a side-street and find another delivery truck blocking the roadway?

Do you rely on downtown parking only to find a FedEx box truck taking up the last two spaces on the street with a delivery man unloading hundreds of packages into a single high-rise?

If so, you’re not alone. All of us who live and work in downtown Fort Lauderdale has suffered similar frustrations.

Fortunately, our situation is not nearly as aggravating as other dense urban areas like New York City and Washington, D.C., which have been dealing with package delivery overload for years and are now beginning to experience extreme traffic congestion because of it. 

But . . .

With an estimated 1,200 people moving to Broward County annually, and with the ongoing development of thousands of residential units in downtown Fort Lauderdale, it is increasingly important that city officials create a long-term solution to e-commerce deliveries, today.

In fact, this new wave of downtown development is giving Fort Lauderdale city planners a rare opportunity to create functional, new-age systems that will cater to the e-commerce shopping boom.

In a way, developers have already started planning ahead, which is why there is such a strong emphasis on accessible, affordable retail space in the downtown residential hub.

Since 2012, 26 million square feet of commercial real estate has been completed, under construction, or approved in the downtown area. These retail rentals have a 5-year growth prediction of 48% compared to 42% in Miami-Dade, which is likely to encourage the development of additional commercial real estate.

Even still, brick and mortar stores are shrinking and may eventually become an even smaller part of the retail equation. More people are shopping online for regular household products, personal cosmetics, clothing, and even groceries.

Fort Lauderdale and the e-commerce boom

More consumers shopping online means more box trucks, delivery vehicles, smaller vans and cars on our roadways.

Already there has been a massive surge in deliveries to residential dwellings. The moment this delivery frequency outweighs that of commercial deliveries, we will have a very serious traffic problem on our hands.

The facts are:

The US is the biggest market in the world on parcel spending, at $96 billion annually.

A 2017 study on daily shipments shows Amazon shipped 5 billion parcels worldwide; that UPS shipped 19 million packages globally (7.6 million in the US alone) and FedEx shipped 13 million globally (7.5 million in the US alone). USPS ships more packages daily than both of these businesses combined. The USPS also holds the world record for most packages shipped in a single day: 28.2 million packages!

On daily basis, there are 108,210 UPS vehicles and 150,000 FedEx vehicles on roadways.

So, what is the difference between residential delivery and commercial delivery? And why is one worse for traffic than the other?

1. Individual consumers don’t shop systematically or on any given timeline.

We are spontaneous shoppers. If we see something we like, it is as easy as clicking a button on our social media page and placing an order through Amazon. We forget about the purchase for a few days then shazam! it arrives on our doorstep.

This chaotic shopping trend has some consumers ordering 1, 2, 5 times a week, and if their purchases come from different suppliers and distributors that means separate deliveries and more freight trucks holding up traffic.

2. Commercial drop-off zones are designed to handle bulk deliveries without obstructing vehicle traffic.

Drop-off zones at big businesses, like grocery stores and department stores, are typically behind the building, attached to the storage facilities. Freight trucks pull up, merchandise is unloaded, traffic is left unobstructed.

At residential dwellings, however, there is a disconnect between building design and the shopping trends of the residents. A lot of high-rises have limited or no storage spaces for parcels, no freight elevators for delivery, and no loading docks to park delivery trucks.

These shortcomings affect the ability of delivery personnel to do their jobs quickly and unobtrusively.

Will these figures ever offset?

More online shoppers might eventually lead to fewer retail shoppers, and therefore fewer cars on the road, subsequently leaving additional space for freight trucks. The guiding philosophy, “If consumers are shopping from home they aren’t adding to the traffic.”

That may be the case for other urban zones like New York City and Washington, D.C. who have great mass public transit systems, but in Florida, especially South Florida, we rely heavily on our vehicles to get from point A to point B.

The Brightline is a good start to mass public transit and has been a proven system of transportation for people traveling north-south. However, without more reliable east-west public transportation, our workforce will continue to commute from the western suburbs to downtown Fort Lauderdale businesses in their cars.

Luckily, city planners aren’t alone in the quest for a good solution.

Suppliers are currently making huge strides to deliver more immediate, cost-effective, and environmentally conscious shipments to residential dwellings.

Spearheading the initiative is Amazon Prime Air — “A delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles. Prime Air has great potential to enhance the service we [Amazon] already provide to millions of customers by providing rapid parcel delivery that will also increase the overall safety and efficiency of the transpiration system.” 

Penny Sales Tax Question on November 6 ballot

This is a big deal and will help Amazon lower the cost of each shipment to $1 or less.

You may be asking yourself… why should I care that Amazon saves money on shipping?

Because 86% of abandoned carts online are the result of high shipping costs. Where do you think those consumers are likely to shop once they log out of Amazon? You can ask them when you’re stopped in rush hour traffic by Oakland Blvd. and US1.

UPS is also following suit. They are currently testing drone deliveries using the tops of its vans as helipads to shed a mile off of the routes of the company’s 66,000 delivery drivers. That’s 66,000 miles off our roadways, daily!

All in all, these drone deliveries could be faster and cheaper and help to drastically reduce the number of residential deliveries made by bulky freight trucks.

Though this strategy may not be as effective in densely populated urban areas, it will alleviate the traffic going in-and-out of bordering suburbs, which would ultimately reduce the number of delivery trucks navigating key roadways.

This may seem like science fiction from some far-off future but it is a very real possibility. In fact, in 2016, Dominos Pizza delivered the first ever drone pizza to a New Zealand couple… yes, the future is looking tasty indeed.

So, what else can we do?

First and Foremost…

The most important action we – as residents of Broward County – can take to expedite and ensure that these needed infrastructure developments are funded, planned, and executed efficiently is to vote yes on the upcoming Penny Sales Tax question on the November 6 ballot. This surtax question is a huge deal for our county and will generate roughly $16 billion for transportation and infrastructure development over the next 30 years. If you want improved traffic signalization, more efficient intersections, cleaners streets, wider bike lanes, more reliable mass public transit, and new-age light rail systems connected Broward’s 31 municipalities then you need to VOTE YES. [For more information on the Penny Sales Tax question and who will pay for it, click here.]

  1. City officials can encourage developing residential dwellings to build unloading zones into the infrastructure for the use of e-commerce deliveries.
  2. We can ask that all buildings of a given height require a freight elevator system for package delivery in order to reduce the duration a freight truck is parked on the street.
  3. We can increase freight share on our roadways — specific lanes and parking areas for delivery trucks to avoid choking traffic or causing dangerous bottlenecks.
  4. We can provide specialized downtown parking reserved specifically for small delivery vans with limited delivery stock.

There are definitely more options we haven’t thought of, so leave a comment below and let us know what you’re thinking!