Friday, February 10, 2023

Mitigating the Impacts of E-commerce on Cities

When we order things online, we can sometimes forget the significant physical infrastructure required to get what we’ve ordered to our homes or places of business.

An industrial area

In Langley and Surrey, there are large warehouse operations to fulfill items ordered online. These large warehouses use industrial land (as they should) and require investment in transit service to get employees to and from work. Some of our region’s busy transit routes serve these industrial areas.

There are also delivery vehicles whose drivers sometimes double park, and block bike lanes and driveways to meet tight delivery deadlines.

The following graphic shows how e-commerce has grown in Canada. Yes, there has been a dip since the height of lockdowns, but the longer trend is slow and steady growth. This trend means we must look at how we can adapt our city policies to account for e-commerce while reducing the negative impacts of e-commerce.

Canadian e-commerce sales. Select the graph to enlarge.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District commissions a study called “Impacts of E-commerce on Industrial Lands and Transportation Systems.” The study’s authors made the following policy recommendations.

Curb-management policies: An important first step is to create up-to-date, citywide inventories of loading zones, curbs and congestion points. Improved data and monitoring will better inform strategies for curbside space usage.
Designated delivery areas: Introducing curbside delivery areas adjacent to apartment buildings would help mitigate parking flow interruptions and double parking. These areas should be location-specific and context appropriate, rather than applied as a blanket solution.
Micro-distribution hubs: The integration of small local hubs should be incorporated into a variety of developments, including high-density commercial, residential, and transit-oriented communities.
Flexible zoning: Implementing more flexible zoning would allow cites to respond better to emerging trends, while still retaining the primary intended use of the lands.
Population proximity: Aligning anticipated population growth and opportunities for sustainable distribution methods are crucial considerations to better support changing business needs.
Alternative land uses: Opportunities that introduce industrial uses, such as urban logistics, into commercial areas, especially where these uses can offer dense employment opportunities connected with transit, should be explored. In some cases, traditional brick-and-mortar retail shops that have closed could house multiple stages of the e-commerce supply chain, including processing in-store pick-ups and online returns, without compromising neighbourhood vibrancy.

You can read the full report in the February 10th Regional Planning Committee agenda.

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