Online Retail Curbs Urban Traffic

Despite claims that urban truck traffic continues to rise, recent data shows no real increase in urban vehicle miles traveled. Online shopping may be helping keep people off the roads.

September 18, 2015, 11:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Amazon Fresh Truck

Visitor7 / Wikimedia Commons

For Brookings, Adie Tomer wrote a piece in July in which "he marshals several decades of data on urban truck VMT to claim that urban truck traffic is up an eye-popping 800 percent since 1966." In this article, Joe Cortright challenges the idea that e-commerce has clogged city roads with delivery trucks. 

Cortright points to inconsistencies in the US DOT data centered around changes made in 2006. "The cumulative result of these changes is that it is very difficult to make statistically valid statements about the change in truck traffic in cities."

Recent data shows no preponderance of trucks. "If we look only at the post-2006 data, a very different picture emerges. For the past six years [...] there is little evidence that urban truck traffic is increasing. If anything, the data suggest that it is flat to decreasing."

E-commerce certainly reduces the number of shopping trips people take by car. And recent adjustments in truck delivery routes and algorithms have made the whole business of delivery more efficient. From the article: "Far from a putative cause of worry about transportation system capacity–and inevitably, a stalking horse for highway expansion projects in urban areas–the growth of e-commerce should be seen as another force that is likely to reduce total vehicle miles of travel."

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