Friday, March 27, 2020

The Pandemic's Decongestion: The Radical TDM Hammer of Stay at Home

Center Street Bridge traffic today, about 6:45am

With so many businesses and places closed down in the succession of restrictions on gathering and then the "stay home" order, and with other employees working from home as much as possible, the pandemic has resulted in a radical transportation demand management exercise.

The pandemic, the antecedent cause of this TDM hammer, is awful and nothing to celebrate. The first order consequence of an economy-wide shutdown and recession is awful also.

But while we have suppressed demand for road space, it's also a chance to think about actions, like increased telecommuting during the work-from-home phase, that can be retained to some degree.

About 7:00am
What are we learning about transportation demand that we can take back into normal functioning? The crisis gives us a better idea of what is essential and what turned out not to be quite so important and is just convention.

Salem Reporter reports that ODOT says*
over 2,000, or 40%, of its employees telecommuted statewide this week.
How many of these employees and their managers will realize - should realize - that they might be able to continue working from home more frequently, even if only two or three days a week? And of course, not just at ODOT, but everywhere. We can find a new normal that isn't merely a reversion to the old ways.

About 7:15am
After the exigencies of the pandemic have passed, hopefully the City and ODOT will publish traffic counts from this period and will be interested in thinking critically about what might be learned from it. In this crisis, we have been given an experiment, and we should not waste it.

About 7:30am
About 7:45am
About 8:00am
Addendum, March 28th

The downside to the empty streets and roads is the inducement to speeding. This is also evidence that widening is never a safety measure.

via FB today

* Unfortunately the piece's primary focus was that an ODOT employee working in the T-Building had been exposed to the coronavirus, and ODOT had ordered everybody out and closed the building until Monday for a deep clean and decontamination.


Walker said...

Lifting the self-service ban is INSANE. Oregon just opened a huge new pathway for the spread of infection! Good job! While hurting employment. What a perfect response in these stupid times.

The right answer would have been to abolish self-services gas everywhere, and also require pump jockeys to be required to check and inflate tires for drivers — there are plenty of people driving around on underinflated tires every day, driving up gas consumption and emissions.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Today it was announced a Dutch Bros employee tested positive for C19. So is an infected "pump jockey" less of a vector than a contaminated pump handle? I am not sure which offers more potential for transmission. Do you know for a fact that the pump handle is more problematic than a pump person? The self-service ruling does not seem like it is so egregiously foolish as to be self-evidently "insane." Not sure on that one.

Saw a note from the Sheriff that the empty streets have attracted speeders. This is not surprising and is another way to conceptualize a benefit of congestion in slower speeds and safety. Added a clip to the post on that.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

A candidate for City Council and booster for autoist expansion writes in criticism:

"This post is misleading. The roads are clear not because more people telework for the first time. The roads are clear because thousands of Oregonians suddenly lost their livelihoods. First time unemployment claims jumped 15 fold virtually overnight, the steepest jump on record.

In addition, Oregonians with jobs are required to limit their trips to essential errands only. Folks can't even get a haircut or their teeth cleaned. The current situation is disastrous and entirely untenable.

To be clear, I wholeheartedly wish more folks would telework or walk to work like I've been doing for the last 16 years. But the need for another Willamette River Crossing clearly remains. We're expecting another 60,000 new residents to Salem in the next 1.5 decades. A few thousand teleworkers won't make a recognizable dent in Salem's need for another bridge.

They are right that this post emphasizes telecommuting, but it does say in the second paragraph, "The first order consequence of an economy-wide shutdown and recession is awful also."

Unemployment is mentioned here in a previous poast, "The sudden wave of unemployment claims is staggering. Food and beverage, hospitality and tourism have all been gutted. You may have seen that Powell's closed. Retail is impacted also." And it was so obvious it did not seem necessary to mention it again. It is a background for everything we say about the crisis.

In the context of all the blog posts, the crash in employment is clear. The "pandemic's decongestion" includes this. It might not be clear from a disaggregated post in isolation, and I am sorry I did not stress that sufficiently for this reader, who has not read other posts.

On the other hand, we disagree on the claim that "But the need for another Willamette River Crossing clearly remains. We're expecting another 60,000 new residents to Salem in the next 1.5 decades." Because of greenhouse gas emissions, we have to figure out ways to accommodate people without all the car traffic. We can satisfy mobility and proximity without drive-alone trips. Teleworkers along with other measures can indeed obviate any "need" for a new bridge.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

A further note...the point of this post was not to create a pie chart to apportion the exact reasons for the decongestion. It's the pandemic! And all its consequences, of which telework and unemployment are large ingredients.

No, the point of this is to say, now that we have this decongestion, what can we learn from it, what can we take into the future?

A lot more telework is an important element to take into the future. "while we have suppressed demand for road space, it's also a chance to think about actions, like increased telecommuting during the work-from-home phase, that can be retained to some degree."

I still think this strikes the right balance. It's not saying that telework is the only reason, or even the main reason, the bridges are empty. It's saying, now that we have the empty roads, what can we learn from them?

mike said...

What strikes me about the people who demand that more lanes or bridges e built to accommodate the cars, is that they think in a vacuum. There is no past or future, only the present. For the past they ignore 1. that bad decision have made driving a car the most logical choice for most people and 2. that all the past increase in lane numbers or bridges never solved the problem of room any cars for the capacity. For the future, they make the assumption that we should continue making those bad decisions while the extra lanes or bridges will solve the concession problem for good. Otherwise they would ask for a 12 lane bridge and 12 lane arterials.
If they were actually able to think outside of their blinders, the would truly look for a long-term solution, which would include better development types, congestion pricing (including tolls), better transit and bike/ped infrastructure and elimination of free parking.

Walker said...

Having been a pump jockey as a yoot, I can tell you from hard experience in cold, cold weather that it’s very possible to fill up a car and never share any air molecules with the driver — if the driver can remain in the car.

One person handling the pump handles is clearly less likely to spread infection than having many people do so.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Yesterday I added a Kaiser ad here, but decided it fit better with a different post and deleted it from this one.)