Thursday, September 22, 2005

TDM and Hurricane Recovery

Transportation issues are the story after Hurricane Katrina's evacuation failures and 2 mph travel speeds on major Interstates as Hurricane Rita bears down on Texas/LA. Who would have thought Americans now know what "contraflow" means. What's next? "Demand Management"?

Even as people begin to hunker down (a term that we Floridians came to know last year), we need to look at transportation needs when these cities begin recovering. Certainly, transit will be an option but we need to demand that communities look at the likeliehood of dispersed home and work locations. We also assume that gas supplies (and prices) may be effected in the short term. We need to look NOW.

More to the point, why aren't transportation demand management agencies being brought into the discussion? And will TDM programs be prepared to help? Do they have an emergency preparedness plan?

Clearly, the devastation that has and will occur will increase demands for TDM programs and services like carpools and vanpools (and telework). Many people may have to live in temporary housing further away from work; perhaps very far away. Many will have vehicles that are inoperable due to water damage (or the fact that their vehicle was last seen sitting on the roof of a building). Their employers may have had to relocate, too. While telework may work for some, not all jobs are teleworkable (is that a word?).

So ... what can we do now? Certainly, ridematching programs and 800 telephone numbers don't require a local presence. TDM agencies on the West Coast could help expand service hours, for example. Online ridematching systems could be implemented.

Will we need temporary protections for employers that promote ridesharing in states that don't already have that protection? Will the feds revise Section 132(f) to allow employers to provide tax free qualified transportation fringe benefits to employees for carpooling and biking, too (like transit and vanpools)? Are emergency ride home programs sufficent? Will FEMA funds be available to help TDM agencies reach out to commuters and employers?

There are many questions to be answered (and apparently fingers to be pointed) to get America moving again. We need to start answering them today.


Peggy Hetherington said...

What surprises me most about the stories from Houston is the surprise that the officials are claiming at the huge traffic backups. If you tell everyone to leave, and assume at least one vehicle per family for about 80 percent of the population, and more than half those people are going to heed the warning, couldn't someone have done the math? I also don't understand why the contraflow lanes were not used; they could have left a lane open to keep resources going into the city, and leave the other--what, twelve in Houston?--lanes available for evacuees. In a way it supports the point that people just assume that the private automobile can get you anywhere you need to go, anytime, so you don't have to think it through. While they were all patting themselves on the back (deservedly so) for having buses available for people without cars, they never bothered to think about how the traffic was going to move.

David Ungemah said...

The key assumption of "get you anywhere you need to go" that Peggy refers to is important -- The state of Texas has "official" evacuation zones (, but how likely will Joe, Cathy, and the kids travel from Houston to College Station (because it's in their evacuation zone) rather than to San Antonio, because that's where Cathy's sister lives. That's where the demand problem occurs -- compound the infinite routing possibilities of a major urbanized area and, instead, funnel all traffic into a few select corridors. I may be naieve, but I doubt any evac plan can adequately address this issue for a city of 4 million.

UB said...

Which to my mind speaks to the need for the TDM community to speak more strongly on land use issues on a regional basis, especially where that involves connectivity. I believe we are starting to move in that general direction given what I heard in Anaheim, but to my mind that is still about 4 years behind the curve.

Given the human cost of these weather events, I think some of the best service we can provide is a community answer to some of these posed problems.

Tad said...

One of the reasons the TDM folks haven't been involved much in emergency preparations is that the emergency operations agencies don't see the value. If the TDM folks talk in terms of getting people to work, providing alternatives to improve air quality, etc., the emergency operations people will not see the connection.

In the emergency ops world, we are dealing with two key subjects: 1) evacuation; and, 2) continuity of operations.

For evacuation planning, people involved in this field can talk with the emergency ops groups to find out what planning has been done to move people effectively. Following the media coverage of people being "left behind" in New Orleans, there will be more discussion of this. And more action. Note nursing home people being moved from Galveston, Houston, etc. by bus. Anyone venturing into this subject needs to be clear. 1 -- What services need to be available? 2 -- Who can provide those services? 3 -- Who will communicate that those services are available and under what conditions? ... etc. No two emergencies are alike and no single emergency plan works for all emergencies. What is critical is that those organizations with capabilties to help are tied into and functioning as part of the emergency services immediate response teams. Chances are that the TDM organizations are not in that room but some organization you are close to is in that room. Figure out how seriously you want to be in that position and get known. But, be able to deliver. If the organization can't deliver, work on how to get budget, role, authority, etc. to be in a position to deliver.

As to continuity of operations, the TDM world is more likely to have a role. How people get around after a bridge goes down, a transit strike occurs, a fuel shortage kicks in, or some other event happens are all familiar events from some point over the last 30 years. TDM organizations need to follow the same path to the right tables as described above.

Getting to that table requires relationships, credibility, adaptiveness, expertise, and some good fortune.

Unless you are at the emergency planning table in "normal" times, you won't get to the table when the emergency happens.

It is critical to realize that an emergency situation is triage. Only the most important things will get done. Preparation time (before an emergency occurs) is the time to get the plan in place (and get the relationships working). Being critical today of people doing their best today won't endear anyone to those who have to lead next time. Bringing help and great ideas will get one to the next table more reliably.

That is not to say that any of the recent situations were stellar examples of great implementation built on great planning.

Focus on how to get to the table with credible help. Asking why TDM folks aren't involved may help identify what will create opportunities but it is part of the approach.

Having been involved in several special events and emergencies, relationships and trust count for a great deal. Show those responsible for leading that the TDM folks have something they can count on and you'll find opportunities.

David Ungemah said...

Tad's comments were superb... right on target. I would also add that the outline he provides is not only relevant to emergency management, but also other cross-cutting areas of transportation and land use. Want to be involved in development review and land use decisions? Follow Tad's outline -- provide expertise, communicate in the right language, enhance relationships, and deliver. It's a shame I haven't heard it put as succinctly until now. Well done, Tad.

The Jack said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.