UPDATES, RECENT WORK, & CONGRATULATIONS | Spring / SUMMER 2020
Are Home Deliveries Increasing during the Pandemic? UPDATE 2
Sorin Garber 8/11/2020
E-commerce sales of retail products increased by 37% in the first six months of 2020 versus the same period in 2019, while sales at brick-and-mortar stores dropped. On-line sales have been growing at double-digit rates annually since 2015, but the pandemic’s impact on store closures, fears of Covid-19 contagion, and social distancing, have sent their growth to 14.5% of all retail sales.
In the Portland region, we are seeing direct signs of the dramatic growth in on-line sales. Warehouse and messenger delivery jobs - which enable retail products to be delivered on the same day or next day after the orders are placed - jumped by 11% while traditional long-haul truck driver jobs declined by 5%. Warehouse space vacancies are at all-time lows and these kinds of facilities are developing closer to customers such as the current redevelopment of the Portland Meadows racetrack and the Broadmoor Golf Course into warehouse and distribution centers.
The fuller report is attached.
RE: The proposed auxiliary lanes in Portland's Rose Quarter section of I-5 - Do auxiliary lanes, as a rule, induce traffic?
Sorin Garber 7/17/2020
There are a few commonly held beliefs in transportation planning that bother me because there is no real evidence that they are valid. For example, we commonly say that the average person is willing to walk ¼ mile from a parking space in downtown environments, or that transit ridership will significantly decline if riders are forced to make a transfer even if the transfer vehicle is waiting for them to arrive, and that even minimal roadway capacity – such as the short auxiliary lane proposed for the Rose Quarter - will lead to induced demand.
These “facts” often influence our decision-making and turn us away from what could be more cost-effective and better utilized transportation investments.
I’ve debated these “facts” with others and have asked but never received objective proof that they’ve been verified. Induced demand is one that is being used to discredit the proposal to install northbound and southbound auxiliary lanes on I-5 in the Rose Quarter section of Portland, OR. Some opponents of the project have pointed to the 26-lane Katy Freeway in Houston as the indisputable outcome of the Rose Quarter project if we install these auxiliary lanes to its current cross-section of two mainline lanes in each direction.
Economists define induced demand as:
When you provide more of something, or provide it for a cheaper price, people are more likely to use it. Rather than thinking of traffic as a liquid, which requires a certain volume of space to pass through at a given rate, induced demand demonstrates that traffic is more like a gas, expanding to fill up all the space it is allowed.
One of the great gurus of transportation planning Anthony Downs coined the term - Law of Peak Hour Traffic Congestion – which states that “on urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.” Further, in his highly regarded book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, Jeff Speck has called induced demand "the great intellectual black hole in city planning, the one professional certainty that everyone thoughtful seems to acknowledge, yet almost no one is willing to act upon."
My understanding of trip generation is that it’s based on:
1) thousands of data sets which are published in manuals and methodological guidance provided by the Transportation Research Board (of the National Academy of Sciences) and the Institute for Transportation Engineers;
2) field surveys and questionnaires issued to future tenants of a facility; and
2) estimates in travel demand forecasting models which identify the trips that are generated by households, places of employment, learning, cultural, religious, recreational, etc., as well as government services. The forecasting process then allocates the generated trips by origin and destination locations, by time of day, by mode, whether linked trips are made, and other characteristics of travel. Finally, they are directly assigned – again by mode, time of day, etc. – to routes based, in part, on expected travel times, which is extracted from levels of congestion predicted by the models. For example, if there are two parallel routes that have a similar origin and destination for a traveler and one is faster than the other, the model seeks to “assign” that traveler to the faster route. The existing condition results of these models are then calibrated to actual existing conditions derived from field surveys of traffic volumes which lead to adjustments to improve the accuracy of the model.
If traffic volume increases more than what is predicted by the traffic models isn’t it more likely that the model was wrong than that drivers suddenly decided to drive because there was more capacity available?
I’m neither an advocate for driving or expanding highways, and I am personally concerned about land use and economic development decisions that encourage more travel by automobile. And, I believe that the Rose Quarter project is more justifiably a disagreement about social issues and how past decisions have adversely impacted traditional neighborhoods than it is about air quality, safety and induced demand.
But I am also concerned that we are sometimes irresponsible with the use of unproven or misused findings to reinforce our disagreements with a transportation investment proposal. The same can be said for discussions about investments in other transportation modes.
Analysis of Induced Demand, Crash Rate Changes and Population Growth where Auxiliary Lanes have been Introduced in Region 1 since 2004
I conducted research into whether auxiliary lanes on their own induce unexpected traffic volume increases. In fact, there is no local evidence that it does, despite the fact that we’ve had 17 auxiliary lane construction projects on freeways in the Portland region (i.e., ODOT Region 1) since 2007.
Are Home Deliveries Increasing during the Pandemic?
Sorin Garber 5/31/2020
With so many commercial establishments closed and many of us not leaving our homes, we know that some types of deliveries have increased by necessity, particularly for delivery of groceries and from restaurants. In contrast to this, those individuals who have lost jobs or otherwise fear for their financial livelihoods, may be making fewer purchases in general, including those by on-line delivery. Moreover, with the pandemic being such a unique and recent phenomenon, it is challenging to find comparative data to help us understand trends that could possibly guide us and support measures we might consider helping us through this crisis. Finally, such data could help us analyze how our economic lives might change after several months – or more – of stay-at-home, school and office closures, and other pandemic conditions.
While much of the data to track any trends are not yet uniform or consistent enough to suggest certain patterns, there is some data that is released on a quarterly and monthly basis that provide a sense of the growth. For example:
Total U.S. retail sales increased by 2.1%, but e-commerce retail sales increased by 14.8%, with a 100% increase in e-commerce (i.e., on-line) grocery sales between the first quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2020 (U.S. Department of Commerce).
On-line sales grew from 10.5% of total retail sales to 11.8% in the first quarter of 2020 in comparison with the first quarter of 2019 (U.S. Department of Commerce).
Daily U.S. on-line sales grew by 25% between early March 2020 and mid-March 2020 (Adobe Analytics).
Daily visits to Amazon.com were up by 22% between the same periods in 2019 and 2020 but are still only 70% of daily visitation to Amazon.com during their Christmas and “Prime Day” peaks. (Digital Commerce).
On-line national grocery sales grew to $5.3 billion in April 2020 from $4.0 billion in March 2020, and the number of grocery orders grew by one-third over the same period (Digital Commerce).
In Portland, there is corresponding data about the supply chain associated with e-commerce. For example:
Available industrial space – which has become increasingly less available with the growth of e-commerce over the past 10 years - dropped by 1.3% and industrial space rents jumped by 21% between the first quarter of 2019 and 2020 (Colliers International).
Portland region truck driver employment decreased by 17%, while warehouse jobs nearly doubled, and courier and messenger jobs jumped by 46% between 2005 and 2019, further evidence of the increased number of smaller shipments requiring quick delivery directly to consumers. Statewide truck transportation jobs decreased by less than 1% during the same period, but warehouse and courier and messenger jobs showed the kinds of significant increases shown in the Portland region (Oregon Employment Department).
I’m going to continue tracking data e-commerce sales, employment by type of delivery worker, vacancy rates for industrial/warehouse space, and sales by retail category., and publishing them on both my web site (www.sgapdx.com) and LinkedIn site.
These and other data were previously analyzed in a study I prepared - E-Commerce and Emerging Logistics Technology - for the City of Portland, which also describes strategies employed by shippers and carriers throughout the U.S. and around the world to meet the fast-growing volume of ecommerce deliveries, and recommendations for how cities can work with industry to help manage the delivery traffic.
There is a wide range of data about ecommerce sales behaviors during the pandemic such as ecommerce sales by age group, ecommerce sales by commodity, ecommerce sales by company, and more. Unfortunately, there is not much data yet on which transport type (truck, van, car, bike, foot) are being utilized during the pandemic.
If you’re interested in learning more about these and other trends, please contact me at
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NEW CONTRACTS | 2019-2020
SGA is now under contract as Prime Consultant with the following agencies:
Washington State Department of Transportation
Transportation Studies Services
Rail, Freight, and Ports - Engineering, Operations, and Planning Services
Portland Bureau of Transportation
Transportation Planning Services
CONGRATULATIONS! | recognizing partner success
SGA congratulates City of Fort Lauderdale and its Transportation and Mobility Division for completion of the NE 13th Street Complete Streets Project. The project converted a 1/2 mile segment of the four-lane arterial street that was being used as a regional bypass for high-speed auto traffic to a neighborhood-friendly, commercial/residential Complete Street with the following features: reduced to two-lane road; replaced travel lanes with bicycle lanes and on-street parking; introduced a roundabout to replace a signalized intersection; provided landscaped medians and mid-block crossings; incorporated native landscaping, and stormwater management design including bioswales, pave drains, and water catchment systems.
Mr. Garber assisted the City from cradle-to-grave — completing traffic analyses, feasibility studies, concept development, coordination/accommodation of public art, public outreach through management of PS&E, permits and construction bid documents, and through post-design services and construction — over nine months.
NE 13th Street before
NE 13th Street after
SGA congratulates Washington State Department of Transportation Olympic Region office for completing the Mounts Rd. to Center Dr. Auxiliary Lane Extension project, which is the first of four construction stages of its $495m I-5/Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) project. Funded through the Connecting Washington revenue package, the total program, which is expected to be completed by the year 2025, encompasses reconstruction of four interchanges, widening the mainline by one lane in each direction, overcrossing of passenger rail mainline, linking bike and pedestrian paths and local roadway connections.
Sorin Garber supported the Olympic Region office through the project’s alternatives analysis phase. He facilitated sessions with stakeholders which led to the identification of 163 alternatives and a least cost planning screening methodology to advance the most promising alternatives into the environmental process.