The pandemic ends at rush hour. What’s Happening Now?


Before it was all over strange and terrible, there were these things called rush hours. Between, say, 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., many people leave their homes to go to work or school, filling roads, buses, subway cars, and bike paths. Then, from 3pm to 7pm, they would reverse their journeys.

Then came the global pandemic and national arrests, and things went downhill for a while. By early spring 2020, vehicle mileage had dropped by 40 percent, according to transportation analysis company StreetLight Data. Those who lived near the highways and usually on the city streets took care of the clear sky and the blissful tranquility.

Now, rush hour is back. Streetlight Data estimates that American vehicles will travel 20 percent more miles in March 2021 compared to a year earlier. But the traffic patterns are very different. In many large metropolitan areas of the United States, what was once a morning run is more like a jog. Instead, traffic grew slowly all day, culminating in a big afternoon rush.

In the San Francisco metropolitan area, for example, the number of miles of vehicles traveled has dropped by about half during the 7- to 8-hour peak at the end of this winter, compared to the year before. But the miles traveled during the evening run, between 5 and 6 p.m., dropped by only a quarter. Total miles of vehicles traveled in the area were still down 25% overall this winter.

Traffic is a problem, experts say, that offers an insight into a region’s economic vitality, its goals, its character. Now, as more Americans get vaccinated, return to work and school, and resume their social lives, government officials are eager to find out that parts of the pandemic-era travel behavior were related to locks. , and that they are starting from more expansive distance work policies, which could be here to stay. Some cities fund research to examine these questions; the answers will probably point to the future of the city.

The travel behavior of work from home is not as clear as it might seem. Research on telecommuters from before the pandemic suggests that people working from home tend to emerge in the afternoon. Many take the roads to cafes, libraries, business meetings, and client sites. Jonathan Stiles, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University who studied the travel behavior of telecommuters, found that people with flexible working or favorable programs for telecommuting tend to use that flexibility to stay at home. in the morning, but then they venture out later. One of his studies found that only a third of remote workers stay in one place all day. If more people feel safe to move, they will probably increase traffic.


Other researchers have noted that allowing telecommuting people to sometimes encourage workers to move through the dense centers of the city and suburbs near more remote areas. In the end, they may end up driving more, only to make the same sort of commissions as before.

Some officials like to see traffic return, at least. “Look at it as positive. It’s more economic activity, “says Darin Chidsey, chief operating officer of the Association of Southern California Governments, a regional planning organization that represents 191 cities. Getting locals out during the afternoon means now.” people go back and pick up the kids from school, do activities, shop ”.

His organization wants to understand what is happening in this near-post-pandemic period in order to plan for post-pandemic realities. Last year began working with UC researcher Davis to understand how the pandemic has affected local employment, family organization, businesses, vehicle ownership, travel patterns, and general equity issues, and what changes may be permanent. If researchers found that more people would continue to work from home, they could open opportunities for cities and towns once thought of as a sleep-deprived community for the revitalization of the city center and, ultimately, more local tax revenue.

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