Traffic increases but remains below pre-pandemic levels: report

Dive brief:

  • Traffic congestion levels increased in 2021 but remain overall below pre-pandemic levels, especially in city centers, report says published Tuesday by the transport analysis company INRIX.
  • The group’s annual global traffic dashboard found that US drivers lost an average of 36 hours in traffic during 2021, up from 26 hours in 2020. This was well below the average of 99 hours lost in traffic throughout 2019.
  • The report found that trips to downtown U.S. cities are 22% lower than pre-pandemic levels, while trips to downtown are 19% lower than pre-pandemic levels in the Kingdom. -United. and databases accessible to the public.

Dive overview:

Some experts warned at the start of the pandemic of a potential traffic nightmare, as more commuters avoided crowded buses and trains and car sales have exploded. But even as cities began to reopen and travel increased – both with commuters returning to offices and a slight increase in leisure travel – congestion hasn’t even caught up to its level. before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, let alone exceed this.

“We haven’t seen and don’t expect to see a ‘carmageddon’ that some people have warned about,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Instead, we’ve seen a very modest increase in driving and working shifts at certain times of the day. If people were traveling, many of them would change the time of day when they left home or office or wherever they could travel. “

New York drivers are said to have lost an average of 102 hours in traffic jams, the highest number in the country. Still, that represented a 27% drop from pre-COVID levels. Chicago (104 hours), Philadelphia (90 hours), and Boston (78 hours) were the next U.S. cities with the most time lost to traffic, but all were down at least a quarter from levels in before COVID. Boston, which ranked first for congestion in 2019, has seen its traffic levels drop 47% since then, according to INRIX data.

Las Vegas was the only metropolitan area in the nation’s 25 largest to report an increase in congestion, with drivers spending an average of 28 hours in traffic congestion in 2021, compared to 16 hours before the pandemic. Theresa Gaître, director of the Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation team at the Southern Nevada Regional Transportation Commission, said congestion could be the result of several ongoing construction projects that began in 2020, adding that Surface streets were stable or slightly below 2019 levels. Gaître said the agency had also made efforts to encourage the use of public transport as the economy rebounded, including through a program who offers free seven-day transport passes new and former employees in the region.

INRIX also found that travel in central business districts, or city centers, remained down from pre-pandemic levels. Real estate trends showed that city centers were declining as workers continued to work remotely, forcing some cities like San Francisco rethink the use of business districts. San Francisco saw a 49% drop in trips in the downtown area from 2019, while Detroit recorded a 41% drop.

San Antonio, on the other hand, led the country in terms of a resumption of downtown traffic, although it remained 5% below pre-pandemic levels. Sarah Esserlieu Khalil, Director of Economic Development for the Placemaking organization San Antonio Center, said visits had “bounced back, but not all the way home,” with office workers still not fully returned. However, she said, sightseeing tours to the city center are on the rise, as are visits to local events such as musical performances, festivals and art exhibitions.

“Even while still wary of COVID, we have seen good levels of visits,” Esserlieu said. She added that the pandemic provided an opportunity to rethink how and why people would come to downtown and created momentum for better use of parks and public spaces. “It’s really about loving urban spaces and we encourage people to come back and visit our downtown area,” she said.

One important long-term change, Pishue said, is the abandonment of peaks during rush hours. Highways and roads are designed to cope with peak demand, often during the morning rush hour. The more people can move later in the day, work remotely or change their regular driving hours, he said, the less congestion they will see – with dramatic effects on the built environment.

“The reduction in peaks is almost considered theoretical, but we are now seeing this reduction,” Pishue said. “What I would do if I was responsible is see what we can do to keep that peak as flat as possible, whether it’s deploying more buses, restructuring working hours or subsidize public transit. This can reduce the impact on our infrastructure as much as possible. “

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