Rush hour models could change after COVID-19

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Rush hour is no longer so rushed in the early hours of the morning. And it’s not just an hour, either. (This is not the case.)

As Americans gradually return to semblance of normal, traffic data suggests the morning commute has changed dramatically – and it may never revert to pre-COVID-19 patterns.

In short, rush hour traffic is more spread out, and typically has moved later in the morning, as Americans are better able to avoid periods of heavy traffic due to working remotely, according to traffic data analyzed for USA TODAY by Wejo, which tracks the data. connected vehicles.

To be sure, as the pandemic continues to subside, many Americans are expected to return to the office after Labor Day, likely increasing overall traffic volumes. But traffic experts expect the increasingly flexible working arrangements are likely to give many Americans the opportunity to avoid the old-fashioned workplace blitz altogether.

“The morning rush hour is later and flatter,” says Daniel Tibble, director of data science and analytics for Wejo. “In almost all scenarios, the traffic does not decrease as much in the last hours and decrease more in the first hours. “

This means less time on the road, but it also means more dangerous hours on the road, as an increase in speed on open roads makes drivers more likely to die in car crashes.

Still, a good number of former commuters are avoiding the roads as traffic still remains on the decline even though it has rebounded from its 2020 lows.

The total number of kilometers driven in April was down 8.2% from April 2019, according to the Office of Highway Policy Information.

In rural areas, traffic recovered the most, with volumes in April down 3.5% compared to April 2019. But urban traffic volumes were still down 10%.

Here’s what you need to know about the evolution of rush hour.

Early risers have more room to fly

From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., drivers in many regions are experiencing significantly less traffic than before the pandemic.

In May, traffic volume was down 32% compared to February 2020 in San Francisco; 24% in Manhattan; 24% in Dallas; 22% in Tampa, Florida; and 8% along the busy I-95 corridor between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Drivers hit the road later in the morning

Although late morning traffic is still down, it is not as much as early morning traffic. This suggests that more and more people are delaying their driving time.

On the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. section, traffic volumes in May were down 26% compared to February 2020 in San Francisco; 17% in Manhattan; 13% in Tampa, Florida; and 12% in Dallas. Along I-95, they increased by 12%.

Nicole Calisi, who commutes on I-684 from her home in Rye Brook, New York, to her job as a project manager in Brewster, New York, has seen the trends change.

“I noticed the volume is almost higher now” later in the morning, she said. “Leaving at 8:30 am, it’s always full, where it wouldn’t normally be. “

It’s more dangerous to take the road

In general, it is more dangerous to drive now than before, in large part because of the increased speed as motorists take advantage of the open roads.

In 2020, the fatality rate per 100 million kilometers traveled on U.S. roads was 1.37, an increase of 23% from the rate of 1.11 in 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“The speed increased because there was less traffic so people could go faster,” says Tibble.

And the police aren’t intervening, says Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that advocates safe driving on behalf of state road agencies.

“One of the factors is the lack of enforcement,” says Adkins. “People speed up because they know they can get away with it, and they are right in a lot of cases. “

Now that traffic is returning in many areas, “heavy braking” incidents tracked by Wejo are on the rise as an unusual mix of “fluctuating traffic levels” forces drivers to stop quickly and unexpectedly, Tibble said. .

Adkins fears dangerous road conditions will persist unless police step up law enforcement.

“Drivers will do stupid things when they can get away with it”

Traffic in Pace, Florida on Wednesday, November 6, 2019.

More people to start their day at home

In many cases, the expectation of increasingly flexible work schedules means that many drivers will not need to get to work as soon as before.

“More flexible work takes the pressure off people of coming to work dead at 8 am,” says Tibble.

Such arrangements would make it easier for people to manage tasks such as bringing their children to daycare. They can often start their work from home and take a short break to take their children to daycare before heading to the office.

“If people can be flexible to improve their quality of life, people will want to do it,” says Tibble. “A little flexibility in the office when it comes to working remotely means people can choose to improve their quality of life. “

These small changes could add to a noticeable and permanent relief from congestion on the road.

In normal years, “there’s only a 5% to 10% reduction in summer traffic with school out of session,” said Wes Guckert, CEO of The Traffic Group, a transportation planning firm, in a blog post. “It’s easy to see what a 5-10% increase in traffic looks like in September, when schools and colleges reopen. A 10% reduction in traffic is dramatic.

COVID-19 has caused a broad shift towards remote working.

Different days of the week can be drastically different

As employers increasingly offer some workers the option of working from home on certain days, congestion could vary widely.

“Our assumption would be that there would be less traffic on the roads on Mondays and Fridays,” Adkins says.

Some things never change

If you want to avoid traffic, the old rules still apply.

“The best way to avoid traffic is the same way as before COVID – get up early,” says Tibble. “The roads are noticeably quieter even half an hour earlier before this peak starts at 6 a.m.”

And if you’re not in the morning, you can still enjoy lower traffic volumes after 9 a.m. despite shifting traffic to later in the morning.

Not everyone is optimistic about congestion

New York state commuter Calisi says some days overall traffic seems even heavier than before the pandemic – and she believes it’s because of the people who fled New York during the pandemic.

“People have evolved this way,” she says.

Even so, she doesn’t expect substantial, long-term relief from congestion in the city itself.

“I don’t think the traffic in New York will ever be okay,” she said.

You can follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter here for personal finance tips and business news Monday through Friday mornings.



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