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One of the immediate, visible changes that the COVID-19 pandemic caused in cities throughout the world was the sudden disappearance of both human and vehicular traffic as people began sheltering in place. Though one year later, restrictions have been less tight, the decrease in traffic congestion astonishingly continued even after quarantine.
In Los Angeles, traffic fell 54% in Apr. 2020, but went back to 80% normal by Oct. At the time the Los Angeles Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds talked about the challenges the city faced in keeping traffic under control with Spectrum News: “Right before the pandemic, people were driving all over the place to hunt and gather essential supplies. What traffic was like in late February, early March was the worst-case scenario, but that is what we are in for as the economy returns if we do not figure out how to bring public transit, ridesharing, and shared mobility back into people’s lives as their first choice.”
According to Caltrans Performance Measurement System (PeMS) data, May 2020 average total freeway VMT was 36% below last year. By June, VMT was just 12 % below 2019. Since the low point seen in the week ending on Apr. 11, 2020, VMT was growing around 2.9 % per week on average.
After months of having to work or take class online, and not to mention the millions who lost their jobs, and stay at home, many people completely altered their day to day routines as we still wait to get so-called normalcy back. And as pointed out by ArchDaily, this is no surprise given all areas of society, from schools to businesses to government, have had to alter the way they function throughout these unprecedented times.
The TomTom Traffic Index, which monitors congestion in over 416 cities across 57 countries and calculates the rate of increased traffic by comparing the extra time taken to travel a route versus the travel time under normal conditions, confirmed that global traffic decreased in 2020. This trend continued even after quarantines were lifted in cities across the globe.
Out of the 416 cities monitored, 387 reportedly saw a decrease in traffic, while only 13 experienced a rise. In April, when the majority of quarantines were in effect, congestion in these cities was cut by 50%, though.
With many large cities imposing strict lockdowns to stave off the economic impacts of the pandemic, many residents left their cities for less populated areas with fewer restrictions. The aforementioned report indicated that the day before new quarantines took effect, traffic shot up by 142% in Paris on Oct. 29, 123% in Athens on Nov. 6, and 104% in London on Nov. 4 of last year.
In cities like Bogota, Colombia, which is ranked within the top three of the world’s most congested cities, encouraging the use of bicycles was one of the key solutions in addressing traffic congestion while simultaneously preventing overcrowding of the public transportation systems. This ultimately decreased the potential spread of Covid-19. To make the city more bike-friendly, both temporary and permanent bike lanes were added throughout the city’s roadways and thoroughfares.
Before, much of our time was spent commuting from one place to another, whether it was by car, public transit, or even — to a way lesser extent– micromobility. But now that there’s less of a need to travel for work, school, or pleasure, one of the mega-trends that’s predicted to shape our civilization is increased urbanizations. This will result, in many cases, in cities with populations greater than that of some countries, wrote ArchDaily. Without proper planning and management, many cities will find themselves with unseen levels of traffic and overcrowding.
For example, on the outskirts of Bogota, many of the less populated areas are seeing a spike in demand for housing from urbanites looking for a better quality of life. This indicates that the desire to escape the overcrowding and congestion of large cities can result in the growth of less populated cities. With urban governments encouraging the use of short distance methods of transportation, like bicycles or e-scooters, they must also address residents’ needs for shorter and safer commutes.
In Los Angeles, only 0.7% of Angelenos count biking as their primary mode of transportation, according to the LADOT’s website. But like many other cities around the world, the pandemic has seen more people use bikes more frequently — something that LADOT noticed. The department has expedited multiple bike lanes and safety projects since the “Safer at Home” order was issued in March.
According to Colin Sweeney, LADOT’s public information director, the department has installed or upgraded nearly 28 miles of bike lanes, and an additional 5.5 lane miles are under construction in the city. Some of those improvements include speeding up the installation of protected bike lanes to the 7th Street Forward project in Downtown, which according to Sweeney is the most popular corridor in Los Angeles for scooters and bikes. Additionally, LADOT has also been implementing more than 12 miles of new bike lanes to Avalon Boulevard in South Los Angeles since May.
Sweeney added: “Investing in transportation infrastructure that reduces traffic, improves quality of life of neighborhoods, and creates better air quality is a task for local, state, and national leaders, and we continue to advocate for funding that will allow us to expand these programs.”