By on March 25, 2020

Road traffic across the United States is dropping drastically, thanks to social-distancing efforts taking place to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. For yours truly, traffic in New York City has gone from frequently hectic to downright pleasurable and relaxed. While there’s a statewide initiative in place to keep residents in their homes, the days leading up to the shelter-in-place order saw a decline in roadway activity I’d only previously witnessed during Hurricane Sandy.

According to INRIX, a Washington-based firm providing traffic analytics, road use in the United States dropped by about 30 percent last week — with regions affected by state-mandated shutdowns seeing even larger declines. The study compares the national traffic volume from the 14th to the 20th of March to volumes recorded between the 22nd and the 28th of February — noting that March 13th was the first day traffic started trending downward in most regions. Moving forward, INRIX says it wants to continue offering up a weekly synopsis of national traffic volume until the health crisis ends. 

Regions fared differently depending on when COVID-19 struck and how aggressive local governments responded. For Seattle, that culminated in a 29-percent decrease in motorists on March 20th. Meanwhile, San Francisco witnessed a 51-percent decline as New York City maxed out at 43 percent (which, again, has been lovely).

Major metropolitan areas were hardest hit by the virus since its migration out of China. However, statewide declines in traffic are still noteworthy, with many seeing roads clear by more than the national average of 30 percent. For the most part, people seem to be making the same sort of trips they used to — just at a much lower frequency (as many are opting to stay home). The only exception was said to be commercial traffic.

From INRIX:

Digging a little deeper, so far, the decline in national passenger traffic volume is directly tied to a decline in total trips, with distance-per-trip increasingly slightly from 9.2 miles to 9.4 miles. With the reduction in congestion as reported by INRIX Research, we are seeing slightly shorter trip times, with 18.5 minutes per trip dropping to 17.8 minutes.

A silver lining, if there is one, is that commercial traffic is holding up. Long haul truck traffic is holding steady — a hopeful sign as we clearly need the nation’s logistics backbone to continue to function. Local fleets, such as service vehicles and local deliveries, are experiencing a drop nationwide, slightly under 10 [percent] through the week. These commercial traffic trends bear watching.

[Images: Stephan Guarch/Shutterstock; INRIX]

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15 Comments on “Silver Linings: COVID-19 Thinning Traffic Across the Country...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    yeah, it’s weird looking at the traffic maps at 7:30 a.m. and seeing everything green.

    • 0 avatar

      Everything looks green because there is much less C02.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Wait, doesnt the stuff that makes all the green breathe CO2?

        • 0 avatar

          Yeah, but not green humans.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Guys, guys ~ only the little men from Mars are green .

            There’s a very documentary that explains all this called “Mars Attacks” .

            I’m sure it’s on your tube of netflix .

            I was out running errands all over Los Angeles to – day ad never slowed below 70 MPH unless I wanted to ~ when I drove right through the center of Los Angeles @ 6PM, the normal rush hour traffic wasn;t there .

            I slowed to 60MPH and remained in the slow lane all the way through .

            Even the Sepulveda pass on the i405 was wide open, my old Mercedes putt-putt only goes 85 so I kept it at 70 ~ 75 there, zoom, in the next to slow lane to avoid the trucks plodding along .

            A few MotorHeads and I are going for a back roads canyon drive Sunday morning ~ safe buttoned up inside the cars, we’ll be fine .

            -Nate

  • avatar
    -Nate

    In Southern California the i405 freeway is generally the worst for traffic day or night ~ we tell visitors to avoid it at all costs .

    Recently I’ve been using it as a Western short cut to my North / South travels .

    It is nice to have less traffic but the idiots are also crashing in record numbers from speeding without looking where they’re going, bouncing off big rigs at al alarming rate .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    JMII

    Well duh. One of my hopes when all this over is that some companies (like mine) will realize that many people can work from home with no harmful effects to the companies bottom line (which is all they care about anyway). I figure 70% of the time I drive to work and just sit in front of a keyboard all day. There is no logical reason to do this, I am just wasting fuel and time. The more people that stay home the easier the drive becomes for those that must go in. Or as I’ve done in the past just working odd hours (like 10-7 vs 8-5) can help.

    Example from just this week: my parents live about 18 miles away from me. They came over for dinner on Sunday. The drive normally takes 35-45 mins during off times but can easily be an hour (or more) during peak periods. They got here in 25 mins!

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    On Monday I went for a three mile run. It was quite dead out, even during lunch time. There was one idiot in an Infiniti QX50 that must have been going ~70mph in a 25 zone. It’s also been easier to cross heavier trafficked roads when I’m running.

    On Sunday I took the Mustang out – the sidewalk that snakes around the local small lake was quite busy with runners, pedestrians, and dogs. Many of them social distancing by using the shoulder of the roads. Needless to say I had to drive nice and easy (given every Mustang’s hatred of bystanders).

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Not only is there a lot less traffic, there’s a lot less pollution. Here in Denver, the typical brown cloud you get this time of year isn’t there, and the view of the mountains is almost crystal clear.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Basically I have not been going anywhere except to the grocery and pharmacy. I will not be taking advantage of any car deals especially since I have barely put on 1,000 miles since last October on my 2012 Buick Lacrosse that I bought last October. At 46k miles it has a lot of life left. My other 2 vehicles have even less mileage.

  • avatar
    bkojote

    I’m seeing a lot more big-rigs on the highway (understandably so), but it’s made traffic so much more manageable when I need to run essential errands -and- it’s cut pollution/smog noticeably. Freedmike mentioned Denver is clear and it’s shocking – the smog is practically gone.

    For a lot of people a daily commute to an office is wholly unnecessary, and this has really hammered that point home.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    Here on Oahu (where locals who learned to drive here take a perverse pride in giving up the right of way to as many cars as possible and have bumper sticker that read ‘Slow down, this ain’t da mainland, brah’), H-1 has been wide open and easy. It’s normally clogged between 5:30 – 9am and 3-6:30pm or so. Hitting the 55 mph speed limit is normally a sign of no traffic. Right now, if you aren’t doing 65 in the right lane, you’re gonna get honked at.

    More motorcycles and sports cars are out on my normal drive. I’m working from home and playing teacher as well, but I still need groceries and what not and head out early (7am). So, while I expected the light traffic, I didn’t expect to see the weird, cool, and fast things come out. Saw an old school suicide door Continental on Monday. Yesterday a classic Nissan Z and a first gen RX-7. So many sport bikes. It feels like there is suddenly a ton of somewhat older modded Japanese compacts, older Mustangs and Camaros, and all manner of Corvettes. I even saw a had my first sighting of a Suzuki Kizashi… showroom new look.

    I think people are just taking out their fun or weird vehicles and driving. Its kinda cool, but I know it means a lot of people aren’t working or getting checks. :/

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      I really enjoyed Oahu and I think everyone needs to visit Hawaii at least once, same as New York City .

      Hawaii has multiple islands so you can try different lifestyles .

      -Nate

  • avatar

    Just before everything shut, I had to be in lower Manhattan, then the next day, Coney Island. Normally a painful two hour slog each way, the 1948 traffic levels allowed me free-flow from upstate to the city. Less than an hour to City Hall, and not even pushing it. Turns out the roadway system works really well with 1/4 the usual traffic, especially the Uber and Lyft idiots being gone. Making the run to Coney Island in less than an hour was a once in a lifetime thing…..and I wasn’t even trying hard or pushing beyond my normal pace + 10/15 mph.

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