The Long View: COVID-19 Impacts on Human Activity-Travel Patterns

Part 2: Will We See a Future of Less Traffic and Reduced Physical Participation in Activities — Don’t Count On It

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we explored how and why people may not adopt remote work and school arrangements on a mass scale in a post-COVID-19 era.

Figure 1. Vehicle Miles Traveled (1995–2018) (Source: FHWA Traffic Volume Trends)
  • Grocery and Pharmacy: -21%
  • Parks: -26%
  • Transit Stations: -50%
  • Workplace: -38%
  • Residential: +11%

Planning for the Future

During and immediately after COVID-19, people are more likely to explore recreational destinations closer to home (where they can drive), rediscover the great outdoors (rather than visit restaurants and theaters that re-open, simply because these are places where community spread may occur more easily), and generally play it safe in their activity and mobility choices. In other words, when restrictions are lifted, people are back to work, and businesses re-open, we may actually see less sustainable transportation choices being made in the short term — with people shunning shared transportation modes and favoring the safety of their personal vehicles and single-rider mobility-on-demand (Uber and Lyft) services. A bright spot in all of this is that people increased their bicycling and walking during the pandemic lockdown; such behaviors may continue in the aftermath of the virus, providing a ray of hope for the continued (greater) use of these active and sustainable modes of transportation than in the period prior to COVID-19.

Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University, specializing in Transportation Futures

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