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Traffic Trends and Safety in a COVID-19 World

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

by Marley Randazzo, USC, Masters of Urban Planning 2021

Tuesday, June 2nd, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center (PSR) held the Traffic Trends and Safety in a COVID-19 World webinar. The event was the first partnership of its kind for both TRB and PSR. "We are delighted to be able to partner with TRB and share some of our PSR research on this timely topic," said PSR director Dr. Genevieve Giuliano.



Amplifying the event on both organizations' platforms and speaking to the high level of interest in planning in a post-COVID world, the webinar was extremely well-attended, drawing an audience of over 1,100 attendees. Event moderator Dr. Fraser Schilling, representing UC Davis' Road Ecology Center, noted the current importance of academic research to the planning practice: "I think the size of the event spoke to how much these new traffic conditions are on peoples' minds. It is a learning experience for everyone, from planners to traffic safety and operations."



In addition to Schilling, speakers Daniel Carter from North Carolina DOT and Mena Lockwood and Sanhita Lahiri from Virginia DOT detailed the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic on transportation behavior in their respective states and fielded questions from the audience. While all speakers described an overall decrease in traffic during state-level "Safer at Home" orders, their research revealed divergent traffic patterns and crash data. In North Carolina, for example, Carter shared that while total crashes had decreased by 50%, fatal and severe crashes had increased by 6%. Acknowledging that more research into the exact cause is needed, preliminary data indicate that this increase is related to the rise in single-vehicle collisions, those in which a driver runs off the road or makes contact with a physical barrier. Somewhat surprisingly, speed seems to have little to do with the increase in severe and fatal crashes.



Schilling described a transfer of wealth resulting from the lockdown, away from local and state governments to consumers and insurance companies. While California has saved $40 million per day in crash-related costs and drivers have saved $8.6 billion per day on fuel, city and state governments now face a substantial drop in revenue generated primarily from a gasoline tax. While the short-term effects remain to be seen, Virginia has already cut its transportation division budget, and similar cuts to public works projects are likely to come.



METRANS PSR's next event will be on September 23rd, addressing how gender and family dynamics impact travel behavior. Hosted by Dr. Kostas Goulias, a Professor of Transportation at the UC Santa Barbara Department of Geography, the webinar is titled: Taxonomy of Daily Travel and Time Use Patterns Using Sequence Analysis to Explore Schedule Fragmentation and Gender Roles. See more here.



About the Author: 

Marley Randazzo is a second-year graduate student in the Master of Urban Planning program at USC Price. He works as a writer, product manager, and designer for METRANS.