The New Rush Hour

Posted by on Sep 1, 2020 in Did You Know | No Comments

The world looks different today than it did yesterday. As we face the unknown of the coronavirus, Sain Associates will continue to bring weekly content to the blog. We find comfort in providing uplifting news but also bringing a sense of routine while we navigate through this fluid environment.

By: Paul Gilliam, PE, PTOE, Senior Project Manager

COVID-19 has significantly impacted daily life around the world. Many people are teleworking, schools are adopting distance learning in greater numbers, and more entertainment and retail activity are occurring online than ever before. These lifestyle adjustments have led to travel behavioral changes that allow planners to reclaim underutilized roadway lanes for other purposes, such as bicycle lanes, parklets, and outdoor restaurant seating.  Behavioral changes have had a significant impact on peak hour traffic patterns, some of which may last, at least to some degree, after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many planners and traffic engineers have the following questions:

  • What should we expect from the new rush hour?
  • Will large numbers of people continue to work from home?
  • Will transit ridership return to pre-COVID levels?
  • What is the future of shared and micro-mobility?

The Institute of Transportation Engineers and the American Planning Association have conducted and compiled numerous studies that address these questions. The general findings are:

  • Transit ridership will likely remain at depressed levels for the next two to three years. Increased sales of automobiles during COVID-19 signals an increase in Single-Occupancy-Trips (SOV) in the future
  • Working from home will decrease over time but will remain at levels significantly higher than pre-COVID as major employers such as Amazon have begun adopting long term plans for an increased number of employees who work from home
  • Active transportation will play a more critical role in trip-making behavior, particularly in dense, urban areas

All these factors will determine the future rush hour in urban areas. The future rush hour will likely have lower transit mode shares, increased work from home shares, increased bicycle and pedestrian shares, and increased SOV shares of overall travel. These changes will require planners and traffic engineers to re-evaluate:

  • How to forecast work from home mode shares and stratify essential versus non-essential employees for transit forecasting
  • Community planning in suburban communities; as more people work from home, there will be increased demand for community-level amenities, such as retail, coffee shops, and green space
  • Planning transit routes to safely serve essential employees; include contingency plans for future pandemics, natural disasters, etc.
  • Future traffic forecasts on major commuting routes if SOV mode shares increase as projected
  • Bicycle and pedestrian networks; in dense urban areas, these facilities should be evaluated for Level of Service like roadways. The goal should be a pedestrian network that supports future pedestrian demand while allowing for social distancing to some degree. In less dense suburban and exurban areas, gaps in the sidewalk and bicycle network should be evaluated, and connections to shopping, parks, schools, and restaurants/entertainment venues should be prioritized to support and encourage the increased pedestrian demand projected in those communities

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