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Car Travel In Cleveland Area Fell By A Third In 2020 Due To Pandemic

The way we travel has changed dramatically since the coronavirus pandemic started in March. Commuting slowed, as more people worked from home and children went to school remotely. Mass transit usage plummeted. To find out how Cleveland's traffic patterns were affected during the Year of the Coronavirus, ideastream's Morning Edition host, Amy Eddings, spoke with Grace Gallucci, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA). The agency address transportation, air and water quality issues for Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga and Medina counties.  

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority says ridership on its buses and light rail is still down by about half. And I know, when we do traffic reports in the morning, there isn’t a lot of traffic to talk about!  What trends did you see?

Well, you know, ridership on buses and rail, just like vehicle miles traveled in the automobile, have greatly been reduced as a result of COVID-19. When the pandemic first started, the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] actually was really telling people not to take public transit.

Auto travel reduced 33 percent between March and the end of this year. And there's not only changes in the amount of travel, the way people travel has changed. For example, the travel map was more localized. So, less longer trips and much shorter trips. And also there isn't as much of a rush hour anymore in the morning or in the afternoon. Now there are more trips in the middle of the day, as people have altered their schedule. And so the rush hour is flattened out. 

So, we're driving less. Did air quality improve?

It absolutely did. We had about a 20 percent reduction in pollutants. It most likely will not continue once we get back to a normal schedule. For example, there have been many companies, Sherwin-Williams included, that have indicated that they will continue with their building of the headquarters in Downtown Cleveland because they value the in-person collaboration and that they will go back to regular work schedules, meaning working in the office, post-pandemic.

Grace, is there any way to take advantage of the more positive aspects of these trends, before everyone gets back into their cars and starts coming Downtown to work?  

Well, I guess, in terms of looking at the silver lining, okay, what have we learned from this? Or, what have we received in any kind of benefits? The average household has saved $755 since the pandemic on the cost of gasoline. You're also talking about savings for, and I'll call this societal savings, even though we do break it down to a household, of $882 because of reduced congestion, less delays and more productive time. Most importantly, you look at that air quality that you asked about. There are benefits to health, including lower instances of asthma attacks, lower instances of any kinds of hospitalization or restricted movements.

How do you push that into the future? Maybe now, people will be using other means of transportation. More walking, more biking. I think there also probably will be some reconsideration, as people have begun to realize some of the productivity benefits of telecommuting, I think there will be some reconsideration about where people live and where they work, and looking for shorter commutes. So I think there's a lot of ways people will be rethinking how they get to work and how they travel.

 

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