August 12, 2020

An Argument Towards a Proactive Traffic Management Perspective

Post by Ben Kort, Market Research and Business Intelligence Intern

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted new trends and challenges in the transportation industry, such as increased crash severity, unpredictable traffic flow around COVID testing sites, and a decline in the use of public transit and ride sharing. The transportation industry was caught off-guard by these changes and is now working to adapt to the evolving traffic landscape. These past few months have forced agencies to examine the weak points in their systems and prioritize the need for innovation over traditional solutions. 

While it is true that there has been a decrease in traffic and vehicles on the road during COVID-19, it hasn’t been all positive news from a traffic management perspective. An unexpected side effect of the shut down has been an overall increase in crash severity and death rates. Less cars should theoretically mean less crashes and deaths, but in New York City, the ratio of fatal crashes to all collisions rose 167% in April from a year ago. Much of this increase can be attributed to higher driving speeds. Tempted by open roads, drivers have less barriers to speeding, with cars in Los Angeles going 30% faster than average on many popular streets. Police agencies have even described the quarantine period as “an all-day effort to catch speeding drivers.” Evidently, traditional speeding solutions aren’t working in the COVID-19 environment. 

Congestion build up surrounding Costco; referenced from Waycare platform in Las Vegas

On another note, Waycare found that certain areas surrounding essential businesses and COVID-19 testing sites have experienced a noticeable increase in irregular congestion and traffic. Essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies, and testing sites have created traffic buildups and headaches on traditionally calm roads. Neighborhoods and areas that rarely experience traffic issues now have to adapt to added congestion in certain areas. Adding a new layer with essential business locations, including test sites, allowed agencies using Waycare to keep up with these issues in real time. However, testing sites are not the only cause of irregular congestion patterns. The sociocultural shift away from public transportation is causing new traffic patterns to emerge as well. 

For many, public transit and ride sharing was their go to choice for transportation due to its economical and convenience benefits. However, now those options are raising public health and safety concerns. Worries stemming from sanitation and proper social distancing have led to a growing consumer reliance on personal vehicles. As referenced in a prior blog, passenger car sales have increased, threatening higher pollution levels and increased traffic in the long run. Metro ridership has been regressing since 2016, now the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely accelerate this overall decline, causing systematic changes in the public transit system. 

How proactive agencies are in identifying these sorts of trends and creating solutions will determine the future of the transportation landscape. Traditional thinking will not adequately solve the problems brought about by COVID-19. Innovative, data-driven solutions are the new standard. Specifically, agencies can use historical events or data to predict trends and be prepared. For example, the 2014 Ebola outbreak caused Dallas Area Rapid Transit to install UV light air filtration systems across their fleets. This creative, technology powered solution has proved invaluable now during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Overall, states must be ready to meet unexpected challenges head on with innovative, sustainable solutions. Whether it be for natural disasters or a pandemic, a proactive, technology-driven response is necessary. Technologically advanced systems and solutions need to be utilized across the transportation industry more often. Not only do innovative solutions solve pressing needs, but they also set up organizations for future success. From a traffic management perspective, software based ITS systems can provide the flexibility and upgradeability necessary to patrol the roads for decades to come.  

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