Researchers Analyze Pandemic Transportation Patterns for Planning Lessons

An article details the efforts of Madison-area researchers to glean lessons from the transportation patterns of March and April to inform better planning for the future.

2 minute read

June 10, 2020, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Wisconsin Capitol

Stacy Ellen / Shutterstock

The reduced and altered transportation patterns of the pandemic presented a 'real-life experiment' in transportation engineering and planning, according to an article by Chris Hubbuch. The decreased numbers of cars and increased numbers of pedestrians and people on bikes offered researchers, "a way to study changes in traffic patterns that are typically hypothetical, allowing them to better understand traffic flows, pinpoint potential trouble spots and rethink the future of urban transportation."

The coverage relies on the expert insights of researchers from UW-Madison’s Traffic Operations and Safety (TOPS) Laboratory, which has approached the transportation effects of the pandemic as a "long-term window to study a system-wide reduction and compare highway performance to computer models." According to Jon Riehl, a traffic engineer and researcher at the lab cited in the article, the experiment could ultimately lead to "improvement in highway design and traffic engineering."

The article specifically notes that a reduction in automobile traffic was the only change on streets during the pandemic. "At the same time as it slashed automobile traffic, the pandemic response led to a surge in bicycle and foot traffic on suddenly crowded paths and sidewalks, creating a chance for planners to try out new configurations," according to Hubbuch. 

According to Yang Tao, a traffic engineer for the city of Madison also paraphrased in the article, "one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that transportation systems should be designed with more than just one scenario in mind, a system that can easily shift to accommodate walking and biking, loading zones, outdoor seating or surges in traffic when other roads are closed by flooding, as they were in 2018."

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