Connecting Traffic, Air Quality, and Coronavirus Spread

Early in the pandemic, bike sales soared and vehicle miles traveled plummeted. As people have been driving more, more people have also been infected with the novel coronavirus.

July 31, 2020, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Houston Texas

Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock

Andy Olin provides a really thorough overview of the mobility trends in the United States since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. 

The narrative is summarized thusly: 

Traffic levels fell dramatically throughout the Houston metro area as people were ordered to stay at home and businesses were closed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — and it worked. But, as the economy was reopened and people returned to work, restaurants, bars, beaches and more, traffic levels and infection rates increased.

The article includes a mountain of data on bike sales and use, traffic and vehicle miles traveled, and air quality, providing specific examples from around the country and the nation as a whole, before drilling down on air quality data in the Houston area. Much of the information in the article has been reported before in separate media outlets and news coverage, but here we have all the relevant data in one place, clearly put in context and analyzed for potential implications. 

But the article also includes a bombshell revelation that could potentially upend the ongoing narrative about density and transit being the most conductive modes for transmission of the coronavirus: when people drive more, more people are infected with the coronavirus.

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