Where the Pandemic Has Scrambled Traffic Patterns

The map of metropolitan areas that drive least, and thus emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions, has been completely redrawn by the pandemic, according to a recent report.

January 25, 2021, 8:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Nighttime Traffic

badahos / Shutterstock

Kristin Musulin reports:

StreetLight Data has released its 2020 U.S. Transportation Climate Impact Index, which ranks the nation's 100 most populous metro areas on vehicle miles traveled (VMT), mileage of bike and pedestrian commuting, per-capita transit use, population density and circuity.

This year's reports reflects a major shakeup from the 2019 list, thanks to the wild shifts in transportation patterns due to public health restrictions and the resulting economic fallout during the pandemic. Only two cities, San Francisco and New York, appear on both the 2020 and the 2019 list according to Musulin.

"StreetLight Data recognized the COVID-19 pandemic has had an 'unprecedented impact' on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) nationally, which in turn impacted the rankings," writes Musulin.

Overall, VMT is still down compared to pre-pandemic times, continuing a trend identified in a report released by StreetLight Data this summer.

Phaedra Hise, StreetLight Data's director of content, is quoted in the article adding the caveat that it is too soon to tell whether these changes will be permanent, but the pandemic travel data does reveal some hope that localities can decouple VMT from economic growth (measured by GDP).

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