commuters

Will post-pandemic commuters be stuck again in traffic jams?

It’s a hard time for mobility experts who are asked to predict the impact of post-Covid working habits on commuters and urban traffic. We know the pandemic is not over, and lots of organizations are offering hybrid models with teleworking options to their employees - but the 'return to office' call is equally strong. Most analysts agree there will be a gradual increase in commuters over the coming months, rather than a sudden rush back to the office, but the spread of virus variants might blur the picture overnight.

In some cities, the reduced traffic congestion due to Covid-19 lockdowns and the massive teleworking seems to be encouraging more people to drive to the office. In the US, INRIX compared driving times to downtown Seattle at 8:30am, during morning rush hour: in 2019, before Covid, about 500 thousand workers were within a thirty-minute drive from home, while in 2020, during Covid, more than 800 thousand people were within a thirty-minute drive. This means the lack of congestion gave 58% more people the opportunity to travel downtown in half an hour, thus being more willing to make the drive as they don’t fear traffic.

The possibility that more commuters are driving is proved by parking trends. In several large cities with major mass-transit systems, including New York and San Francisco, parking usage rates are resuming quite quickly after collapsing in 2020. As reported by The Washington Post, in San Francisco parking facilities are at 85 to 90 percent of their pre-pandemic levels, compared with a 74 percent average comeback in other North American cities.

However, mobility experts acknowledge urban people are increasingly interested in alternative commuting systems – and those who commute less often are more likely to ride a bicycle or walk, provided their home-office journey is not too long.

The City of Boston investigated mobility habits of 2,650+ workers and calculated drive-alone commuting rates have dropped 10 percentage points in the last 12 months. About 6.5% of respondents questioned in 2021 said they use to bike to work, while about 9.5% said they plan to bike to work in the future. A similar survey in 2020 had lower results, as 4.4% said they used to bike to work and 8% said they planned to in the future. Building on these findings, the City is improving the existing bike infrastructure and 4.5 new miles of separated bike lanes will be added by the end of this year to the current network.

Changes are under way and it’s not clear whether commuters will be back to their habits of early 2020 or enjoy a new routine — and cities needs to closely monitor the evolution to take wise decisions about mobility and traffic management. But the common feeling is, some adjustments to pre-pandemic commuting patterns might be everlasting.


curb management

Curb management needs data

You might assume curbs are about pedestrians walks, but city managers think of these spaces as an interesting source of parking revenues. Curb management is normally based on cities’ fixed assets, with street signs displaying applicable rules: vehicle parking can have variable prices according to districts, days of the week or time slots; there might be reserved spaces for residents, disabled or electric cars.

However, curbs are nowadays seeing a convergence of different competing uses. From an increase in pick-ups and drop-offs to new ways to get around like shared bikes and scooters, curb management is becoming increasingly important for urban mobility – and cities are looking for new ways to organize and monetize their curb space.

Curb policies are mostly decided on a case-by-case basis without any data-driven support. This might result in a street block having metered parking all day and no loading zones for morning deliveries, no stopping restrictions during rush hours or specific options for commercial operators. Many drivers can either park illegally or circle the block multiple times while waiting for a spot (and we know that up to 56% of city traffic is due to idle cruising for parking). Where curbs allow different use cases, sometimes unclear signage causes some driver confusion as to which rule applies where, creating an inefficient parking and ticketing system.

Several innovative cities in the US and Europe recognized curbs are vital community spaces and one of the most extensive and valuable urban assets. Active and data-driven curb management enables communities to offer more equitable access among different users, improve level of service for everyone, collect data on transportation behaviors, draw more customers for local businesses, and create a sustainable revenue source.

In South California, US, the City of Stanford is executing a curb management plan to map all available spaces, their locations and current use. This preliminary survey will assist the City Council in enhancing street-level parking management, relieving spaces to improve alternative transportation options and identifying possible multiuser curbs space options. This project is scheduled to be completed within the year.

Again in the US, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is leveraging curb management to address some immediate safety issues along 6th and Taylor streets, which are among the streets accounting for 75% of severe traffic injuries and fatalities in San Francisco. The communities that live along these corridors largely consist of seniors, children, people with disabilities, limited English proficient people and lower-income families. Together with some travel lane reconfigurations and signal changes, SFMTA believes better curb management can significantly contribute to pedestrians’ safety.

In Italy, the City of Turin is piloting a curb management project leveraging an analytics software. Data captured by cameras overlooking street parking and road traffic are analyzed and correlated with information generated by flows of public buses, delivery trucks, ride-sharing vehicles, scooters, bikes, and pedestrians. This should allow a comprehensive view of all mobility needs in the trial districts, supporting data-driven decision making.

With widespread, reliable datasets, the opportunities for smart curb management are vast. Cities can improve urban mobility and mitigate congestion thanks to a streamlined management of available street-level parking, price parking more equitably, better manage micromobility and commercial vehicle transit – with tangible benefits for their communities and the environment they live in.