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Mar 24

Transportation's New Normal

Posted on March 24, 2021 at 10:04 AM by Sabrina Glenn

The phrase “new normal” has been thrown around a lot over the past year. When it comes to transportation and transit planning, we’ll know when we’ve hit the new normal when the specific factors we track remain consistent for at least three months.

For PART, understanding when we have settled into a new normal is critical. Not only does it help us make route adjustments and other operational decisions, but there are two regional studies related to travel behavior on hold; one is related to freight and delivery truck movements and the other to household travel. These studies could help the Triad for years to come, and we want to make sure the data we gather is as close to stable as possible.

That’s why we’ve been collecting and analyzing data trends throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that impact our region’s roadways, looking to see when they might start to normalize. We track specific factors to help us understand how traffic volumes and patterns may change including:

  • social and economic factors
  • COVID-19 infection and vaccination metrics
  • transportation and traffic numbers

Social & Economic Factors

We look at government restrictions and school policies along with unemployment rates. Typically, work-related trips only account for one-third of all trips, but the majority of peak traffic time. This means that lower unemployment rates could signal a normalization of traffic patterns.

COVID-19 Metrics

There is no baseline to compare COVID-19 infection rates to, but the number of active cases can indicate other trends, such as how likely people are to travel or visit local businesses. And experts have said that 70-80% of the population will need to be vaccinated before we have an umbrella of immunity, so watching those numbers can help us make informed predictions.

Transportation & Traffic

We look at public transportation ridership for all the agencies in the region along with traffic patterns in general. NCDOT shares information on traffic for cities across the state. We also examine trip generation over time which allows us to infer how many people are remote working.

The initial impacts COVID-19 had on traffic were easy to see. Understanding when volumes and patterns normalize will be challenging. Stay-at-home, no school, remote working and take out or delivery have not only lowered traffic volumes but also changed traffic patterns. Tracking the factors above will tell us when a return to normal occurs or when the new normal is reached so we can continue to help commuters across the Triad get where they need to go.