COVID-19 has reduced driving, but Philly-area urban planner says rush hour will return

By KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A recent study, by accounting and consulting firm KPMG, suggests a nationwide decline in the number of people on the roads may never recover from the pandemic, but a Philadelphia-area expert says the effect has been highly exaggerated.

Greg Krykewycz, associate director of multi-modal planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, says: Don’t count on the end of the rush hour just yet.

"Reports of driving’s decline have been greatly exaggerated in the past," he said.

He says, when the stay-at-home order went into effect, traffic was almost non-existent. Now, Krykewycz says, it is almost back to levels before COVID-19.

"Traffic is about 20, maybe 18%, somewhere in that neighborhood," he said. "Less than it would ordinarily be in a typical summer heading into the fall. So still down a good chunk from normal, but a long way back from where things were early in the pandemic."

One area, however, that has not bounced back is public transit.

"Public transit is still only about 30% back to normal, part of that has to do with people’s concerns with COVID and being in an enclosed space with other people."

Krykewycz believes that fear will hopefully go away as the positive case numbers go down, or a vaccine becomes widely available.

He says another factor is the number of people who are working from home, and where home is.

"There’s an estimate of where people are most able to telework, and there’s a big concentration of those people right in that I-95/295 corridor in far Northeast Philly and Lower Bucks County."

He says that concentration of remote workers has eliminated the rush hours on I-295 near the Pennsylvania Turnpike interchange.

Krykewycz says he's interested to see how this shakes out in the long term. He says, "Not everyone can telework. If you look at a screen all day, you can do that anywhere, but not every sector has those jobs."

Krykewicz says it’s uncertain how traffic scenarios will play out in the next several years.

"It’s really unusual for all the trends to be disrupted, and you know, kind of the whole deck of cards is thrown up in the air and we have to see how it gets put back together and how people get around on the other side of this thing."

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