Everything is Related (except for my Uncle)
Reduced travel, namely air travel, means fewer weather observations from aircraft and therefore reduced accuracy regarding weather forecasts. More than 3,500 commercial aircraft normally provide over 250 million weather observations per year — this data is down 75%.
Meteorologists can no longer text an airline pilot, “Hey, what’s going on up there?” Instead, in order to predict the weather (according to my uncle), they must now look out the window and simply “take a stab at it.”
And the traffic impact of those continuing to work from home is even harder to predict. But, it is expected. In fact, many employers will likely require it. The cost savings, the efficiencies, the reduced traffic and pollution will be a win-win-win for the employer, the employee, and the community around them.
The emptier streets apparently encourage some drivers to ignore speed limits. State highway officials across the US are seeing a spike in speeding. Unfortunately, fewer cars on the roadway did not translate into a reduction in accidents…
And a word of caution if you’re planning a trip to the McDonald’s drive-thru in Nuneaton. The queue backed up onto the adjacent highway three times yesterday. Local police are now recommending, “come back later or go to a different restaurant.” And in case you’re wondering, there is another McDonalds about 80 miles away — in London.
Traffic backing up onto adjacent roadways is not limited to the UK. To prepare for “normal” school days, an elementary school in Florida is addressing their queueing problem by constructing a “traffic loop.” The loop provides increased storage for parents to line up so as not to impact the adjacent highway. Addressing the increasing number of parents dropping off/picking up their children from school is a common request in Indiana as well. And with increased concern about public transportation, it is likely to worsen. Often, short-term/low-cost solutions can provide significant improvements in traffic circulation and queuing during arrival and dismissal times.
And even though traffic is not “normal,” we continue to collect traffic data for both cars and trucks. Not only to quantify the changing impact of stay-at-home policies but to be in a position to better predict traffic impacts associated with disruptions from natural causes like storms and floods or from man-made causes such as sporting events and construction detours.
The new normal is a moving target — it’s important we remain nimble and creative — after all, that’s what we’re good at.
Chet Skwarcan (traffic engineer, author, unique insights) with over 25 years of traffic engineering experience — online ideas available at TrafficEngineering.com/Services.