Traffic, Transit & Parking in a COVID World
Despite many aspects of life beginning to return to normal, we will continue to see some longer-term side effects as a result of COVID.
Wes Guckert of The Traffic Group predicts unused parking could be refurbished into office, residential or retail space in the future.
Commutes to work might look a little different as workers return to the office following the pandemic, according to one transportation and transit expert.
At an Urban Land Institute of Baltimore event Wednesday morning, Wes Guckert, president of Baltimore-based traffic engineering firm The Traffic Group, said the pandemic has had a major impact on three areas of transit — parking, traffic and public transit.
For those who commute to work by car, Guckert expects that parking at the office may change in the future as workplaces shift to hybrid work schedules.
The use of assigned parking spots in office garages — something that was a trend in the 1990s and 2000s but has since become less popular — will likely have a resurgence in the coming years as companies assign multiple workers to the same spot depending on when they come into the office. A worker coming into work on Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays can share a spot with someone coming on Thursdays and Fridays, Guckert said.
“It becomes quite frankly not a too difficult a process,” he said. “That will create an opportunity for businesses to rework the empty spaces.”
Empty space in parking garages can be converted into everything from housing to office or retail space, Guckert said. Unused parking in malls, for example, could be converted into outparcels in which retailers who can’t afford a stall inside the mall could set up shop.
Guckert also said it’s likely that outdoor dining options that are set up in city streets where there used to be parking spots available will continue doing so for the foreseeable future.
“There are communities all over the country … that are keeping the parklets, keeping the outdoor dining, because there are people that still want to dine outdoors,” he said. “You saw it this winter — people were dressed as if they were going on a snowmobile in order to eat a taco in Harbor East.”
But, he noted, declines in parking in 2020 likely had an impact on cities, which ordinarily rely on revenue from parking tickets for 2.0% of their yearly budgets, on average.
Along with parking, overall traffic levels, as well as car crash fatality rates, were affected by the pandemic.
Traffic was down significantly at the start of the pandemic, but, since then, travel by car has rebounded significantly, and is now back to nearly 95% of pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, the use of delivery trucks increased 300% in 2020.
Despite lower-than-average traffic throughout 2020, car crash fatalities increased from 2019, caused by increases in speeding and driving under the influence and decreases in seatbelt use. Speeding is thought to have increased due to there being fewer cars on the road, Guckert said.
Public transit took a more significant hit during 2020 than commuting by car, according to Guckert, declining by between 50% and 80% during the pandemic, depending on the type of transit. Significantly fewer people used public transit in 2020 than in the previous year, and, unlike traffic, that number hasn’t rebounded.
It’s unclear when people may return to mass transit in large numbers.
“You’re going to find it to be quite some time — could be a year, could be more than a year — ‘til individuals feel it is safe to return to a public transit system or even carpool,” he said.