Saturday, April 18, 2020

ODOT on Pandemic Traffic Focuses on Speed and Congestion, Omits Crash Reduction

In the paper yesterday was a blurb picked up off the wire about a recent ODOT Report on traffic and the Pandemic.

ODOT spin: "Freeways...less congested"

ODOT documentation on Pandemic Travel Patterns
April 10th, and April 17th
The report focused on speed and congestion relief - "travel speeds are [now] reliable and congestion levels low to moderate" - but did not adequately stress that the speed-up is not just from "slowing" to posted speeds, but occasionally surpasses the posted speeds in outright "speeding." It did not address a significant cost of free flow. (See "Have Coronavirus Shutdowns Prompted an Epidemic of Reckless Driving?" at Strong Towns, also.)

Salem speeding - via Twitter (comment added)
Racing also a problem - this in Portland
Equally, it missed other, more positive effects.

But air pollution is down
And was utterly silent on the reduction in crashes, deaths, and injury.

They're all about speed and free-flow,
but what about crash reduction, hmm?
But even as our hospitals are slammed with the C19 Plague, with fewer driving and fewer trips they are surely seeing fewer serious injuries from crashes. What are the savings here?

For each person who dies, eight are hospitalized
and 100 go to the ER

Total "societal harm" adds even more to the cost
Interestingly, California is reporting on crash reduction.

UC Davis Report on crashes
It would be good to see ODOT compile a similar report. The California authors claim a public benefit of $40 million per day in eliminated injury crashes. Oregon is likely to see a proportionally smaller benefit also. (Note this does not include the lifetime personal value in loss of quality of life calculations, and the total cumulative benefit is going to be even bigger.)

A hospital system ad
Loss, thanks, and the empty highways
In observing the lack of traffic and the empty streets and highways, people have focused on the tragic element, primarily the loss of livelihoods, the loss of homes and health, and the general economic Covid collapse. They see in the empty streets only catastrophe and loss.

But if we are going to look dispassionately at the effects of reduced car travel, there are benefits in better air and less carbon pollution, and benefits in fewer crashes and injuries. As we structure an economic recovery, we should remember that the economic benefit comes from people and their mobility, and people can move around a city and between cities in ways other than merely drive-alone trips. The cars themselves don't spend the money. Cars are a tool we overuse, and other tools can solve much of the mobility problem without the negative externalities.

This concept is still available


Anonymous said...

RE: Crashes and Fatalities

See ODOT's webpage on 'Daily Traffic Toll':

More detailed analysis and data won't be available for another year or so.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Ah. Deaths are down about 40% compared to 2019 so far this year. No info on crashes though. Hopefully ODOT themselves will talk about this more. Thanks!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Wait! Here's more. The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis posted a discussion of the ODOT numbers, "COVID-19: Staying Home and Driving Less," and they also reference a separate series of reports just for ODOT Region 1, which is mostly the Portland Metro. (We are in Region 2, for those who don't follow ODOT.) Region 1 is reporting on crash numbers, and they seem to be down around 70%! They also chart the decline in traffic volumes and find a 40% reduction. That's just since the "stay home" orders, so that isn't an exact match for the 40% reduction in deaths, but they are interesting things to set side-by-side.

Anyway, it's a good discussion.

Anonymous said...

You might find this City Observatory piece interesting if you hadn't seen it. Capacity is actually up during rush hour.

"Here’s the Portal data for I-5 for the five weeks prior to the implementation of social distancing measures, from February 3 to March 12, 2020. On a typical weekday, this stretch of freeway carried about 26,900 cars during this hour at an average speed of 25.6 miles per hour.

Now look at the post-Covid period. Here are the data from March 13 to March 28. To no one’s surprise, speeds are up, to an average of 53.6 miles per hour (on a stretch of freeway that is posted with a 50 mile per hour speed limit). And the peak hour volume, from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM: It is 27,450 vehicles in this hour, not down, but up, about 2 percent from pre-Covid levels.

The simple but seemingly amazing fact is that the I-5 freeway is carrying more vehicles, faster, now at the peak hour than it did prior to Covid-19 travel restrictions."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the City Observatory note!