How the pandemic has reduced DC traffic, by the numbers

While the pandemic has no doubt led to heavy traffic on The Information Superhighway, the flip side of that is lighter traffic on the regular superhighways — especially around D.C.

Traffic analytics company Inrix has published its 2020 global traffic scorecard, and it lends hard data to what the D.C. area has seen since virtual learning, shutdowns and such became a fact of life about a year ago.

In 2020, D.C. went from being the fifth-most congested city in the U.S. to the 12th. And if that’s not strange enough, ponder this: The District is now ranked behind the bustling metropolis of Stamford, Connecticut (11th), in terms of congestion.

“I believe it,” said WTOP traffic reporter Dave Dildine. “There was only a small handful of days in the last year that resembled an old-fashioned rush hour.”

It gets even stranger: The amount of time wasted in traffic in D.C. in 2020 was down by 77% when compared with the year before. That’s a drop more dramatic than in any other major American city, including New York (down 28%), Boston (down 68%) and even Los Angeles (down 56%).

With so many working and learning from home, telework has made D.C.’s downtown look decidedly barren. Inrix’s report, which uses anonymous GPS data, finds that travel to downtown was 83% less in April 2020 than it was pre-pandemic, just two months earlier. That decline has since improved slightly, with a shortfall of 60% as of February 2021.

And fewer cars on the road has meant fewer collisions. Inrix found that the number of crashes around D.C. was down by 26%. This is comparable to a nationwide decline of 30%, yet Inrix said that drop in traffic volume has meant an increase in speed — and an increase in U.S. collision-fatality rates during the pandemic.

These trends will reverse, of course, as the vaccination effort proceeds and health restrictions are lifted. And Dildine advises you to be ready for “normal” life to resume around the Capital Beltway.

“I wouldn’t get too comfortable with 24/7 free-flowing traffic,” he said. “Those days appear to already be fading.”


More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.


Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer. In a previous life, he helped edit The Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

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