Chet Skwarcan is an award-winning engineer, writer, and industry innovator in the field of traffic engineering. He is known for leveraging his creativity, logic, and technology to solve today’s engineering challenges.

Less Cars = Less Traffic

Recent events have reduced roadway traffic. And based on in-house traffic data, it’s interesting to note that although car traffic decreased, truck traffic remained constant (and even increased in some areas). I guess stuff is still being delivered…

I’m reminded of a roadway project several years ago requiring the closure of a state route. The closure lasted several months. When the road reopened, only 80 percent of the traffic returned. What happened to the other 20 percent? (Well actually, I suspect some of them are now driving through my neighborhood, really fast). The purpose of the project was to provide for more traffic, not less. Apparently however, 20 percent of the drivers preferred the alternate route they were “forced” to discover. They were comfortable in a routine with no incentive to change or be creative.

How much of what we are now being “forced” to discover may actually end up a preferred method? A preferred way to shop? A preferred place to work? A preferred way to communicate? People are walking more — people are talking more — and my neighbor is caulking more (he happens to own a painting business — I’m not suggesting everyone caulk more). Human beings need “help” to dislodge comfortable routines and discover new paths — new ways to get things done or, more importantly, reevaluate our definition of what “needs” to be done.

Back to traffic… and the reduced levels of traffic translate into a flattening of the rush-hour peak (if you can still call it “rush-hour”). As discussed in previous columns, 10% of daily traffic occurs during rush-hour. If we can redistribute that traffic to “off-peak” time periods, well, think of the money we could save on road improvements. Does it really make economical sense to improve roads based on peak hour demands? There’s only one way to find out, do a traffic study (email me for details).

In conclusion, I’m reminded of what Plato said (not his real name), “Necessity is either the mother of invention or the mother of hypertension.” Although the current situation affects us all, we must remember it’s temporary. We can focus on today. We can focus on what we can control. We wash our hands — we keep a safe distance — we are reminded of what’s important.

Chet Skwarcan (traffic engineer, author, unique insights) with over 25 years of traffic engineering experience, solving traffic problems everywhere — online ideas available at