Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 20
Driving south from Everett to Northgate, traffic volumes are down 30 percent, and 36 percent between Northgate and downtown Seattle compared to traffic volumes in February. This was especially noticeable during the A.M. commute with overall traffic volumes down by 41 percent as of Friday, March 10.
South of downtown, traffic volumes also fell throughout the week with peak decline on Friday, decreasing by 32 percent.
Traffic in Bellevue along I-405 fell by roughly 35 percent, with decreases along the ends of the freeway in Bothell and Renton — both of which saw reductions near 30 percent compared to February volumes. During the same time period, traffic decreased by 45 percent on the I-90 bridge and 60 percent along SR 520.
Tuesday, March 17
We are seeing a sharp decrease on all Seattle area highways. Although we do not yet have exact figures for Monday, travel times were well below average during the typical peak commute periods. This includes I-5 between Everett and Seattle, which saw trips taking 30-40 minutes during the morning and afternoon drive times. That’s roughly a 50 percent drop from normal conditions.
In looking at the previous week, the daily average volume dropped about 10 percent in the region compared to February. The largest decrease was along SR 520, which saw 30 percent fewer vehicles.
By DiAngelea Millar
As many large employers in King and Snohomish counties encourage teleworking and school districts take the classroom to the cloud because of COVID-19 concerns, we started fielding questions about the affect those changes had on the morning and afternoon commutes.
It's too soon to call what we're seeing a "trend"- technically, trends require lots of time and data, but as the weeks march on it's pretty clear the demand on the highway system is lighter.
As we watch the roads and collect travel information over the coming weeks, we'll continue to update this post.
Let's start with the first week of March
Traffic volumes (a measurement of the number of vehicles on a section of roadway during specific time) in early March were consistently average as were the length of backups. Interestingly, the backups cleared faster than usual.
Wednesday, March 4Traffic patterns showed lower than average travel times, with commutes 5-30 minutes quicker than normal. This was most apparent on southbound I-5 between Everett and Seattle. With the decrease in travel demand, the amount of vehicles making use of the highway system more closely matches the capacity of our roads. Simply put, we weren't seeing as much congestion with fewer cars on the road.
Friday, March 6It doesn't take much to bump up the commute times, even when there are fewer vehicles on the roads. Case in point was northbound I-5 into Seattle. Wet roads and blocking incidents created a blip in our seemingly easy commute week. A crash involving a truck that spilled oil closed two left lanes in downtown Seattle but cleared before 7 a.m. Commute times from Federal Way to Seattle were 30-40 minutes higher than usual.
Now on to the second week of March
The week started off with low traffic volumes and travel times.
Monday, March 10Traffic volumes decreased by 4 percent on southbound I-5 between Everett and Seattle. On the same day, northbound I-405 traffic between Renton and Bellevue decreased by 8 percent. It may not sound like much, but the difference between a smooth commute and a rough one is at the margins. Any specific drop in traffic demand, especially during the peak periods, can result in a noticeable improvement in trip time.
With slightly fewer cars using our roads, vehicles can move faster with greater spacing. This makes it possible to prevent traffic-flow breakdown, essentially the point when there is more demand than carrying capacity, which results in backups and delays and fewer vehicles getting through each lane. Additionally, it took less time for normal speed to resume following a blocking incident like a crash or stalled vehicle, especially during peak travel times.
|Highly unusual to see travel times at or below average on these routes from these|
travel times at 8:40 a.m. on Thursday, March 12.
Fewer vehicles in toll lanes
We've seen a decrease in traffic on our toll roads, although it is too early to tell how this will impact revenue long-term.
What does this mean?
Many factors affect travel times including weather and blocking incidents. But work and school schedules also affect demand on our highway system and if schools are closed or people work from home, we can see the result of this in our travel times and traffic volumes.
Stay tuned. As we gather more data over the next weeks and months, we'll update this blog with additional information.
This is a great time to plug a couple of our useful tools to keep in your back pocket. Check our statewide travel alerts, Twitter accounts and the WSDOT App for the most up to date traffic information. As outlined above, commutes can turn on a dime and it's in our best interest to be an informed traveler.