The Various Silver Linings of the Impacts of the Pandemic on Traffic

The Various Silver Linings of the Impacts of the Pandemic on Traffic

Fraser Shilling
Co-Director, Road Ecology Center
University of California, Davis

This seminar took place on April 16, 2021.

Abstract: In US states, mitigation of the spread of COVID-19 has been implemented by cities, counties, and governors’ offices through “shelter-in-place” and “stay-at-home” orders and related actions. The Road Ecology Center carried out three primary types of investigation into the traffic reduction that resulted from these orders and the corresponding “silver linings” that emerged for driver safety, climate change, and nature.

Traffic Safety: Using observations of reported traffic incidents in our real-time “California Highway Incident Processing System” (CHIPS), the Road Ecology Center found a ~50% reduction in injury and non-injury crashes, on state highways and rural roads that resulted from Governor Newsom’s “shelter in place” order, from ~1,000 crashes and ~400 injury/fatal crashes per day to 500 and 200 per day, respectively. These reductions have resulted in a savings to the public of about $40 million/day, or $1 billion since the order went into effect.

Climate Change: In the US, transportation, including personal vehicles, releases about 29% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) per year. We found that estimated emissions had declined by >50% following the various government stay-at-home orders. This puts the US on track to meet its annual goals for GHG reduction under the Paris Climate Accord.

Impacts to High traffic volume is a primary contributor to wildlife-vehicle conflict (WVC) and wildlife mortality on roads. Using traffic and collision data from four US states (California, Idaho, Maine, and Washington), we found a 34% reduction in WVC. This reduction in mortality would potentially equate to 10s of millions fewer vertebrates killed on US roadways during one month of traffic reduction, representing an unintentional conservation action unprecedented in modern times.

Bio: Fraser received his Ph.D. from USC and has three main project areas in transportation ecology: 1) finding out how environmental disruptions (e.g., climate change, pandemics) impact transportation and other systems, 2) studying how traffic noise and light impacts wildlife use of habitat and wildlife crossing structures, and 3) studying the interaction of transportation systems with natural processes. He is the lead organizer for the International Conference on Ecology and Transportation (ICOET) and co-organizer of the Global Congress on Linear Infrastructure and the Environment (inaugural congress in 2021).