Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
Signage points out the split on Interstate 270 in Bethesda. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The Washington region no longer can claim to be among the 10 most traffic-congested places in the nation, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Government restrictions resulting from the health emergency a year ago — along with continued shifts in travel and telecommuting — abated major bottlenecks in cities across the country last year. The Washington region saw the largest decline in the nation.

Traffic delays in Washington decreased 77 percent — the most of any major metro area in the United States, according to the 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard released Tuesday by traffic analytics firm Inrix.

The capital region ranked 12th in traffic congestion, a shift from fifth place in 2019, according to the report, which analyzes millions of miles of driving data obtained through smartphone apps and other GPS data sources.

“Every major [metro] area saw decreases in the congestion, and that’s not much of a surprise,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at Inrix, citing a gradual recovery from the emptied roads seen at the onset of the pandemic.

Washington, he said, saw some of the biggest shifts in travel patterns nationwide, which resulted in significant drops in the number of hours drivers were sitting in traffic on the Capital Beltway, stuck on major interstates or in downtown.

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D.C.-area drivers lost 29 hours, on average, sitting in traffic congestion last year. Nationwide, Inrix found that commuters spent an average of 26 hours sitting in traffic, down from 99 hours in 2019.

Traffic delays dropped by nearly 50 percent across the country amid the pandemic, according to the report. On average, the hours in traffic cost Americans $37 billion, the report said, down from $88 billion in 2019. The drop resulted in average savings to each American of about $980 last year.

Even so, sitting in traffic cost Washington-area residents an average of more than $425 in 2020.

Pishue said multiple factors helped to reduce gridlock on Washington highways, including that the area saw a large decline in trips regionally and to the downtown core. Other metro areas also saw downtown traffic plummet but smaller changes to regional travel.

Also contributing, Pishue said, is the larger share of the Washington workforce telecommuting and shifts in travel patterns that led to more evenly distributed traffic throughout the day.

Traffic speeds picked up across the region last year, with those traveling within traditional rush periods encountering fewer delays. During the morning and evening commute, vehicles traveled an average speed of 29 mph, up from 18 mph in 2019. Traffic within a mile of downtown averaged 14 mph, up from 10 mph a year earlier, according to Inrix.

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New York, where commuters lost 100 hours last year sitting in traffic, was the most congested city, followed by Philadelphia (94 hours), Chicago (86 hours), Boston (48 hours) and Los Angeles (45 hours).

Globally, the District is hardly a player in the ranks of major gridlock, taking 89th place. Bogota ranked No. 1, with commuters there spending an estimated 133 hours a year in traffic congestion, followed by Bucharest. New York ranked third, Moscow fourth, and Philadelphia fifth.

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Coronavirus news in D.C., Virginia and Maryland

The latest: More than two years into the pandemic, covid cases in the D.C. region are rising again, , while liberal Montgomery County asks who deserves credit for its robust covid response. Meanwhile, Black funeral directors still face a daunting amount of deaths from covid and the omicron wave has had an unequal toll in the DMV.

At-home tests: Here’s how to use at-home covid tests, where to find them and how they differ from PCR tests.

Mapping the spread: Tens of thousands have died in the local region and nationwide cases number in the hundreds of thousands.

Omicron: Remaining covid restrictions in the D.C.-area, plus a breakdown of variant symptoms and mask recommendations.

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