Here are seven ways transportation has changed — whether driving, taking transit or walking — in the Washington region since the start of the pandemic:
A shift in traffic patterns
Traffic volumes, especially for travel into downtown, have declined during the morning rush as some people continue to telework or work more flexible hours.
It’s good news for car and bus commuters who suffered through frequent bumper-to-bumper slowdowns on the way to the office before the pandemic.
Data from traffic analytics firm Inrix indicates that in 2019, 5.9 percent of daily trips in the Washington region started in the 7 a.m. hour versus 4.7 percent of daily trips starting in the same hour in 2021 — a shift that takes thousands of vehicles off the region’s roadways during the peak hour of travel. It indicates the morning peak traffic volume has dropped by 20 percent.
Inrix data also shows an increase in the number of midday trips — above 2019 levels — as people working from home take lunchtime breaks to go to the gym, grocery store or run errands. More trips are being made this year between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. than before the pandemic.
The evening rush has recovered to almost pre-pandemic levels, traffic experts say, because teleworkers who make after-work trips combine with commuters who tend to run more errands on their way home.
Automated enforcement in HOV lanes
Travelers on the express lanes on Interstates 95, 395 and 495 in Northern Virginia will find new camera technology that aims to verify carpool trips and catch drivers cheating the system. Express lanes are free for carpoolers with three or more people who have the EZ-Pass Flex on HOV mode.
Officials with toll operator Transurban said the camera system, which launched in August 2020 with a single camera and has since been deployed to each corridor, identifies vehicles traveling with a transponder set to “HOV ON” and verifies at least three people are aboard.
Tanya Sheres, a spokeswoman for Transurban, said the purpose of the program is to discourage HOV misuse. She said when drivers are caught cheating, they will receive an email informing them of the incorrect usage of the HOV mode.
“If the driver continues to incorrectly set their E-ZPass Flex, a customer service agent will review the trip before the customer is notified that the appropriate toll will be applied to the driver’s E-ZPass account. No additional fees will apply,” Sheres said.
New Metro fare gates, SmarTrip cards, digital payments
If you haven’t used the Metro system in a while — and many people haven’t, according to a recent Washington Post poll and Metro ridership data — you will find a few changes. Metro is replacing its 1,200 fare gates across the system’s 91 stations with stainless steel fare gates. They not only look modern, but also incorporate safety features and allow for quicker pass-through.
They have been installed at the Potomac Avenue, Federal Center SW and Eastern Market stations. During station closures this summer, they also were installed at Greenbelt, College Park, Prince George’s Plaza and West Hyattsville, which will reopen Sept. 7. Work will continue across the system this fall.
One downside: SmarTrip cards produced before 2013 aren’t compatible with the fare gates and must be replaced. SmarTrip cardholders can check their card’s status on WMTA’s website.
As Metro modernizes fare gates, it also has encouraged riders to ditch plastic SmarTrip cards and use phones to pay rail and bus fares. The transit agency introduced virtual pay last fall, and about 10 percent of Metro’s daily riders use the mobile fare payment platforms, according to Metro.
Android and iPhone users have access to SmarTrip accounts from their phones using Google Pay, Apple’s virtual Wallet or a new SmarTrip app available on both platforms.
A different home for electric scooters
Remember the motorized scooters that started appearing in the District in spring 2018? One of the biggest controversies of the devices is how they often are left blocking entrances, bus stops and obstructing passage on sidewalks. Coming Oct. 1, all scooters in the District will be required to be locked to poles or bike racks.
The District Department of Transportation gradually has been adding off-sidewalk parking corrals for scooters and bikes across the city.
Transit benefits and reduced fares
In recent months, local transit agencies have announced reduced or free fares, service adjustments and new amenities such as WiFi and allowing bikes aboard trains. Metro will lower the cost of weekend Metrorail trips to a flat $2, lift the $1.50 transfer fee between rail and bus, and is increasing bus and train frequencies this fall. Alexandria is making bus trips on its local routes free, while Prince George’s lowered fares on its buses from $1.25 to $1. Capital Bikeshare is offering 10 free rides to Metro riders who switch to mobile pay. Montgomery County is keeping free ride for seniors and disabled residents on Ride On buses and aboard some Metrobus routes that serve the county.
D.C. roads: New bike lanes, closed Beach Drive
If you haven’t traveled into the District recently, you might be surprised by some of the changes to the road network: dining tables taking over parking lanes, new bike and bus lanes, a major commuter route in Northwest closed to cars and a new South Capitol Street bridge that’s about to open.
For Maryland and upper Northwest commuters, driving to downtown might get a little trickier. Part of Beach Drive, which carried a significant volume of commuter traffic, has been car-free through Rock Creek Park since April 2020. The National Park Service said it will continue to restrict cars on the road — from Broad Branch Road NW to the Maryland border — at least into the fall, when it expects to make a decision about whether to keep the restriction permanent.
On Connecticut Avenue, the city has suspended two reversible lanes that allowed four lanes to carry southbound traffic during the morning rush, then reverse in the evening to carry northbound traffic out of the city. City transportation officials have not said whether the lanes will be removed indefinitely, although a study is underway to determine their fate.
Bike commuters have more options, with the opening this summer of the 17th Street NW bike lane, from K Street to New Hampshire Avenue NW. The city last year opened a mile-long, two-way protected bike lane on Irving Street between Park View and Brookland. Other bike facilities have opened at G Street NW, 20th Street NW, K Street NE/NW and West Virginia Avenue NE. They are part of the city’s goal to build 20 miles of protected bike lanes by 2022.
Construction is underway for the 16th Street bus lane, expected to debut early next year. Drivers in the busy corridor should expect construction until the lane opens. The project, from H Street NW to Arkansas Avenue NW, will add rush-hour bus lanes as well as bus stops and other road improvements.
In the southernmost portion of 16th Street NW, construction is underway between H and K streets to make Black Lives Matter Plaza a permanent attraction. A mural spelling “Black Lives Matter” down 16th Street will be on brick pavers with a dedicated pedestrian plaza through the center of the street to include landscaping and lighting. It is expected to be completed in October.
The District this year also opened “car-free” lanes on 14th Street NW, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and M Street SE. The lanes are open to buses and bicyclists. Motorists who drive or park in a car-free lane can face a $200 fine.
Curbside parking for pickups and drop-offs
The District has used parking spaces to create pickup and drop-off locations for restaurants. City transportation officials say they will consider more permanent zones as demand for eating at home grows.
Near Nationals Park and Audi Field, the city is using a new “License Plate Based Parking Payment Program.” At parking kiosks, drivers add their license plate number and pay, then no longer need to return to their vehicle to place a receipt on the dashboard. There are reserved parking spaces in the zone for disability parking placard and license plate holders.
Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.