LA roads get busier due to quarantine fatigue, businesses reopening

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Traffic has returned to the 10 East freeway by downtown Los Angeles, May 15, 2020. Photo by Amy Ta.

Traffic is creeping back up in Los Angeles compared to the early days of the county’s stay-at-home orders. Where is everyone going?

“It’s some combination of businesses and recreation areas reopening, combined with quarantine fatigue,” says Michael Manville, an associate professor of urban planning at UCLA who leads the school’s traffic congestion program. “That accumulates slowly but steadily, and you see it on the roads as a little bit more delay.”

Despite a few more cars on the road, average speeds remain higher than before the pandemic.

“The biggest constraint on vehicle speed was traffic congestion. When most of those cars disappear, it’s awfully easy to go awfully fast,” says Manville.

Faster speeds, however, aren’t equating to more accidents. Manville says the total number of collisions have fallen because most occur due to congestion. The number of high-speed collisions have remained fairly consistent.

Once the county reopens completely, Manville predicts traffic will return to what it was like before the pandemic.

“We live in an interconnected economy and society, and to the extent we ramp that back up, we’re going to ramp back up that need for people to be in close proximity to one another.”