Vanderbilt looks into how COVID-19 could lead Nashville into a traffic nightmare


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — As we rush to find a new normal, we must not forget about rush hour. (Yes, at some point, it will return.)

Dan Work, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University said traffic in Nashville could get even worse, adding a rush to single-occupancy vehicles could result in large travel time increases in transit-heavy communities.

That means less carpooling and fewer commuters on buses and trains due to the fear of spreading germs.

As communities begin to reopen, it is important to understand how quickly traffic will rebound. Using basic laws of traffic, Work and his colleagues are working to predict the amount of traffic that will occur in each city given only the number of vehicles on the road. This allows us to explore “what if” scenarios. For example, it’s possible that many transit riders could switch to a car instead.

If transit ridership does not return, Work said travel times will increase, sometimes dramatically.

“Because the transit ridership in Nashville is lower, shifts away from that transit system will have less of an impact on traffic system​ [in Nashville],” said Work.

However, according to data from the U.S. Census and other research, Work notes travel time increases of 5-10 minutes (one-way) are possible in high-transit cities, which adds up to hundreds of thousands of hours of additional travel time each day.

According to Work, the average one-way commute for a Nashvillian was 29.16 minutes in 2018. He said the commute likely went up in 2019.

“The average travel time in Nashville is just that,” said Work, “The average travel time of all users, no matter where they live and work so if you’re driving during peak rush hour your commute times are definitely worse than others if you’re doing a reverse commute or off-hours you’re better than average​.”

Either way, Work said those average times are growing and will grow even more if fewer people work from home and if transit ridership declines.

“Generally, the average always goes up the more drivers you put on the roadway, and Nashville is on track for that growing curve,” said Work.

As Nashville continues to grow, Work believes we need to figure out better ways to move people more efficiently.

“For those who have the option of walking or biking, we need paths and sidewalks to allow those commutes to occur​,” said Work, “There’s only so much we can do with the space we’re limited to, so effectively moving people in downtown Nashville will always rely on effective transit because we are able to move more people in the same amount of space on a bus than we ever will be able to do with cars packed bumper to bumper​​.”

If you would like to read the entire study, click here.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.


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