Detroit had anything but a rush hour on Thursday evening.

With newly reported cases surging, shortages becoming more common across the country and the entire state of California now ordered to shelter-in-place, there’s a surfeit of bad news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic – but for those who still must leave home, whether for work or supply runs, there is at least a small silver lining.

Across the country, traffic jams have all but vanished, even on some of the traditional most overcrowded highways, such as I-405 in Los Angeles and I-85 in Atlanta. Adding to the good news for those still needing to drive, fuel prices continue plunging, the U.S. average now down to $2.17, according to tracking service GasBuddy.com.

(Gas prices tumble as commuters stay home.)

A local cruise by TheDetroitBureau.com found rush hour traffic on Thursday evening extremely light, more on the order of what might be seen early on off-season weekend mornings. Even some of the most notoriously traffic-snarled interchanges, such as the one where I-696 and I-75 come together two miles north of the Detroit city limits, flowed smoothly at 5:30 PM on Thursday – all the more surprising because of ongoing construction that, a week earlier, resulted in long delays at the intersection.

Detroit is by no means alone. It has come down most sharply, as might be expected, in places facing the most stringent efforts to control the outbreak, such as California where the governor last night ordered all residents to shelter-in-place — though many are still exempt, notably those working in businesses still considered crucial.

A 7-day chart of Los Angeles traffic. (Source: TomTom.)

In Los Angeles, real-time monitoring by mapping service TomTom showed that traffic levels were off fully 51% as the rush hour got underway in earnest Friday morning. The previous night it was down fully 87%. San Francisco, at the center of the first region in California with a stay-at-home order, saw as much as a 76% decline in normal rush-hour traffic Thursday evening, according to TomTom’s tracker

In New York, where there’s been a surge in the number of cases of Covid-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – both mass transit use and highway traffic have come tumbling. On Thursday evening rush hour, TomTom reported, roadways saw a 75% decline in traffic.

“Very light on the Garden State Parkway all week,” said Frank Startari, an Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey resident who travels to the northern part of the state for his work in the organic produce business every day. “It’s been clear sailing all week, both ways. Best guess, traffic reduced by 60%.

(U.S. car sales on verge of Great Recession-level collapse – or worse.)

Even in cities that have not seen major outbreaks of Covid-19, traffic is down sharply as more and more Americans work from home or simply minimize normal errands and other travel. Chicago’s Thursday rush hour saw a 61% decline, notoriously traffic-snarled roads like the Kennedy Expressway, Interstate-90, moving almost entirely at speed limit.

A seven-day chart of New York traffic. (Source: TomTom.)

”Every day it seems to get less crowded,” Jason Saini, who works in a Chicago auto restoration shop, texted TheDetroitBureau.com about his commute from the Windy City to its northern suburbs. “(I) have been seeing very light traffic volumes, even at peak times (and) often am the lone car on various stretches of my commute in off-peak times.”

 

The same in Atlanta, with traffic down 67% Thursday rush hour, loosening up choke points like the stretch through downtown where I-75 and I-85 come together.

A look at the website for Inrix, a provider of transportation and traffic services, shows there are few cities around the country where the level of traffic hasn’t collapsed.

A report posted today noted that “Boston is experiencing nearly congestion free conditions on average across its network. In the morning this equates to up to 18 MPH faster and in the afternoon travel speeds up to 21 MPH faster on average.”

In Washington, D.C., said Inrix, “The infamous Beltway…recorded congestion free conditions going both clockwise and counterclockwise between Silver Spring and Alexandria. The morning and afternoon running clockwise saw speed increases of 23 and 27 MPH, while counterclockwise saw increases of 17 and 28 MPH.”

The transition struck home for Trevor Reed, an INRIX transportation analyst told the Washington Post on Wednesday, “In Seattle, we don’t have a morning rush-hour anymore. … It’s pretty surreal.”

(Detroit automakers, others temporarily shutter North American production.)

A GasBuddy chart from 3/20/20 on the latest fuel prices.

There have still been pockets of congestion reported. In the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, for example, there were long lines of cars waiting outside Beaumont Hospital on Friday morning, the medical center beginning drive-through coronavirus testing. Similar situations have been reported anecdotally by social media users around the country.

But the experts anticipate the country could see even more significant declines in traffic over the coming days if tougher control measures, like those California has implemented are expanded in other regions.

The sharp decline in traffic has translated into a huge slump in demand for gasoline, according to industry experts who note there’s a glut in reserve, a situation compounded by the feud between Russia and Saudi Arabia that had already set gas prices tumbling.

As TheDetroitBureau.com reported earlier in the week, both GasBuddy and AAA now anticipate prices for unleaded regular at self-serve pumps will drop below $2 a gallon for cash payment before the end of the month. As of Friday morning, the average was at or below $2.00 in 17 states, having fallen an average 1.8 cents nationally overnight. Prices were lowest in Oklahoma, at an average $1.82, though some individual stations across the country were priced below $1.40.

There are few experts who anticipate the situation with traffic situation, as well as with fuel prices, to reverse anytime soon.

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