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SF vehicular traffic drops amid novel coronavirus

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The coast is eerily clear

Traffic on a busy freeway, photographed from above, with tall, glass-encased high-rises visible on the horizon. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ubiquitous San Francisco gridlock has given way over the past five days to an uncharacteristic placidity on once-busy streets, as more and more locals heed warnings to work from home, if possible, and avoid unnecessary outings to help stifle potential spread of COVID-19.

Traffic data company INRIX, extrapolating data from drivers using its app, tells Curbed SF that average rush-hour vehicle speeds are up significantly in almost all of the country’s 25 largest cities, with SF seeing a more drastic uptick in speed on Thursday than almost any other city.

Compared to an average SF weekday morning, Thursday drivers’ median speedometers went up 15 percent between 7:30 p.m. and 8 a.m., and 17 percent in the half-hour following.

The Wednesday evening commute was even faster, with average speeds up 19 percent across the city between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. For comparison, SF’s 8 a.m. speed-up was larger than any other city except for New York City and Seattle.

The data represents driver activity on freeways within a 10-miles radius of SF. INRIX data does not represent every driver on the road. The numbers do not explicitly tell us why people are making so much better time on SF roads the last couple of days. However, under the circumstances, some or all of the change could represent SF commuters heeding public health warnings to work from home and avoid outings, as well as result of mass cancellation of public gatherings and events across the region.

The fact that the pattern has been consistent over several days supports that conclusion—the San Francisco Examiner reported similar congestion relief, as well as a decline in bridge traffic up to 17 percent on some spans, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

On Thursday evening, BART reported ridership dropped 35 percent Wednesday compared to similar days the previous month. The agency says that it has no plans to discontinue or reduce service “unless forced to do so.”