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Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronavirus

A recent New York Times article highlights how traffic congestion and air pollution levels have plummeted across the country's major metropolitan areas as cities shut down due to coronavirus-- an illustrative reminder of the impact of transportation on the environment. In the Bay Area, where 6.7 million residents were ordered to shelter-in-place last Monday, Bay Bridge traffic has decreased roughly 40 percent compared with two weeks ago. New York City, despite being less car-dependent than other major metro areas, has seen carbon monoxide emissions decrease to roughly half of typical levels over the past week as a result of a drop in traffic across the city. 

"Scientists caution that while the decline in air pollution over U.S. cities could have some near-term health benefits, those are likely to be relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. For one, air pollution is expected to rebound once the coronavirus outbreak subsides and people are allowed to leave their homes, and studies have found that long-term exposure to air pollution tends to have a larger impact on public health," according to the article. 

Clearly, any temporary environmental benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic, whether they be reduced vehicle pollution in the Bay Area or cleaner water in Venice's canals, are coming at great cost and are not to be celebrated. However, these unintended consequences also give us an opportunity to consider the immense effect that transportation has on the environment, and how rapidly we might be able to improve environmental conditions in our communities with the right policies, technologies and behaviors.

Read the full article here