Transportation data trends show that despite lower crash levels in the DFW area, road fatalities remained elevated during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, recent data indicates a change.
Michael Morris, transportation director with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), presented data on Aug. 13 revealing various transportation trends from March through June.
“We want to find as many of the good things out of this horrible situation as we possibly can, like cleaner air, which is being sustained, and safety, which is being turned around,” Morris said at the meeting.
Recent data from the Texas Department of Transportation traffic counters for Dallas and Fort Worth shows that freeway travel in the area has begun to recover since seeing a sizable drop. While freeway volume numbers in April were down by 25% compared to February numbers, freeway traffic in June was only down by 6% compared to February numbers.
“But it isn’t for what you think,” Morris said.
He said the number was due both to traditional workers coming back as well as the substitution of automobile travel for aviation travel.
Despite crash reductions in the same months, fatalities as reported by the Texas Department of Transportation Crash Records Information System remained elevated compared to 2019 numbers, up 28% in March, 11% in April and 42% in May.
“That’s because human beings do really stupid things when they can go really fast,” Morris said, “and they could go really fast in May.”
Morris’s presentation noted that traffic enforcement was significantly reduced during COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders.
As vehicle travel has returned, Morris said, drivers have been unable to go as quickly on roadways. June data revealed an 11% reduction in traffic fatalities compared to 2019.
“We were hoping to see fatalities go down in March, April and May as a result of the significant decrease in traffic,” Morris said. “It obviously didn’t materialize, but it has finally flipped how we were hoping.”
As roadway numbers recover, other transportation data gives a developing look at how North Texans are traveling through the pandemic.
Tollway transactions as reported by the North Texas Tollway Authority were down 29% in March, 56% in April and 41% in May, compared to 2019. Morris said he hoped to see the numbers continue to improve in June and July.
“But that is a big hit to an entity that you have asked to build lots of toll roads,” he said.
Transit ridership is slowly improving, but nowhere near where it needed to be, Morris said. Meanwhile, transportation by bicycle in June remained comparatively high compared to pre-pandemic levels but has begun to decrease. While airport travel was 80% below what was anticipated in May, Morris said he recently heard data implying significantly improved data for June and July.
In the midst of decreased travel, the D/FW International Airport is the busiest airport in the world, he said.