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Traffic And COTA Ridership Decreased During Pandemic, While Park Visits Increased

A COTA bus in downtown Columbus in May 2020.
Ryan Hitchcock
A COTA bus in downtown Columbus in May.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission has released data on how the pandemic affected travel in the region.

Beginning in mid-March, traffic dropped significantly, in some areas up to 50%. Congestion was less significant, allowing drivers to abide by posted speed limits. Air travel took the hardest hit, falling by 97% compared to 2019.

Thea Ewing, MORPC director of transportation & infrastructure development, says she does not expect traffic to return to normal anytime soon. That's largely because of the increase in teleworking, and because some unemployed workers aren’t able to get their jobs back.

“I think that the combination is impacting the decrease staying in traffic for a little while longer,” Ewing says.

COTA ridership also decreased, Ewing says, falling by about 70%.

“That’s huge,” she says. “They in turn dialed back their service capacity to a little over 50%, and now they’re starting to bring more of that back online as they’re starting to see more and more riders on board.”

As a result of fewer drivers on the road, air quality in Central Ohio has also improved.

While the roadways were clearer, the city’s green spaces became more crowded. There was a 35% increase in Metro Park and trail usage in April, compared to the same time last year.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.