80% of Bay Area drivers resuming normal routines despite pandemic

After a year of working from home, Bay Area freeways and city streets are beginning to fill up again with nearly 80% of drivers resuming their normal routines, according to transportation planners.

In March 2020, Bay Area bridge crossings dropped to their lowest levels in decades, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Bridge crossings serve as a reliable proxy for Bay Area commute patterns, the MTC says

At the beginning of the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were first issued, two Bay Area bridges started seeing a decline in crossings during the first week of March. That trend was spread to other Bay Area bridges.

"We really started seeing a decline in traffic on the toll bridges on the Dumbarton and San Mateo-Hayward bridges and the numbers started weakening," says John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. 

"The week of March 16th last year is when we all went home." Say Goodwin.

Since then bridge crossing have started to rebound.

In April of 2020, data shows bridge crossings started increasing and kept rising until June.

But for the last 10 months, bridge crossings have been at about 80% of pre-COVID levels.

KMEL radio host Durell Coleman, who still drives to work, says he has noticed a recent uptick in congestion on his early morning drive to San Francisco. 

Coleman drives on the Bay Bridge at about 5 a.m. Monday through Friday.

"There was a time when there was almost no one out there," Coleman said. "Then I started to notice at a little after 5, more and more cars started coming into the city."

Ridership numbers on Bay Area public transportation systems show those systems have been slower to rebound. BART's ridership was down 88% in February compared to the number of people hopping on board before the pandemic.

It's hard to predict what will happen after the pandemic but it’s likely some people will permanently work from home at least part of the time, Goodwin said.

The MTC says data shows getting children back to in-person learning at schools may be the key to getting the transportation system functioning as it did before the pandemic.

"All the work that we’ve done over these months have pointed to one single thing and that’s getting kids back to school and reestablishing routines," Goodwin said.