How COVID-19 Is Affecting New York City Traffic


New York City is known for being one of the most congested cities in the world. Fortunately, the New York Subway and city bus systems prevent many residents from needing cars. Nonetheless, nearly one-half of NYC households own a car. It is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. As a result, New York City is known for its traffic jams and frequent congestion points.
That said, COVID-19 hit the Big Apple particularly hard. The city has seen over 200,000 cases and more than 23,000 deaths as of September, making it one of the worst-hit cities in the nation (and the world). Fear of the virus — as well as government mandates — have lead to fewer people out on the streets. This situation left many people wondering if the streets would become completely empty or if life would eventually return to normal. So, how is COVID-19 affecting NYC traffic?

NYC Traffic at the Start of the Pandemic

When the novel Coronavirus first reached the United States, life and traffic in New York City continued as usual. On an average day, the city sees more traffic than almost any other major city in the country. Heavy traffic and various other factors make accidents a common occurrence. As a result, most NYC drivers need comprehensive car insurance or they risk paying the consequences.
In any case, traffic remained relatively normal, even as COVID-19 swept through the populace. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on March 1st, 2020. In the weeks that followed, Broadway shut down, followed by public schools, restaurants, and bars. On March 22nd, the state government implemented the “NYS on Pause” program, which required all non-essential workers in the state to stay at home.
The city has gone through various phases since then, with Stage 3 of the reopening process beginning on July 9th (and Stage 4 starting on July 19th). Between March 1st and June 1st (before the reopening process began), New York City saw a steep decline in traffic. In fact, traffic dropped by a staggering 66% at the height of the shutdown. It remained low, with many residents shuttering themselves in their homes or apartments, for the better part of April and May.
However, as the reopening process began on June 8th, many cars returned to the road. Now that the city is largely reopened (with social distancing and other safety measures still in place), NYC neighborhoods are seeing traffic at 80-90% of their pre-Coronavirus levels. As a result, New York City is returning to normal, but there is still far less congestion than there was before the pandemic struck.

Why Aren’t More People On the Road in NYC?

Many people still have to drive or take public transit to get essential medical services, buy groceries, and do their jobs. Nonetheless, traffic is much less congested in the city than it was before Coronavirus hit. So, why aren’t more people on the road in New York City?
For some people, the risk of going out is still too great. The risk of catching COVID-19 is still very real. Older residents or residents with preexisting conditions are at a higher risk of death, so some people are opting to stay home as much as possible. However, this isn’t the only reason the roads have opened up.
Since the pandemic began, many businesses have been transitioning to remote workforces. Keeping workers at home helps ensure the safety of the workers and their families. It also complies with state guidelines that aim to maintain public health and minimize the effects of the crisis. While some of those employees are returning to their pre-Coronavirus workplaces, many are choosing to work from home for good. If this trend stays in place for the long-term, it could permanently affect traffic levels in New York City.

The Bottom Line

COVID-19 dealt a devastating blow to residents of New York City. Compared to more rural areas in New York State, NYC was hit particularly hard, as the virus spread quickly through its densely populated neighborhoods. As a result, state mandates put the city at a standstill, bringing traffic down significantly. Even as the city reopens, COVID-19 continues to keep roads relatively open compared to their pre-Coronavirus levels. However, it remains to be seen if the novel Coronavirus will affect traffic in New York City for the long-term.