- The city is a “ghost town,” says one resident—at least compared to the usual traffic—because big employers and schools, including Microsoft and Amazon, are telling people to stay home.
- That means less traffic and increased average speeds on local highways.
- The connection between telecommuting and traffic is not new, but perhaps this incident will start a larger discussion about changing work habits.
As the saying goes, you’re not stuck in traffic. You are traffic. Well, you and everyone else around you inching along the highway. But what if many of those people were staying home because of the coronavirus? Then, well, there wouldn’t be much traffic, would there? That’s what’s happening in Seattle.
Because it’s home to the biggest concentration of coronavirus cases in the United States so far, the greater Seattle area does not look the way it usually does. Businesses, notably local heavyweights Amazon and Microsoft, are telling employees to work from home if at all possible. Schools are shutting down. Restaurants are empty. One local resident told ABC News: “Seattle is literally a ghost town. Traffic does not exist.”
There’s a silver lining in all of this for people who do still need to move about the city: vehicles were moving along major roads at faster speeds than usual in the Seattle metropolitan area. The Washington State Department of Transportation continues to update its Twitter feed to notify commuters about accidents, as always, but overall the estimated travel times are down. The tech-themed website Geekwire published images of traffic cameras in Seattle showing very light traffic during commute hours on Friday.
Average speeds were up about 10 mph faster on Thursday morning, the first full work day after a number of big employers told people to work from home if possible, than on Monday, according to Inrix. Speeds were already up 4 to 5 mph Monday, before the broader push for remote work started this week, so average speeds at the end of the week were 15 mph better than before the outbreak hit the city.
It’s not like the connection between telecommuting and traffic is anything new. In 2006, for example, the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on “Telecommuting: A 21st-Century Solution to Traffic Jams and Terrorism.” And GitLab, which relies on a crew of 100 percent remote workers, has a Remote Manifesto that talks about remote work as a way to free workers from daily commutes. Perhaps once this current health crisis is under control, Seattle can be used as a case study to make broader changes in remote work culture.