If it seems like there is more traffic on the roadways lately, it's because there is. A new survey from Nielsen shows that there has been a 56% increase in the number of Americans working outside the home since May. At the same time, the average daily time spent in the car has risen by 81%. The survey also finds less than half the number of Americans who were working at home in May are still doing so.
The difference in traffic patterns over the past several months has been notable in Houston, which saw traffic levels plunge in the wake of the initial COVID-19 shutdowns last spring. "I've never seen anything like that in Houston, the way traffic was down on the main lanes," says "Sky" Mike Valdez, longtime Houston traffic reporter with KTRH Traffic. "That might be the one upside we had, that it sure was easy to get from point A to point B."
But those days are over. Since businesses started reopening in May and June, there has been a steady increase in the traffic flow on Houston roadways. "You could, piece by piece, again see those usual slowdowns in places we see like the Galleria, the Katy Freeway, the Gulf Freeway, the North Freeway," says Sky Mike. "They've nearly come back to being the traditional headaches they always are."
With most Houston-area school districts now reopened to in-person classes, the traffic volume is picking up even more. "Based on being a local Houstonian for decades, I would say we're at about 85% of what we normally are on the roadways now," says Sky Mike. "I think it's safe to say we're approaching the 'old normal' again on Houston freeways."