Covid-19 Fears Spur More Cars on Roads, Threatening Air Quality

This title is from a Bloomberg article that bemoans the loss of trust in mass transit from a health perspective.

Officials across the nation are worried that as the coronavirus pandemic persists, commuters will avoidtaking buses and trains, and opt for their cars, potentially leading to dangerous new levels of air pollution.

It seems a couple of the pillars of environmental “footprint” reduction, denser cities and mass transit are under strain in a time of fear of contagious disease.

More cars on the roads in congested urban centers like New York City—the virus epicenter in the spring—Washington, San Francisco, and Philadelphia means more emissions of smog-forming pollutants and poorer air quality. That could cause some cities to missfederal standards for ground-level ozone, which in turn could mean losing federal highway dollars at a time of already declining local revenues.

“If a significant number of people decide to drive to work then we could have congestion, and traffic, and air quality issues,” said Kristine Roselius, spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which represents the nine counties that make up San Francisco.

The increase in driving of personal vehicles can lead to real pollution issues unconnected to Global Warming or Climate Change

Mobile sources like cars are a significant factor in ground-level ozone, a chief component of smog that is linked to respiratory illnesses. Major urban centers like San Francisco are already struggling to meet federal ozone standards of 70 parts per billion of air,even without any unexpected spikes in drivers on the roads.

Exceeding ozone limits can prove costly for localities, which would have to rewrite their emissions reductions plans to factor in the increased pollution. While unlikely, a decline in air quality could ultimately lead to a loss of federal highway dollars for much-needed improvements if those revised plans aren’t met.

Ridership and revenues of mass transit have plummeted

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA, which boasts the nation’s largest fleet of buses, subway lines, and commuter trains, saw train ridership plummet 93% in mid-April to 365,835, a record low, while bus ridership dropped 84% from last year.

As of June 24, ridership levels in the country’s most populous city are still a long way from reaching pre-pandemic levels, with trains hovering at 81% of year-ago average ridership, and buses at about half of last year’s levels.

Vehicle traffic also plummeted, but is recovering much faster than mass transit as stay-at-home orders are being lifted.

Vehicle miles traveled in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco are still 35% below pre-Covid levels. But StreetLight data indicates they increased sharply in the last month, rising nearly 70% since June 1 in D.C. and New York—and nearly doubling during that time in the Bay area. Philadelphia levels are now 18% below those pre-pandemic, and up 80% since June.

“These metrics certainly confirm what we’ve all anecdotally observed on our cities’ streets heading into the summer,” said Martin Morzynski, StreetLight’s vice president of marketing.

Officials worry that convincing people to ride mass transit again may be an uphill battle.

One challenge for transportation and air quality planners is to persuade people going forwardthat public transit won’t pose a threat to their health.

Sykora, the teacher, remains unpersuaded by New York City officials. She said the city took a long time to close public schools despite the surge in coronavirus cases—and only after Sykora and other teachers went on a strike of sorts that she described as a “sick-out.”

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July 4, 2020 6:20 am

‘Walmart announces 140 stores will convert part of their parking lots to drive-in theaters. ‘
Very understandable in times of SARS-CoV 2.
When I went to drive-ins in Florida in the ’60s, auto air conditioning was rare. Now, will all these cars sit their with their engines idling, windows closed, driving up emissions?
Not to beat a very much live horse, if friends go on a “date,” they should make sure that the A/C is set on “fresh air,” not recirculate.
Like I say, keep a window open, or use 100% make-up air. I’ve said before, I will enter the first restaurant the has a sign “We use 100% make-up air.”

Joe Crawford
Reply to  Enginer01
July 4, 2020 6:45 am

Tall headrests and high-back seats must make it awfully hard to watch the movie from the back seat. And, the fresh-air setting probably keeps the rear and side windows from fogging up as well. Not sure I’d enjoy going to the drive-in as much these days :<)

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Joe Crawford
July 4, 2020 7:37 am

Pickup truck and comfy lawn chairs. Problem solved.

Reply to  Joe Crawford
July 4, 2020 9:30 am

Back in the day when we went to a drive-in movie we did not watch it from the backseat. If you saw a friend’s car while you were going to the refreshment stand during intermission, and saw a bra hanging from the rearview mirror you did not disturb the people in the backseat.

Reply to  Teewee
July 4, 2020 10:33 am

If the van is rockin’ don’t bother knockin’ was an aphorism back in the days.

Reply to  Joe Crawford
July 4, 2020 10:48 am

“Tall headrests and high-back seats must make it awfully hard to watch the movie from the back seat.”

Our car has removable head-rests. Last time we went to a drive-in, the problem was not seeing past the seats, but the windows fogging up. Fortunately leaving the sunroof open cured that.

One of the farmers near us has opened a temporary drive-in at weekends; seems to get sold out fast for each showing.

Reply to  MarkG
July 4, 2020 11:10 pm

They’ve done one weekend at the local county fairgrounds. I don’t know how well it did; I haven’t heard about any repeats as of yet. I don’t know why – one thing in their ads that was not a part of my younger days at the drive-in is the availability of “adult beverages.”

Of course, most of us back then were under 18 (so you know how far back that was), so we smuggled in our own “adult beverages.” The local PD would do a walk-through about fifteen minutes before the second feature ended. Not to haul any of us in for drinking, but to let the ones that had overdone it just a wee tad that they were going to be watching very carefully on the road back into town. Just life in a small town back in simpler days…

Carbon bigfoot
Reply to  Enginer01
July 5, 2020 9:47 am

The WuWHOFlu is only transmitted by sneezes or coughs thus there is a moisture issue. Most modern AC coils are pre-filtered with MERV-13 filters, or in some strategic areas (hospitals, surgical theaters or chip manufacturing) with HEPA filters. 100% make-up air would overload most coils and instead of condensing out alleged contaminated humidity– would recirculate it.
As Dennis Miller would normally say that is my opinion I could be wrong.

July 4, 2020 6:21 am

…it’s always something

Bill Powers
Reply to  Latitude
July 4, 2020 6:57 am

The Law Of Unintended Consequences plagues the bureaucrats who are too dimwitted and blind to see one move ahead on a simply checker board. They are also terrible at connect the dot puzzles.

Reply to  Bill Powers
July 4, 2020 8:54 am

🙂 You are right.

I also believe there is more than humor to what you say. I get my nieces, nephews, & little kid relatives more puzzles and puzzles games than they can handle. Get their brains wired right, before the public schools get at them.

If it was possible to somehow know … I would give 50:1 odds that the average current protester was in the lower 1/5 of time spent on puzzle games or mechanical problem solving as a child.

July 4, 2020 6:26 am

From the Bloomberg “article”:

Officials across the nation are worried that (substitute whatever) leading to dangerous new levels of (substitute whatever).

Same old scaremongering heard every minute of every day.

Bill Powers
Reply to  beng135
July 4, 2020 7:04 am

One of these days somebody is going to ask the simple question. What does “Officials” mean. And who are those “Experts” they are always going on about and why are they always trying to frighten and depress us.

One thing is for sure. Officials and Experts count themselves among the unknowable and unaccountable 97% that have been declared consensus makers.

Reply to  Bill Powers
July 4, 2020 8:55 am

The Deep State of bureaucrats who answer to no one and can never be fired. The Deep State have a Supreme Court-esque lifetime appointment to churn out this patent propaganda … forever.

Reply to  beng135
July 4, 2020 11:38 am

In the US less gasoline is being sold now, during the pandemic, and jet fuel use is way down, so how can pollution be higher?

Dr. Bob
July 4, 2020 6:26 am

In all the discussions about ambient air quality, everyone forgets that at least 50% of hydrocarbon emissions are from plant life. Reactive terpenes from trees being one of the most prevalent, but other hydrocarbon are present as well. These react with oxygen and sunlight to form smog that is naturally occurring. And nothing can be done about it except cut down all trees and plant in a city. But the resultant smog is always blamed on automobile exhaust and not the real source.
In 2002 I attended a DOE Diesel Engine Emissions Reduction (DEER) workshop in San Diego where one presenter reviewed the efforts to reduce smog since 1970. In 1970, LA had about 180 days of ozone non-attainment. In 1974, catalytic converters were introduced which helped a lot, along with elimination of lead in gasoline. By the late 1980’s, essentially all cars had fuel injection and feedback loop fuel control systems that totally eliminated any benefits of oxygenated fuels which were introduced in the late 1970’s to reduce CO emissions in carbureted engines.
By 2002, ozone non-attainment was down to 11 days. Keep in mind that most vehicles in California last 20 years or more, so most of the reduction was due to emissions standards of the 1980’s and further improvements in emissions controls had little impact. Also note that during the 30 years since 1970, population in LA doubled and vehicular miles traveled quadrupled.
So with 50% of the hydrocarbons in 1970 in LA coming from plant life, smog will always be present in LA and other areas no matter what emissions standards are imposed or how many EV’s are forced on people that don’t want them or cannot afford them.

Joe Crawford
Reply to  Dr. Bob
July 4, 2020 6:52 am

“…everyone forgets that at least 50% of hydrocarbon emissions are from plant life.” That’s why they call ’em the Blue Ridge Mountains. Back around the ’70s the EPA suggested that Atlanta cut down all their trees so they could meet the clean-air standards of the time… guess there’s nothing like a bunch of bureaucrats trying to solve problems.

Reply to  Dr. Bob
July 4, 2020 7:01 am

Right. Blue Ridge Mountains, Smokey Mountains, etc.

Tiger Bee Fly
July 4, 2020 6:40 am

Bet the folks at Bloomberg use mass transit every day. Nothing like the smell of unicorn farts to give you a flying start on your day as a prophet of doom.

Reply to  Tiger Bee Fly
July 4, 2020 7:22 am

We have the government run RTD (Regional Transportation District) in the Denver area that is now running mostly empty buses around and paying drivers overtime to be able to do so. A few campus bus routes have no passengers whatsoever because campus employees are working remotely. The few who do come in are told not to take public transportation.

I wonder how long this insanity will continue.

Reply to  Scissor
July 4, 2020 1:29 pm

It will last as long as tax payer money lasts.

Reply to  Tiger Bee Fly
July 4, 2020 9:02 am

Don’t be silly. Mass transit is for the masses. Bloomberg employees aren’t part of the great unwashed masses … they’re far better than that … Right? YOU … should be riding Mass Transit, not the elites who pump out these arrogant, scolding, articles.

Tiger Bee Fly
Reply to  Kenji
July 4, 2020 9:30 am

Damn straight they mean us. The peons, serfs, kulaks…deplorables.

They seem to be of two minds here, too: should we ride mass transit and risk the spread of COVID-19, or ride cars and “degrade the environment”? It must be painful, having their heads up their asses 24/7/365.

In the Real World
July 4, 2020 6:52 am

Despite all of the propaganda about vehicles causing air pollution , [ or less of it during lockdown ] ,
measurements from around the world show that the huge reduction in traffic showed hardly any difference to air quality .
A German transport Minister did a news report saying that , ” because lockdown proved that traffic was not the cause of most air pollution in cities , a ban on diesels was no longer being considered “.
But that quickly got ” removed ” by the Green politicians .
And a lot of other countries showed the same results.

And the atmospheric CO2 readings did not go down from the lack of traffic .

But there is no doubt that some of the AGM crowd will still try to stop people using their cars , even with all of the evidence that cars are not a problem .

Reply to  In the Real World
July 4, 2020 7:06 am

Yep. The pollution does not, in general, come from vehicles. Freedom to travel does.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  In the Real World
July 4, 2020 8:33 am

Why is it that these unexpected results on pollution and lockdown are ferreted out by sceptics? This is a measure of the lack of healthy scepticism in post normal science.

Reply to  In the Real World
July 4, 2020 8:43 am

The lack of decrease of atmospheric CO2 was expected by Dr. Roy Spencer. A few months of a decrease of CO2 emissions that was estimated as an 11% decrease is not going to do much for undoing a CO2 buildup that took place over decades. I think 43% was a figure I heard as the amount of emissions decrease that’s necessary to make atmospheric CO2 stop increasing, and such a decrease sustained for a year would cause atmospheric CO2 to be a couple PPM less than it would be with no decrease at all.

Eric Harpham
Reply to  Donald L. Klipstein
July 4, 2020 12:28 pm

I have a CO2 monitor in my utility room, it used to be in the summer house but I moved it last autumn. I open the door to the utility room about 7am and leave it open. The 8am reading has been anywhere between 388ppm and 503ppm and it varies in the day in a similar range to those readings without any body in the room. last week, when it rained, I closed the door and did some ironing (my wife has broken her wrist) I had only done 4 T-shirts and the alarm sounded because the level had risen above 1000ppm. I am now considering, but not yet got round to, switching off the alarm and putting it in our bedroom overnight to see how many ppm 2 people in a smallish room can build up in 8 hours. I also feel like sneaking one into my eldest grandson’s science class. I bet that would cause a mass evacuation of the school and a reduction in class sizes. Covid19 has already halved class sizes so I shall delay that one.

Reply to  Eric Harpham
July 4, 2020 5:37 pm

I’ve had a CO2 monitor in the upstairs master bedroom for months now. My girlfriend and I sleep with the door closed and due to allergies we rarely sleep with the window/patio door open, so we have minimal air circulation at night. At night the CO2 level typically gets up to between 1500-2000ppm, peaking right before we start getting up around 6am. Once we’re both awake and the door is opened, CO2 levels plummet and spend most of the day between 400-600ppm. Opening the slider to the patio keeps the CO2 at its lowest levels, sometimes as low as 350ppm. The room is typically closed up from 11pm-6am so CO2 levels more or less triple in roughly 7 hours.

In my previous upstairs apartment when in was just me I would leave the bedroom slightly door open and frequently the patio door also, so I experienced much better air circulation. CO2 levels would be in the same 400-600ppm range during the day and usually top out in the 800ppm range overnight. That was measured over a 2 1/2 year timeframe.

We live in Ventura County, CA so deal with a marine layer coming in most nights.
I use a Netatmo indoor weather station for CO2 measurements.

Bruce Cobb
July 4, 2020 7:03 am

OMG, look at all that “carbon pollution”.

July 4, 2020 7:15 am

Cars are certainly part of the problem but if you look at my analysis of pollution before and after lockdown in the main European cities you can see cars are only a part of the problem.
I have tried to take two representative weeks for each location before and after their national lockdowns. What I find interesting is often there is an increase in particulates after lockdown whereas the nitrous oxides decline as is expected. Estimates for Bristol in the UK are for road traffic to have decreased by almost 80% since lockdown but this is not reflected in the post lockdown figures and I suspect this is typical of the other cities so are vehicles really the villains they are made out to be and will a ban on diesels be as beneficial as it is hoped?
Professor Roy Harrison is Queen Elizabeth II Birmingham Centenary Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Birmingham, and kindly provided this explanation for the particulates analysis.
“The period immediately after lock-down in the UK was characterised by anticyclonic conditions that brought air heavily polluted with secondary PM to the UK. Since primary vehicle emissions are only a modest contributor to urban PM concentrations, most UK sites saw an increase in PM levels.”
Particulates are the most harmful form of air pollution due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and blood streams unfiltered, causing heart attacks, respiratory disease, and premature death. – wikepedia.
See the graphs on my website.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Adrian Kerton
July 4, 2020 8:40 am

Adrion: Perhaps much of the pollution emitted by vehicles is simply re-aspirated and burned by neighboring vehicles.

Stephen Skinner
Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 4, 2020 8:56 am

Passive exhaust?

Reply to  Adrian Kerton
July 4, 2020 9:55 am

Wood heating produces more PM than traffic. And as people stayed at home and heated their apartements. Residential areas are more affected by PM now as wood heating is considerd as “Green”.

Reply to  Adrian Kerton
July 4, 2020 1:32 pm

In places like Los Angeles, thanks to all the pollution control equipment, the air coming out a car’s exhaust is often cleaner than the air being sucked into the cylinders.

July 4, 2020 7:39 am

Officials across the nation are worried that as the coronavirus pandemic persists

It only persists in the minds of the modellers and politicians.

There have been countless breaches of social distancing at BLM protests etc for weeks and nada, zip, zilch.

Many people have realised that.

Many still swallow what they’re told whole.

Reply to  fretslider
July 4, 2020 1:33 pm

The recent increases in cases occurred about 2 weeks after the start of the riots.

Gary Pearse
July 4, 2020 8:09 am

“One challenge for transportation and air quality planners is to persuade people going forwardthat public transit won’t pose a threat to their health.”

Ya see ‘air quality planners’, when you lie to people everyday for 40 years, yeah, you make this kind of challenge for yourselves. And it being about health? You mercilessly, with malice aforthought despatched
Covid patients to their graves for political reasons. I don’t think 40 years will bring trust back. People offered assistance may first ask who you voted for before accepting it!

Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 4, 2020 9:01 am

How many of these ‘air quality planners’ have an engineering background?

I don’t mean someone with an environmental engineering degree … I hired one of those a few years ago and it was a big waste of money and time (he was a nice guy and all, but he is now where he will be forever … he works for a gov entity now)

July 4, 2020 8:17 am

Given that this goes against the lifestyle that the rich have planned for us, I believe the odds are very good that we’ll see a ‘science study’ come out shortly that downplays catching CV-19 on buses and trains.

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  kramer
July 4, 2020 10:17 am

Yes, just make it a law to wear a mask or an old scarf over your face when on mass conveyances, and public transit will then be perfectly safe!

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  kramer
July 4, 2020 8:37 pm

One of those studies was published a few weeks ago, I think I may have seen it here, conclusion public transit and high density housing are not risk factors for contagious disease.
As long as you stay 2 m apart
And don’t breathe
And don’t touch anything

Lots of freaking out here in canada that the airlines are going to start selling the middle seats

But to maintain 2m distance they would have to sell only window seats in every third row.

No one can think any more

Dodgy Geezer
July 4, 2020 8:28 am

I wonder what the air quality is like on a crowded mass-transit unit? Almost certainly appalling – leaving aside the spread of infections. It’s probably the worst air that a typical city-dweller breaths on a typical day.

So…I wonder why no one seems to have done a study of it…?

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
July 4, 2020 1:18 pm

There was a study of air pollution on the London Underground. If I remember correctly, they concluded that the impact on the average commuter was equivalent to smoking about a pack of cigarettes a day.

July 4, 2020 8:37 am

My experience is that there are fewer cars using the roads in and around Philadelphia than there were before mid-March. This is from more people telecommuting and fewer people having jobs. These factors outweigh the decrease in use of mass transit. Also in and near Philly, more people are using bikes to commute and local bike shops tell me there has been a bicycle shortage because of this. Car use decreased so much that it is one of two reasons for air quality having very noticeably improved. (The other, mostly in April and part of May, was a weather pattern that was favorable for cleaner air in the Northeast Corridor, as noted by the Capital Weather Gang. Although they say decreased car usage was also a major factor.)

Don K
July 4, 2020 9:21 am

Color me skeptical. Except for the NYC metro area no one in the US much uses public transit. In NYC using cars instead of public transit really isn’t an option. Few people own cars. There’s no place to park them at the destination. And probably no place to park them at the origin. Parking costs at one or both ends of the journey are likely to be prohibitive for all but the wealthy, And the traffic congestion is horrendous. What isn’t clear is how many workplaces will flee downtown Manhattan in coming years. Depends I think on how well work from home works out for individual businesses.

Then there’s the additional issue of whether public transport is really such a great idea anyway. Yes, it reduces air pollution a bit. But it complicates management of pandemics — which turns out to be something we don’t seem to be all that good at. Maybe we should be thinking in terms of inexpensive, very compact personal transport in place of public transport. i.e. something not remotely like a Tesla roadster.

July 4, 2020 10:28 am

Unintended consequences indeed! What this really all about is trying to keep the current POTUS from being re-elected. Property, tradition, welfare of the people, environment and anything and everything else be damned.
To meet that goal they must:
1. Under no circumstances allow Biden to live debate Trump and keep Biden in his basement bunker.
2. Justify mail in voting.
3. Keep the economy tamped down to the maximum extent possible.

It is this last objective that the demise of public transportation serves, just as not opening public schools in the fall will keep many a parent that would be working, home because of the expense of day care.

From the perspective of this truck driver they are failing to achieve their last objective. They are working my butt off and truck traffic now is very nearly as heavy as it was before Ronahystaria kicked in. If I had not taken a few days of vacation time I’m certain I would be on the road today. When I got back to the terminal on Thursday afternoon I had exactly 8 minutes remaining of my 11 hour drive time and the same for my 14 hour duty day. It has been going like that for several weeks now.

Reply to  rah
July 4, 2020 1:37 pm

If Trump keeps giving speeches like the one he delivered last night, he’s going to win in a landslide.
On the downside, he all but dared the anarchists to destroy the Mt. Rushmore monument.

July 4, 2020 11:14 am

More expertly executed social engineering and propaganda from the environmental front.

Alasdair Fairbairn
July 4, 2020 4:09 pm

Best let the officials worry about that. We the population have more important things to worry bout.

John A Klug
July 4, 2020 11:06 pm

I have always believed that diesel engines are the largest source of pollution in most cities today. In the city of Bangkok they converted their diesel buses to natural gas. In the city where I live garbage trucks are mostly natural gas, and the exhaust is unnoticeable. This seems to be common sense. California did a study as I recall on students who were bused, and claimed they had impaired lung function. I often bicycle, and the choking is mostly from driving behind buses and diesel trucks. They make me sick. Modern gasoline engines are much less polluting.

Reply to  John A Klug
July 5, 2020 4:08 am

Exhaust of a diesel with modern pollution control systems has a higher air quality than the average ambient air quality found in many large cities with high density populations.

Reply to  John A Klug
July 5, 2020 6:56 am

I don’t see how bus exhaust is going to have that much impact on kids riding the bus.

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