Behavioral impacts on transportation from COVID-19: Will we be healthier?

Oct 1, 2020 | COVID-19, Projects, Research

Principal Investigator:

Robert B. Noland, Rutgers University

Research Team:

Wenwen Zhang, Rutgers University
Stephanie DiPetrillo, Rutgers University
Evan Iacobucci, Rutgers University


The COVID-19 pandemic has had large impacts on our transportation systems with unknown effect on community and public health. Large reductions in mobility have seen dramatic improvements in air quality and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time we have seen public transit systems decimated by up to 90% drops in usage. Many employers managed to continue operating with a home-based workforce, facilitated by internet and communication technologies. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people are walking and cycling more; many bicycle shops have had record sales. This increase in physical activity may have positive impacts and cities around the world are closing off streets to traffic — making more space for pedestrians to safely walk while maintaining social distancing. Bicycling is also seeing a surge, mainly among those replacing trips made on public transit which has been seen by some to be unsafe.

As states open up their economies, and allow people to return to workplaces that were shut down, the question is how will people commute to these jobs?

Many may fear using public transit, especially if the system is crowded. Lower income and minority communities are typically more transit-dependent that wealthier communities and also are less likely to be able to engage in work from home. For these groups, travel distances may be too long for walking and cycling, and in many lower income areas, streets may not be safe for walking and cycling.

Newer modes, such as bikesharing, e-bikes, and shared e-scooters tend to be more popular in wealthier urban communities. Some of the shared modes, such as e-bikes, may offer an alternative for some commuters. Other new ways of traveling, such as Uber and Lyft, involve being in a vehicle with another person; these services also offer cheaper options for customers to share their trip with someone else. Will these be feasible in a COVID world?

Our key research questions will seek to examine the following issues:

  1. How have travel behavior and work activities been affected by COVID-19?
  2. Will any changes to these behaviors persist in a post-COVID world?
  3. Will public health be improved from changes in behavior (e.g., more active travel) or made worse (e.g., more sedentary behavior)?

Our research strategy will involve primary data collection through an online survey of New Jersey respondents.

Project Details

Project Type: Research
Project Status: In Progress
End Date: April 30, 2021
Sponsors: Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy Advisory Board Pilot Grant Program on Healthy Communities