Driving in Central NM dropped 20% during pandemic, report states

By: - November 16, 2021 4:22 pm

The Department of Transportation would get millions to fix up the state’s roads under the initial proposal for spending stimulus dollars in the Legislature. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source NM)

Motorists in central New Mexico reduced their daily driving by more than 20% in 2020, according to data released last week by the region’s planning organization. 

The traffic reduction is attributed to the pandemic, and it’s not yet clear how traffic volumes and patterns might be permanently changed. Some data so far suggests that traffic in Downtown Albuquerque has rebounded slower than in other areas, a spokesperson for the organization said.

Drivers in the area analyzed by the Mid-Region Council of Governments traveled about 18.3 million miles in 2020, according to the data. The region includes Bernalillo, Valencia, Torrance, Sandoval counties, plus the southern part of Santa Fe County. 

The last time drivers in the region drove less than 18.3 million miles was in 2010, according to MRCOG data, though the MRCOG region has expanded since then.

Per-capita driving rates also dropped by more than 22% in 2020 to rates not seen since 1999. Drivers drove an average of 26.47 miles a day in 2019 and 20.46 miles a day on average in 2020, according to the data.

The above charts show MRCOG data on total vehicle miles traveled and per-capita vehicle miles traveled each year. (Courtesy MRCOG)

Traffic flow maps produced by MRCOG show where declines have been the most dramatic. 

For example, Central Avenue in Albuquerque between Fourth and Fifth Streets saw about 13,200 daily cars in 2019. In 2020, that number dropped to 5,300.

Nathan Masek, a senior transportation planner, previously told Source New Mexico that he has been little surprised to still observe fewer vehicles on major roads leading to Downtown Albuquerque, especially Lead and Coal Avenues, even as things open back up. 

He said he’s not sure what is behind Downtown’s lagging return to pre-pandemic levels or whether it’s permanent. But he guessed that some workers are finding it possible to work from home or that businesses are finding it more efficient to have at least some meetings virtually.

Elsewhere in the region, early data suggests that traffic volumes and patterns are returning to their pre-pandemic levels. Pedestrian and bicyclist traffic at observation points nearly doubled in 2020, but has since returned to normal, the data show. 

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard.