There was a 15-minute backup at the Bay Bridge—on a July Friday within a week of July 4th. In other words, high vacation season. What it demonstrated was that workers were taking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control seriously. If you have to travel, the CDC recommends the best way is in your own vehicle.
That recommendation is unlikely to change as more people start to go back to their offices although many have found it productive and convenient to work from home. Until a vaccine is developed and tested, many people are not going to be comfortable in crowds—whether that’s on a BART train, a bus or riding the elevator in a San Francisco high rise.
Backed by millions of dollars high-powered companies are racing to develop the vaccine, but there’s no guarantee one will be found. The AIDS virus has been with us since the 1980s and there’s no vaccine. The same goes for the common cold virus. Fortunately, effective therapies have been developed that allow people to manage the HIV/AIDS virus and live productive lives.
The world-wide impact of COVID-19 likely will be felt for years. The airlines have seen some passengers returning, but the notion of flying for hours with hundreds of people isn’t an attractive one right now. And that’s recognizing that air filters on jetliners are equivalent to those used in hospitals and people will be required to wear face coverings.
Last week, United announced it is considering furloughing or laying off up to 36,000 people—about one-third of its work force. Boeing, in addition to trying to get the 737-Max certified air-worthy again, has seen demand plummet. Delta announced it is retiring its fleet of long-range 777s, while Southwest has offered an incentive-laden buyout/early retirement plan to its workers.
Then add in when, if ever, will people be comfortable packed into BART cars or onto buses during the morning commute. Social distancing with mask isn’t an issue with the light passenger loads now, but as the economy re-opens passenger count likely will increase.
And then consider what implications this has for transit-oriented housing. If there’s an effective vaccine and people are widely vaccinated, then higher densities close to transit could again be desirable for people. As a Wall Street Journal weekend article observed this weekend the sweet spot for families now is leasing suburban single-family homes in good school districts. The story detailed firms buying, renovating and leasing single-family homes and the robust market they are tapping.
A story in Monday’s edition pointed out that well-paid workers with families who had flocked to New York City now are taking another look at rural small towns in Connecticut.
Whether this is the “new normal” or what will be “normal” as we live with the virus remains an open question.