As Georgians statewide were compelled to stay home in April, traffic crashes dropped roughly 35% in Hall County from the month before and the amount of traffic was notably less, leading to changes in traffic signal timing in Gainesville.
Crashes were down about half in April compared to February, when just a handful of COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the state.
Local schools closed buildings in mid-March, moving to online instruction, and Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter in place went into effect April 3, expiring April 30 for most Georgians.
Hall County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Todd Casper provided data to The Times regarding countywide traffic crash data.
“Being on the streets, you could tell that the motoring public was heeding the warning and staying home,” Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said Monday, May 11. “Just the sheer volume of traffic on the roadways was down dramatically. However, in the past two weeks or so, we have seen an increase in that.”
Statewide, the Department of Transportation said there were 17,310 crashes in April. In April 2019, there were 40,212 crash reports.
“Anecdotally, several law enforcement agencies have stopped going to crashes and writing crash reports if there isn’t an injury or it involves a minor complaint. We believe this started sometime in mid to late March. There wasn’t a coordinated start to this, and not all agencies are handling crashes the same,” DOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale wrote in an email.
Traffic crashes in Hall County
Traffic fatalities in Hall County
Source: Hall County Sheriff’s Office
Traffic crashes in Georgia
Traffic fatalities in Georgia
Source: Georgia Department of Transportation
Statewide Department of Transportation data is preliminary and expected to change.
The data is preliminary and expected to change. There is a roughly 6-month delay in reporting, Dale said.
Gainesville Public Works Director Chris Rotalsky said they noticed a “significant traffic decrease” as the shelter-in-place and other ordinances went into effect to limit socialization and the spread of the virus.
Within a week of the shelter-in-place order going into effect, Rotalsky said it became apparent that the city could change the timing program on its traffic signals.
As a hypothetical, the city may allow for 120 seconds for a green light on Jesse Jewell Parkway. An adjusted timing might involve a reduction of 30 seconds on the main line to allow the secondary streets to have more time.
“Instead of holding for some of your major routes a longer time, you can allow a shorter duration so that each leg of the intersection has more time or more cycles to go through instead of waiting on what is the normal traffic volume,” Rotalsky said.
When businesses started to close and employers started advising their staffs to work from home, Rotalsky said the daytime population — people coming in to Gainesville to shop or work — had decreased significantly. Rotalsky did not have specific data regarding these decreases.
“All of our major corridors were much more open, much easier to travel through. … That was really the largest takeaway,” he said.
Holbrook said police moved some of their operations to have more visibility and more of a presence in the residential neighborhoods when traffic was down. Traffic enforcement also continued.
“For a while, it wasn’t uncommon (for) an individual driving over the speed limit to simply pass the patrol car under the assumption that they wouldn’t get pulled over or get a citation.”
Weekend traffic, however, started to tick up again roughly three weeks ago to the point where Rotalsky said the traffic signal programming returned to normal.
“Since the (shelter-in-place) order has been lifted, we’ve noticed traffic increasing again. And actually, for our weekday activities, we’ve now gone back to our almost normal standard traffic programming,” he said.
Rotalsky said they try to monitor volume daily “to try to adjust to make sure that we’re moving traffic as efficiently as we possibly can throughout the city.” The public works department is paying attention to orders from the governor, as these directives may lead them to adjust their processes regarding traffic.
“We don’t have any set forecasting of traffic ticking up. We had forecast traffic going up (last) week with the shelter-in-place order being predominantly lifted for most people,” he said.