Richmond is driving less — and the environment is noticing

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — About a month into stay-at-home orders across Virginia, some have noticed the need for fewer trips to the gas station.

Virginians are driving less as many people are only leaving home for essentials.

“There’s this really neat kind’ve geophysical experiment going on in front of our eyes,” said climate and earth scientist Dr. Jeremy Hoffman.

Hoffman works at the Science Museum of Virginia. He told 8News that despite the challenges of this pandemic, the environment is seeing a positive impact.

“It is so unfortunate that it took something so destabilizing like this for us to be able to see these sort of short term improvements,” he explained.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has traffic counters along interstates.

Hoffman points to the number of cars traveling in the area of Interstate-95 and Arthur Ashe Boulevard in the city of Richmond as a positive sign of these changes.

“We’ve seen upwards of 40-50% of reductions depending on the day of the week,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman says the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality also monitors air pollution around the commonwealth. He’s encouraged by that data, too.

“We can see the impacts in the reduction in car traffic means a clearing up of our air,” Hoffman explained, describing less nitrogen dioxide emissions from cars.

NASA is also sharing images of air quality across the northeast, providing a look at average air pollution for the month of March since 2015.

But compare that to a roughly 30% decrease — just last month.

All of these data points are keeping Hoffman hopeful for the future.

“We can use this as an opportunity to say if we like this improvement, what are some ways that we can use this information we’re collecting right now to make a better future for us here in Richmond and around the country,” Hoffman told 8News.

There are fewer cars on the roads — but according to VDOT there is less of a significant decrease in the number of trucks moving through the region.

It is important to note — many of the trucks still driving are carrying groceries and essentials for Virginians.

The Science Museum is offering STEM content, resources for students at home. Find more here.

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