As the coronavirus continues its nationwide impact, travel is expected to be down nearly 15% compared with last summer, a June AAA analysis said.
Americans are expected to take 700 million trips from July through September, marking the first decline in summer travel since 2009, AAA said in a news release.
But those who do choose to travel will likely do so by road. About 97% of travelers will prefer their cars this year, while air travel is expected to drop by 74% by the end of the season in September.
AAA defines the summer travel period as starting on July 1 and ending Sept. 30.
From July 1 to Sept. 30, 2019, Americans took 57.9 million trips by airplane, compared with a forecast of only 15.1 million trips this year. Similarly, there were about 706 million automobile trips during summer 2019. AAA predicts 683 million by Sept. 30, 2020.
Data provided by the Indiana Department of Transportation indicates travel along I-69 north of Fort Wayne over the July 4 holiday was fairly consistent with 2019.
According to a vehicle count obtained on I-69 near mile marker 115.7 shows 73,554 vehicles traveled that section of highway July 2. A total of 72,272 was recorded on July 2, 2019.
On July 3, 57,565 vehicles were recorded on that segment of I-69, compared with 79,539 on that day last year. July 4 travel was closer, with 39,629 recorded this year. The July 4, 2019, count was 45,662.
Data was not available for July 5, 2020, but INDOT recorded 63,013 vehicles on that day last year.
More people are making travel plans 7 days to 48 hours before their departures, the AAA analysis said, indicating last-minute trips are higher than normal this year, as well.
With travel down this year, road trippers can take some comfort in less congestion and lower gas prices.
According to GasBuddy, an online tracker of gasoline prices nationwide, the average cost at the pump took a nosedive in March, as many states implemented stay-at-home orders to help combat the virus.
GasBuddy's analysis shows nationwide, gas prices fell to an average of $1.74 per gallon by April 27 but have risen since to an average of $2.21 per gallon on Thursday.
The site's analysis of Fort Wayne's prices produced similar results.
Gas fell from an average price of about $2.16 per gallon on March 2 to $1.34 on April 27. By Thursday, the average cost at the pump had risen to about $2 per gallon.
At the same time last year, Fort Wayne's average price was nearly $3 per gallon.
AAA expects national gas prices to average about $2.25 per gallon for 2020's third quarter, a 15% decline from 2019. That makes 2020 the “cheapest summer for filling up since 2016,” the organization said.
Summer 2020 continues to break trail-use records, but there is still some confusion regarding right of way, particularly where Fort Wayne's Pufferbelly Trail crosses major thoroughfares.
Road Sage tackled this topic in July 2018, but it's worth the reminder: Motorists are not to stop at trail crossings, unless a trail user is already in the crosswalk.
It's a problem for the Pufferbelly Trail in particular because it features mid-block road crossings, rather than at intersections, Greenways Manager Dawn Ritchie said last week. The Pufferbelly Trail is also one of the area's busiest trails, she added.
Counters installed on the Pufferbelly trail between Dupont and Carroll roads recorded 11,959 trips in June, Ritchie said.
Where the Pufferbelly Trail intersects major thoroughfares such as Ludwig, Cook, Wallen, Till and Carroll roads, there are stop signs indicating trail users must wait for traffic to clear before crossing. Motorists see signage with yellow flashing lights, warning drivers to slow down as they travel through the intersection.
Ritchie stressed that the crosswalk exists specifically in the roadway and does not include the curb.
The issue, Ritchie said, is that some drivers stop when they see trail users waiting, and wave the pedestrians across.
It's nice, Ritchie said, but creates a potentially dangerous situation for trail users and drivers alike.
“If they stop and (a trail user starts) to go across, the oncoming traffic from the other way won't necessarily know that a particular motorist waved them through,” she said. “They might have one-on-one eye contact with the motorist that stopped, but the oncoming traffic doesn't know that.”
Those who stop for trail users at these intersections can also cause a dangerous situation for other drivers coming up behind them, Ritchie said. Stopping increases the risk of crashes and injuries.
“It's terrific they want to be polite and we appreciate that, but please just follow the rules of the road and the rules of the trail,” she said.