Silicon Valley economic slowdown brings positive news for environment, safety

A car travels along Interstate 580 in Oakland on June 3, 2020. Photo by Wade Tyler Millward / San Jose Spotlight

With more than 2,800 cases of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County resulting in 144 deaths, and unemployment at almost 12 percent, a source of positive news can be found in the effects of quarantine on the environment and traffic safety.

Significant decreases in travel by car should prove advantageous for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Silicon Valley, about half of which are caused by transportation, according to the research arm of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a nonprofit that provides data analysis and leads projects and initiatives related to the Bay Area, from San Francisco to San Jose and Fremont.

Silicon Valley saw a 41 percent year-over-year decline in per-capita freeway vehicle miles traveled in March and April, more than the state’s 28 percent drop. In 2018, Silicon Valley residents traveled an average of 22 miles a day, or 8,200 miles a person.

Local annual greenhouse gas emissions could drop by as much as 21 percent year over year based on the decline in driven miles. Globally, the amount could drop by as much as 8 percent, according to the report.

And while local air quality has improved, the report states that it’s difficult to determine how much of that came from less traffic and how much came naturally.

When it comes to safety, highways that span Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo counties saw 61 crashes with injuries the week of May 4, a 69 percent decline year over year. The crash rate per mile driven also decreased, down 47 percent year over year that week.

Data from the California Highway Patrol show an 88% decline in traffic fatalities across the state from March 19 to April 30, compared with the same period a year earlier, and a 62% drop in the number of injuries.

Joint Venture saw revenue of $2.39 million for the fiscal year that started July 2017 and ended June 2018, according to its latest tax documents. About 44 percent of that came from government grants and 17 percent  from fundraising events.

Joint Venture receives funds from more than 30 cities and agencies and more than 100 corporations that invest on an annual basis. The organization also receives some foundation support for specific projects, according to its website. The nonprofit spent $1.78 million in the previously mentioned fiscal year, about 47 percent of that on salaries, compensation and employee benefits.

The board of directors includes San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, Democratic U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna, the city managers of Palo Alto and Fremont, the president of San Jose State University, Mineta San Jose International Airport’s director of aviation, and representatives from the San Francisco 49ers, Kaiser Permanente, Google, Facebook, Wells Fargo, Microsoft and KQED.

Some local business leaders have voiced approval of exploring how gains in environmental and traffic conditions can continue after shelter-in-place orders lift.

“Telecommuting, biking, walking, carpooling, micromobility and a robust public transit system are all important tools in the toolbox to fight traffic and pollution to keep our valley healthier, happier and more productive,” said Jason Baker, vice president of transportation, housing and community development for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group public policy association of more than 350 companies with a presence in Silicon Valley.

Contact Wade at or follow him @WadeMillward on Twitter.

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