What Is Essential Travel? Socioeconomic Differences in Travel Demand in Columbus, Ohio, during the COVID-19 Lockdown

New paper: Kar, A., Le, H.T.K. & Miller, H.J. (2021) What Is Essential Travel? Socioeconomic Differences in Travel Demand in Columbus, Ohio, during the COVID-19 Lockdown, Annals of the American Association of Geographers (online first) DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2021.1956876

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly reshaped urban mobility. During the lockdown, workers teleworked if possible and left home only for essential activities. Our study investigates the spatial patterns of essential travel and their socioeconomic differences during the COVID-19 lockdown phase in comparison with the same period in 2019. Using data from Columbus, Ohio, we categorized travelers into high, moderate, and low socioeconomic status (SES) clusters and modeled travel demand of SES clusters for both phases using spatially weighted interaction models. Then, we characterized the SES variability in essential travel based on frequently visited business activities from each cluster. Results suggest that disparities in travel across SES clusters that existed prior to COVID-19 were exacerbated during the pandemic lockdown. The diffused travel pattern of high and moderate SES clusters became localized and the preexisting localized travel pattern of low SES clusters became diffused. During the lockdown, the low and moderate SES clusters traveled mostly for work with long- and medium-distance trips, respectively, whereas the high SES cluster traveled mostly for recreational and other nonwork purposes with short-distance trips. This study draws some conclusions and implications to help researchers and practitioners plan for resilient and economically vibrant transportation systems in response to future shocks.

Keywords: equity, mobile phone data, O–D flow, social exclusion, spatial interaction

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Spotlight on Poverty: Pandemic Made Unequal Access to Food Even Worse, Study Suggests

Ohio State Geography student Armita Kar was interviewed by Spotlight on Poverty about our study of how COVID exacerbated unequal food access in low income communities. Armita is co-advised by myself and Dr. Huyen Le.

Pandemic Made Unequal Access to Food Even Worse, Study Suggests

COVID-19 exacerbates unequal food access

New publication: Kar, A., Motoyama, Y., Carrel, A., Miller, H.J. and Le, H.T.K. (2021) “COVID-19 exacerbates unequal food access,” Applied Geography, 134, 102517.

Abstract. Inequality to food access has always been a serious problem, yet it became even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated social inequality and reshaped essential travel. This study provides a holistic view of spatio-temporal changes in food access based on observed travel data for all grocery shopping trips in Columbus, Ohio, during and after the state-wide stay-at-home period. We estimated the decline and recovery patterns of store visits during the pandemic to identify the key socio-economic and built environment determinants of food shopping patterns. The results show a disparity: during the lockdown, store visits to dollar stores declined the least, while visits to big-box stores declined the most and recovered the fastest. Visits to stores in low-income areas experienced smaller changes even during the lockdown period. A higher percentage of low-income customers was associated with lower store visits during the lockdown period. Furthermore, stores with a higher percentage of white customers declined the least and recovered faster during the reopening phase. Our study improves the understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on food access disparities and business performance. It highlights the role of COVID-19 and similar disruptions on exposing underlying social problems in the US.

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