At some point during this period, the economy will open back up. But that doesn’t mean people need to go back to the office, said Steve Heminger, a board director at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.“Are we returning to an old normal after this is over, or are we advancing to a new normal?” Heminger mused. “My vote is probably the latter.” Some companies have allowed remote work for years, but it’s never been enough to make a dent in rush hour crowds on BART, or thin congestion on the Bay Bridge. That all changed when the coronavirus shifted much of the tech-fueled Bay Area into bedrooms and home offices. If the trend sticks, it would reduce demand for office space downtown and lift strain off the transportation system, Heminger said.
As I’ve blogged repeatedly in this space, the San Francisco Bay Area and neighboring Silicon Valley represents a profound paradox, clinging to mid 20th commute-in offices. While at the same time, the region is recognized globally as a powerhouse of innovation in information and communications technologies (ICT) that makes possible doing knowledge work from most anywhere with good Internet connectivity, effectively obsoleting the daily commute. Yet in recent years, the region gained the dubious distinction as having some of the worst traffic congestion and longest commutes on the planet.
A paradox embodies a natural tension that like a stretched rubber band eventually reaches a breaking point and snaps. The current viral pandemic may have brought it there.