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COVID-19 Effects on Traffic and Its Components

COVID-19 Effects on Traffic and Its Components

In a typical year, traffic increases during the first half of the year, and then decreases during the second half, as shown below using data from 2019.

Bar Graph Showing 53 Continuous Count Stations 7-day trailing average vs.Jan-Feb 6 2020

Roadway Traffic Volume in Hampton Roads, 2019
Source: HRTPO processing of VDOT data

In 2020, however, due to COVID-19 and the response to it, instead of increasing during the spring, traffic decreased precipitously, down 40% from the January level.  Although the summer and early fall volumes were equal to pre-COVID January levels, summer and fall traffic is usually 10-20% higher than January volumes, as shown above.

Bar Graph Showing 53 Continuous Count Stations 7-day trailing average vs. Jan 3-Feb 6 2020

Roadway Traffic Volume in Hampton Roads, 2020
Source: HRTPO processing of VDOT data

To determine the components of this lowering of traffic volumes, HRTPO staff analyzed Google’s Community Mobility Report which use cellphone location data (“from users who have turned on the Location History setting”) to track various travel inputs.  Google’s “Residential” parameter measures duration of time spent at places of residence; its “Workplace” parameter measures visitors to places of work.

Bar chart showing Workplace Activity, 2020

Workplace Activity, 2020
Source: HRTPO processing of Google’s Community Mobility Report

Trips to places of work—i.e. work trips, shopping trips, etc.—decreased almost 50% after business owners closed work places both voluntarily and in response to government mandates.  Although this phenomenon abated somewhat for the summer and early fall, we are still traveling to places of work 30% less than we did in January.

Bar Chart showing Time Spent at Home, 2020

Time Spent at Home, 2020
Source: HRTPO processing of Google’s Community Mobility Report

Likewise—due to loss of employment, working from home, and home deliveries—time spent at home increased 20% during the spring for Hampton Roads residents.  As with workplace travel, this home phenomenon abated somewhat for the summer and early fall, but we are still spending 10% more time at home than we did in January.

These workplace and residential data explain the lower-than-normal traffic on our roadways.

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