April 8, 2021

Our Real-World Experiment in Traffic

Imagine if some all-powerful researcher suggested that as a society we shut down a good part of the economy for a few months, close offices and work places, shutter restaurants, clubs and theatres, stop most sports and arts activity, make it possible to realistically work at home, and, just for extra impact, close the borders.  And then see what happens to traffic before and after, how it changes as we tweak the restrictions, and what new patterns emerge.

Which is exactly what we’re doing.

I’m surprised we’re not getting traffic updates like we do the weather, and what new patterns are emerging from week to week.  We actually do have that data, and the City of Vancouver has been good enough to provide some of it (and hope to add counts regularly on VanMap).

Here’s the data that shows the reductions in average monthly volumes of traffic year over year coming into the City, and then onto the Downtown Peninsula – from the start of the pandemic last year to just last month:

Go to it, data nerds, and let us know what you observe.

The greatest drops occurred this time last year at about half, more or less, the previous volumes.  And then a gradual increase (or dropping rate of reduction) until December, when in response to higher caseloads, constraints were reapplied.  Now we’re at about 10 to 20 percent below ‘normal’.  (Meanwhile transit patronage is, last I heard, at only 40 percent of previous numbers.)

I’d love to know how this compares to the growth of traffic in the rest of the region.  I would not be surprised if the volumes are higher, reflecting the scenario in the post below where those working at home take more trips, and regional shopping malls and local shopping streets pick up the patronage that might otherwise have gone downtown or elsewhere.

What else have you noticed?


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  1. Need to see the peaks. That’s what decisions are based on. If the city wants to bring those transit figures back it needs to convert more general purpose lanes to transit. Otherwise the driving peaks will return to 100% of their pre-pandemic levels and transit will remain stuck at 60%-80%.

  2. HOV priority at choke points would reduce traffic volumes ________ watching HOV s legally jump the Q would be a me too moment for drivers of SOV s

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