Ubermedia - Understanding Population Movements During a Pandemic

America is learning how pandemics and other emergencies impact traffic patterns

Traffic in L.A. immediately dropped 46 percent on March 19, right after Governor Gavin Newsome announced a stay at-home order and that schools would be closed in California, eventually dropping by 79 percent overall. From late February until mid-March, traffic on the San Francisco Bay Bridge dropped by 76 percent.

What data scientists were able to glean is that school closures had the greatest impact overall on reducing traffic and movement of people. When the kids stay home, so do their parents! Using location intelligence data, Uber Media was able to track the “stay at-home” patterns of people in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  In addition to school closures, which immediately stopped almost half the traffic in several states, other interesting patterns emerged.

Cancelling the NBA Basketball Season, for instance, and halting Major League Baseball (MLB) has had a dramatic effect on urban traffic and traffic flows in major metro areas. Freeway travel was measured by reviewing mobile location signals, traffic indicators and traffic flow cameras in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Metro New Jersey, Chicago and Seattle—all cities known for incredible volume of vehicle traffic.

In New York, traffic across the major bridges and tunnels remained pretty consistent, notes the Uber Media reporting. However, when large gatherings were banned and stay at home order levied on March 21-22, traffic curtailed by some 58 percent. More striking, from the first week of January when folks returned to work, to the March 22 cut-off date, traffic dropped by 71 percent on I-95.

For Chicago, using the same dates of reference and traffic pattern analysis from geolocation, powered by Unacast, the traffic on I-90 and I-94 was down 58 percent. Chicago continued to be “The City that Works” until Governor Jay Pritzker declared a state of emergency in Illinois at which point the reductions are more vivid. Still, Los Angeles showed the greatest traffic behavior change of the cities examined at a full 79 percent while Chicago had the least amount of commuter and traffic changes at just 58 percent movement.

Understanding what motivates people to act in a state of emergency or pandemic such as COVID-19 can help public servants and planners in a future scenario when the U.S. needs people to be off the roads. That forced learning process is now underway.

RWG Staff

RWG staff report the latest news and and views from the location intelligence industry.