Blog 1 - Flattening the traffic volume curve

Rachel Kohan
3 min readApr 3, 2020

Everyone is talking about the significant change in travel patterns and the potential decline in traffic volumes due to Covid-19 restrictions. We thought we would take some time to look how this pandemic is changing traffic across Sydney CBD and surrounding areas.

Since social distancing and isolation policies (guidance and laws) have been put in place for Australia and New South Wales, we’ve seen a notable reduction in the number of vehicles in the city.

Reducing the number of private vehicles in the city centre and providing more sustainable and equitable access is a goal for many planners and transport professionals around the world. Of course, we also aim to improve opportunities for social interaction, create nicer urban realm and increase the efficiency of movement of people and goods at the same time!

It is a once in a lifetime situation (hopefully) where us planning practitioners (and data nerds!), have the opportunity to observe the disruption to regular travel behaviour. Hopefully, we can use these observations to improve the way we design and operate the streets in our city when things are back to normal. It’s a great opportunity to think about how things can be more sustainable, equitable and safe!

Now, show me the data!

We are monitoring the traffic volumes for some key city streets in Sydney during the ‘previously known’ morning, evening and lunch time peak periods. Key insights up to the 2nd of April include:

  • Traffic volumes on Broadway heading eastbound at the intersection of Broadway and City Rd (between 7am and 9am) have decreased by 50% since 4th March
  • Traffic volumes on Kent St near Town Hall (between 7am and 9am) have decreased by 59%
  • Significant drop in traffic volumes seen following the Australian government decree to close all non-essential services on Monday 23rd March — does this mean this is the only traffic needing to be on our inner city roads? Although it would be interesting to note what the increase in home delivery/courier traffic is at the moment
  • Peak commuter periods are less prominent, AM peak hour in January accounted 8.1% of the daily volume where as the AM peak on the 1st of April accounted for 7.3%, with 40% less vehicle traffic over the day.

(hover over chart to see Covid-19 restriction announcements)

There are likely to be long term implications for how we engage and use public transport after the restrictions in place to manage Covid-19 are lifted. Just what the post-Covid-19 transport landscape will look like is unclear at the moment:

  • Will more people work from home more often?
  • Will peak hours be less prominent because people will just be travelling for meetings?
  • Are people going to be discouraged from using public transport due to fear of disease transmission?
  • Are more people going to walk and cycle after this is all over?
  • Or will we eventually go back to the same travel patterns?

Tell me what you think about these questions and the data presented above and stay tuned for more data and insights soon…

Written by Rachel Kohan and Sophie Zachulski

Transport Planners and Covid-19 Traffic Data Enthusiasts at Arup.