Recently released traffic and cell phone data show that the lockdown is helping Toronto fight against COVID-19.

Mayor John Tory had requested regular traffic reports from City staff in Transportation Services to help demonstrate the real-time effect of the public health measures, City officials said.

The data confirms that vehicle traffic continues to be at its lowest observed levels since Stage 1 Reopening back in May and June 2020. However it is still higher than conditions observed during the initial lockdown last spring. Traffic conditions in the first two days since additional restrictions were imposed by the Province (which came into effect on January 14, 2021) were similar to the days immediately preceding this period, the City said in a statement issued on Friday.

There are three key traffic monitoring measures City staff rely on including Travel Time Index to monitor traffic congestion, Watch Your Speed signs to anticipate traffic volume and traffic counting technology to count cars and pedestrians.

Traffic congestion – The city-wide Travel Time Index (TTI) which helps track congestion using values showed an average of 1.76 in the afternoon peak time (5 to 6 p.m.) during the year before the COVID-19 pandemic (February 2019 to February 2020). This dropped to 1.00 (no traffic congestion) during the first lockdown (March to April 2020), then rose to as high as 1.39 in the early fall 2020. As of last week, it was back down to 1.16. Similar changes have been observed during the morning peak time (8 to 9 a.m.) in which the index value was 1.23 in the early fall (measured relative to the pre-pandemic period when it was an average of 1.61). This value has since dropped down to 1.06 of the baseline.

Traffic volume – Using Watch Your Speed signs located in school zones, City staff can monitor what traffic volumes might be city-wide. While the signs are not representative of traffic on all roads, they do provide a snapshot of changes in neighbourhoods across Toronto. This information showed that during the first lockdown, car volumes dropped to 68 per cent of baseline volumes during the afternoon peak hours (5 to 6 p.m.), climbed to as high as 87 per cent in the early fall, and have again dropped to 73 per cent of normal as new measures have been introduced. During the morning peak period (8 to 9 a.m.), which is more directly impacted by school closures, volumes dropped to 44 per cent of normal conditions, climbed to 80 per cent in the early fall, and have since dropped again to 52 per cent of normal.

Downtown multimodal volumes – City staff also use traffic counting technology placed at select downtown intersections to monitor how people choose to make trips. This data shows that daily car traffic dropped to 44 per cent of typical volumes during the first lockdown, climbed to 73 per cent by the fall, and dropped again to 63 per cent after the latest measures were introduced. Pedestrian traffic dropped significantly since the first lockdown last spring – to 17 per cent of typical volume. Numbers climbed to 30 per cent in the fall and are now back down to 21 per cent since the new lockdown orders have been put into place.

This traffic data follows Toronto Public Health’s confirmation earlier this week that non-identifying cell phone data, provided by BlueDot, is showing a growing number of people spending time at home, similar to the March 2020 lockdown. Interestingly, the most recent anonymous data, from January 3 to 9, 2021, shows time at home at 82 per cent. In March of last year, it was 87 per cent.

Statistical models from Toronto Public Health’s epidemiology team revealed that even a 1 per cent increase in the proportion of device-time at home two weeks prior can result in a 3 per cent reduction in reported case rates in any given week.


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