Post-Pandemic Traffic: Easier Morning Commutes, Heading for Afternoon 'Peak Spreading'

The Boston Globe recently published an analysis of Boston-area traffic through the pandemic, finding that congestion is finally recovering to pre-pandemic levels, but in new patterns.

2 minute read

August 15, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Zakim Bridge and Tobin Bridge

Marco Rubino / Shutterstock

The traffic of 2021 is different than it was before the pandemic, according to an article by John Hancock explaining the findings of an analysis using traffic data from StreetLight Data, which uses location technology on mobile phones to measure traffic volumes.

According to the analysis of weekday traffic on Interstate 93, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and Interstate 95, traffic volumes still haven't recovered to 2019 levels. At three locations on the Turnpike, "average daily weekday traffic from April 1 through June 15 was still about 22 percent below 2019 levels," writes Hancock. Traffic on I-93 has been between 82 and 87 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Traffic on I-95 is hovering around 85 percent of where it was before the pandemic.

But one of the key findings of the analysis reveals more about how the characteristics of rush hour are changing. While the morning rush hour has been suppressed, traffic volumes can occasionally exceed pre-pandemic levels in the afternoon, and lasts for a longer duration of time.

According to Hancock, StreetLight data also finds similar trends at work in five other major U.S. metro areas. StreetLight describes the phenomenon of "morning and afternoon peaks in traffic were being replaced by traffic building gradually throughout the day toward a sustained afternoon high" as "peak spreading."

The article includes a lot more specific detail on the traffic data and also presents findings on the changes in weekend traffic in the Boston area. "After a year and a half of socially distancing throughout a pandemic, hourly travel data show that people are using all three roads on the weekend as much or even more than before," writes Hancock.

Thursday, August 12, 2021 in The Boston Globe

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