COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak – Metro Area Travel

Traffic data show slow return toward typical traffic levels

A Metropolitan Council analysis of over 1,000 freeway traffic monitoring stations showed that Minnesotans reduced their travel steadily in the days following the first COVID-19 case in Minnesota, but that traffic levels have slowly rebounded since their lowest point in early April 2020.

Researchers at the Metropolitan Council are using traffic data from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on regional and statewide travel. Travel across the region’s freeways declined by up to 71% in mid-March 2020, then steadily increased toward past levels over the following weeks. By the time the stay-at-home order was lifted on May 18, 2020, freeway traffic was only 32% below typical levels.

Travel patterns continue to track below typical travel levels

This graph shows the daily relative decrease in travel over time across the Twin Cities’ metro area freeways for the period after March 1, 2020. In the two weeks before the stay-at-home order was put in place on March 28, traffic volumes plummeted. In the first week of the stay-at-home order, weekday traffic volumes were 51% below typical levels on average. For the first three weeks of the stay-at-home order, weekday traffic volumes were about 50% below typical. Since then, freeway traffic volumes across the metro have been on a slow, steady rise. These volumes, however, continue to fall below typical travel patterns: in the fourth week of June, weekday traffic volumes were still 22% lower than typical.

Points that fall below the zero-line represent decreases in travel relative to typical travel on that day of the year and day of the week. Typical travel is estimated using a statistical analysis of traffic volumes from 2018, 2019, and 2020 prior to March 1. View an interactive application of this data and download data in tabular format.

State actions appear in travel data, weather also a factor

Travel decreased over time as state officials took action to support physical distancing efforts. For example, after Gov. Tim Walz asked Minnesotans to cancel all large gatherings and limit restaurants to takeout on March 18, travel decreased by an additional 7% over what had already been a 35% decrease from typical. Traffic then jumped up on May 18 when the stay-at-home order expired and the stay-safe order went into effect, up 8% from late April when some businesses reopened.

Data also show how weather plays a part in residents’ decision whether to travel, especially on weekends. This is most clear on April 27 when an Easter Sunday snowstorm dropped traffic 71%, lower even than when the Governor issued the stay-at-home order. Heavy rain has had a similar effect as seen on May 17 when a spring storm dumped over two inches of rain in the metro area.

Ongoing analysis

These data are helping policymakers evaluate the impact of their actions on physical distancing efforts and economic recovery.

Researchers at the Met Council will continue to update these figures as restrictions change. Researchers also hope to study other aspects of travel behavior including the travel that Minnesotans do in service to others in their household, family or community.

Contact

Ashley Asmus
Metropolitan Council
ashley.asmus@metc.state.mn.us