More folks back behind the wheel Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakotans are on the road again but not yet to the extent they were prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

But why does anyone care how much South Dakotans are driving?

“Tracking traffic data during COVID-19 allows public health officials to make better predictions of infection rates in specific regions of the state,” said Kurt Cogswell, a data science professor at South Dakota State University in Brookings. Cogswell works with data and teaches students the science of data including applying it to life situations such as a pandemic.

“(Traffic data)  also allows those officials to gain a better understanding of the impact of traffic flow on the spread of the disease between regions, which can lead to better COVID-19 public policy decisions in the future,” Cosgwell said.

The state has been sharing traffic data from March on as part of illustrating COVID-19’s impact in the state. The city of Sioux Falls has also been monitoring traffic counts at five major intersections in the city as part of the city’s response and planning on the coronavirus pandemic.

Traffic counts from 38 sites in the state handled by the South Dakota Department of Transportation show that traffic is still down through May 19 but up over April and March.

Traffic is still 26% lower than normal patterns on state highways for April but that’s 10% higher than April’s 36% decrease. Traffic was down 32% on rural interstates but that was an 8% gain over last month’s 40%.

The pace picked up even more on rural non interstate roads and urban roads. The percentage on rural non interstate roads was a 20% decline compared to 32% in April. Urban roads had a 23% decline compared to a 34% decline in April.

On April 27, Gov. Kristi Noem said she would be announcing a get back to normal plan for the state on the following Tuesday. Traffic index numbers in Sioux Falls have been at .71 or above since April 28 except on May 1.

Cogswell said loosening COVID-19 restrictions is one reason for the traffic increase but another is the time of year.

“… just the normal increase of recreational and other traffic that accompanies the arrival of summer and the end of the school year,” Cogswell said.

The city of Sioux Falls is also experiencing “traffic rise across the board,” said Heath Hoftiezer, the principal traffic engineer for the city.

Before the pandemic fully hit the city in mid-March traffic index numbers were .94 or above every day from March 3 through March 13 except on March 8 when it was .86.

The traffic index is way to measure the number of vehicles that pass through the five monitored intersections.

The city is monitoring traffic during the coronavirus pandemic at these intersections: 26th Street and Lorraine Drive, Madison Street and Western Avenue, 41st Street and Louise Avenue, 18th Street and Minnesota Avenue, and 26th Street and Sycamore Avenue. City officials have said those intersections are good representatives of traffic patterns in Sioux Falls.

The gold line is traffic index numbers from 2019 and the blue line is traffic index numbers from 2020 at five major intersections in Sioux Falls. City of Sioux Falls graphic.

Traffic has steadily picked up at those intersections since May 1 when the city council started the process of loosening COVID-19 restrictions city. The most recent action was the first approval phase of a repealing the no mingling ordinance on May 26.

From May 11 through May 26 the traffic index has been .74 or above every day except one when it was .65 on May 17.

From May 1 through May 10, the traffic index day has been .70 or above except one day, .60, on May 3.

The traffic index was above 90 (.93) on May 23 for the first time since March 13 when it was 1.05.

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