SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The city of Sioux Falls counts cars and there’s fewer to count these days.
COVID-19 is likely changing the driving habits in the city, said Heath Hoftiezer, the principal traffic engineer for the city.
The city started analyzing traffic patterns at five main intersections at the beginning for March. Traffic is down by 34% from the first seven days of March compared to the past seven days, Hoftiezer said.
“We’ve had sporadic (downturns in traffic) but nothing like this,” Hoftiezer said. A flooding incident will reduce the traffic volume but the reduction is not as sustained as it has been since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Sioux Falls area, he said.
The city is monitoring traffic volume at five intersections that represent commuter routes, hospital routes, shopping routes and routes to major entertainment venues to get a cross-section of travel data, Hoftiezer said.
The intersections are: 26th and Lorraine, Madison and Western, 41st and Louise, 18th and Minnesota and 26th and Sycamore.
“We feel like this is representative of the area, it’s a good profile,” Hoftiezer said of the selected intersections.
Hoftiezer said the traffic data is shared with the county and city officials as part of COVID-19 response and planning and to learn more about the impact.
Traffic patterns and volumes are an indication of how COVID-19 may be impacting a community, according to several states and cities and data science researchers. For example, the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota is monitoring traffic as part of COVID-19. The North Central Council of Texas Governments has said COVID-19 has reduced travel in the region and it will have an economic impact.
Michael Behm of the South Dakota Department of Transportation said preliminary traffic volume indicates 24.8% reduction in traffic on state highways in South Dakota from March 13 through March 31 when compared to an average day in March of 2019.
Behm said preliminary numbers “should represent traffic changes on interstate, rural state highways, and in urban areas combined. “
However, he’s not sure how the data would help in planning for COVID-19 responses.
“I don’t know that the traffic volumes provided would provide much benefit for the COVID-19 response as they only measure the number of times a vehicle goes over the site,” Behm said in an email to KELOLAND News. “It cannot identify where the vehicle is going to, coming from, or purpose of the trip.”
The state’s traffic counts are gathered through sensors located within the pavement, Behm said.
“We have over 50 permanent counter sites across the state. Approximately 34 of these sites were used to develop the data I provided,” Behm said.
It’s not just one intersection that is responsible for the decline in Sioux Falls.
“We’re seeing them all down,” Hoftiezer said of traffic at all five intersections.
On Tuesday, March 3, 28,302 vehicles used the intersection of 26th and Lorraine. On Tuesday, April 7, 19,150 vehicles were at the intersection.
On Tuesday, March 10, 41,916 vehicles were at the intersection of 18th and Minnesota while 26,746 vehicles used the intersection on Tuesday, April 7.
Here’s some weekend numbers at one of the five intersections. On Saturday, March 14, 48,153 vehicles were at the intersection of 41st and Louise. On Saturday, March 21, 42,740 vehicles were at the intersection. On Saturday, March 28, numbers climbed to 55,121, and dropped to 37,138 on Saturday, April 4.
While the Sioux Falls traffic data is being used in real-time, Hoftiezer said the city has received requests for the data from university researchers.
“Our thought is we will provide the data to any group doing research papers,” Hoftiezer said.
The more people who can study and analyze the data, the more useful it can be, he said.
Sioux Falls has been collecting traffic data since before COVID-19. The data is used to help plan detours for construction projects, to plan for road projects and for other uses.
Adaptive cameras, such as those on Minnesota and 41st Street can be controlled to change the timing of streetlights based on traffic, Hoftiezer said.
The chart below is the city’s table for traffic counts at the intersections.