What impact has the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic had on pedestrian volumes in central Melbourne?

Mon 25 May, 2020

Consistent with reductions in vehicle and cycling traffic, central city pedestrian volumes measured by the the City of Melbourne have also dropped considerably during the pandemic.

How much have volumes reduced? How has this varied by day types, locations, and times of day? Join me as I dive into the data.

The City of Melbourne have installed 64 pedestrian counters in and around the CBD. Here’s a map of the sites and some (arbitrary) groups (which I’ll use later):

The sensors are not evenly distributed over the city, with a bias towards the central retail core, so they are unlikely to be perfectly representative of central city pedestrian activity, but the data is available and is interesting.

Of course sensors fail from time to time, so we don’t have a complete time series for all sites for all days. There have also been many more sensors added over time. Here is a chart showing the sensors reporting for each day since counting began in 2009:

To get a reasonable comparison, the following chart aggregates data from 44 measuring sites that have complete or near-complete data for 2019 and 2020 (so far):

The gaps in the lines are due to public holidays, which have been excluded (I have not coded Easter Saturday as a public holiday).

You can see volumes drop significantly from around week 12 onward in 2020 (starts Sunday 15 March), as restrictions were introduced.

You can also see significant week to week variations in volumes in 2019, so when measuring the decline I’m going to compare volumes with those in the first two weeks of March (when universities had commenced on-campus teaching).

Here are daily volumes relative to the average of the first two weeks in March:

You can see volumes down over 80% by early April, followed by some small growth. The reductions have been fairly consistent across all day types – the variation between days of February has reduced dramatically, suggesting perhaps there is a lot less discretionary pedestrian activity.

During the recovery phase there have been a few outliers:

  • Thursday 9 April was the day before Good Friday when most retail trading is restricted.
  • Wednesday 29 April was a very wet day (23.6 mm of rain)
  • Saturday 16 May was the first Saturday after restrictions were eased (also a fine sunny day of maximum 18 degrees).

While the Sunday decline appears to be the largest, Sunday 8 March was during the Moomba festival on a long weekend, so there were many more people in the city than normal that night, inflating the baseline.

Likewise the first two Saturdays in March had quite different volumes, which may be related to special events as well. So I would suggest not getting carried away with the exact decline percentages.

How have volumes changed in different parts of the city?

Of course the pedestrian volume reductions have not been uniform by place or day of the week. Here are the reductions on weekdays for week 14 (29 March – 4 April), when overall volumes bottomed:

Volumes were down the most around Melbourne University, and reductions of around 85% were typical in the CBD grid. There were smaller reductions in Docklands (which might reflect many pedestrians being residents), and around Queen Victoria Market (one site only down 44%).

Here’s the same again for Saturday 4 April:

The largest reductions around the arts precinct in Southbank, the retail core of the CBD, and around Melbourne University. Lesser declines are again in Docklands and around Queen Victoria Market.

And here is Sunday 5 April:

Patterns are similar again.

What are the trends in different parts of the city?

The next chart looks at the volumes trends for my sensor groups over time for weekdays:

The relative decline has been fairly consistent across the groups over the weeks, with the university sites showing the biggest declines, and the residential and retail sites showing the least decline. The retail precincts of Lygon Street, CBD central, and Melbourne Central (around the station) have shown the most growth in May.

The story is quite different on Saturdays:

There is historically a lot more week to week variation, and the numbers for Docklands have bounced around a fair bit – with 16 May close to normal levels of pedestrian activity (a dry day with maximum 18 degrees, lower days had rain). Saturday 23 May was a fairly wet day, so might have discouraged travel.

Queen Victoria Market has also shown considerable growth since early April – with volumes within the bounds of regular volumes.

Sundays are similar:

Docklands, Queen Victoria Market and Melbourne Central all increased on Sundays during May (all with little or no rain).

The fact that the Southbank / River group has shown the largest decline is probably related to it having a high base – with the Moomba festival causing a spike in pedestrian volumes on 8 March.

How have volumes changed by time of day?

Here’s the profile of hourly volumes for sites with complete data for 2020 on weekdays:

You can see the normal AM peak, lunchtime peak, and PM peak, which have been largely flattened since the pandemic hit.

If you follow the colours carefully you can see the rapid decline in late March, followed by slow growth.

Here are hourly volumes relative to the first two weeks of March:

The biggest reductions have been in the AM peak and evenings, which reflects a reduction in commuters and hospitality activity. The reductions are slightly smaller mid-morning and mid-afternoon (between the regular peaks) reflecting a flattening of the profile.

The smallest percentage reductions have been at 4-5am in the morning, off a small base.

Here is Saturdays:

Reductions have again been largest in the evenings, just after midnight (Friday night), and least around dawn. You can see more recent Saturday afternoons showing growth, but no growth in the evenings as restaurants, bars, and theatres remained closed.

Same again for Sundays:

Sunday 8 March is an outlier in the day and evening – with the Moomba festival on, and the following Monday being a public holiday.

Another way to visualise hourly data

Here’s a chart that shows pedestrian volumes for every hour of 2020 up to and including 24 May 2020. The rows are days, and the columns are hours of the day:

You can see how pedestrian activity very quickly became quiet in March. Before the shutdown you can also see the weekly patterns, with weekend activity starting later and finishing later.

The top row is New Years Day, and you can see high volumes in the first few hours from new year celebrations.

May 16th was the first Saturday after restrictions were eased and that shows up as the first spike in the recovery phase.

This can be filtered for locations. For example, here is the data for Queen Victoria Market sensors:

You can see clear stripes for days the market was open (including night markets). The first busy day after the shut down was the Thursday before Good Friday – perhaps people cramming shopping ahead of Good Friday (Easter Saturday was also busy). The market continued to trade throughout this time.

I might try to periodically update this post during the recovery.

An aside: visualising activity over a long weekend

Nothing to do with the pandemic, but a bit of fun to finish. Here is an animation of pedestrian volumes over the Labour Day long weekend 6-9 March 2020 (Friday to Monday):

If you watch carefully you’ll spot some sudden surges from a Saturday evening event at Docklands Stadium.


What impact has the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic had on cycling patterns in Melbourne?

Sun 17 May, 2020

There has been talk about about a boom in cycling during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 (e.g. refer The Age), but has that happened across all parts the city, across lanes and paths, and on all days of the week?

In Melbourne there are bicycle counters on various popular bike paths and lanes around the city (mostly inner and middle suburbs), and so I thought it would be worth taking a look at the data (which may or may not reflect total cycling activity, we don’t know).

But before plotting the data, it’s important to understand data quality. Since 2015 there have been 36 bicycle counting sites in Melbourne. But for whatever reasons, data is not available at all sites for all days. Here is the daily number of sites reporting from January 2015 to 13 May 2020 (at least with data available as of 14 March 2020).

There are notable gaps in the data, including most of the latter part of November 2017, and around mid-2018.

So any year-on-year comparison needs to includes sites that were active in both years. For my first chart I’m going to filter for sites with complete data for 2019 (all) and 2020 (to 13 May). I’ve also filtered out a few sites with unusual data (very low counts for a period of time – possibly due to roadworks).

Here is a chart showing average daily counts by month, dis-aggregated by whether the site was a bike lane (5 sites) or path (22 sites) and whether the day was a regular weekday, or on a weekend/public holiday.

Weekday bike lane travel was way down in April and May 2020, which makes sense as most of these sites are on roads leading to the CBD, and many workers who normally work in the CBD are likely to be working from home.

Traffic in bike lanes on weekends was very similar to 2019. This might reflect bike lanes not attracting additional recreational cyclists, or perhaps an increase recreational cycling is offset by a decline in commuter cycling.

Weekend path traffic was way up in April 2020, which also makes sense, as people will be looking to exercise on weekends in place of other exercise options no longer available (eg organised sports, gyms). The first half of May 2020 was a little quieter than April, which might be partly related to cooler weather (but also note the data only includes 2 weekends – at the time of extraction).

Weekday bike path traffic was down in 2020, although not as much as for bike lanes. I’ll explore this more shortly.

Here’s a look at the percentage growth at each site on weekdays. I’m comparing weeks 14-19 of years 2020 and 2019 (33 sites have complete data for both periods):

You can see significant reductions near the CBD, and on major commuter routes (lanes and paths). The biggest reduction was 71% on Albert Street in East Melbourne.

The blue squares are mostly recreational paths where there has been massive growth, the highest being the Anniversary trail in Kew at +235%! However I should point out that these growth figures are often off very low 2019 counts. It may be that people working from home (or who have lost their jobs) are now going for recreational rides on weekdays.

You might notice one square with two numbers attached – the +27% is for the Main Yarra Trail (more recreational), and the -32% is for the Gardiners Creek rail (probably more commuter orientated at that point). The two counters are very close together so the symbols overlap.

Here is the same again, but with the changes in average daily counts:

Many of the high growth percentages were not huge increases in actual volumes. The bay-side trail experienced some of the bigger volume increases.

On weekends and public holidays, there were smaller percentage reductions near the city centre, and large increases in the suburbs:

The percentage increases on weekends are not as high because there was a higher base in 2019. The reductions in the central city are smaller, but still significant – this may reflect fewer CBD weekend workers with a downturn in retail activity.

Again, here is a map of the changes in volume on weekends:

Here’s another way to view the data – sites by distance from the CBD:

Bike lane volumes are down significantly at most sites, particularly on weekdays. Bike path volumes are down on weekdays at most sites within 6 km of the CBD, but up at sites further out, and up at most sites on weekends.

I’m curious about the volume changes on paths on weekdays, so I’ve drilled down to hourly figures. Here are the relative volumes per hour:

We find that the story of bike paths on weekdays is a mix of increases during the middle of the day, and significant reductions in the peaks. The peak reductions likely reflect many people working from home, while the middle of the day increase is perhaps people breaking up the day when working from home, or people who are no longer working.

Bike lane volumes on weekdays are significantly down in the peaks and evenings, but less so in the inter-peak.

On weekends there has been little change in the already low bike lane volumes, but a substantial increase in bike path volumes – suggesting people seeking recreational riding opportunities on the weekend are choosing the much more pleasant bike path environments.

Of course this data only tells us about what’s been happening during the lock down. There may well be a boom in cycling (particularly on bike lanes) when more people start returning to work and look for alternatives to (what might be) crowded public transport.

I’ll try to keep an eye on the data over time.


What impact has the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic had on road traffic volumes in Victoria?

Sun 3 May, 2020

[Last updated 28 May 2020]

Roads in Victoria have been noticeably quieter during the pandemic, but just how much has traffic reduced? Has it varied by day of the week, time of day, and/or distance from the city centre? How have volumes increased as restrictions have been eased?

To answer these questions I’ve downloaded traffic signal loop vehicle count data from data.vic.gov.au. The data includes vehicle detection loops at 3,760 signalised intersections across Victoria (87% of which are in Greater Melbourne).

I should state that it is not a perfect measure of traffic volume:

  • It may under-count motorway-based and rural travel which may cross fewer loop detectors.
  • There are occasional faults with loops, and I’m only able to filter out some of the faulty data (supplied with negative count values), so there is a little noise but I will attempt to wash that out by using median counts rather than sums or averages (although charts of averages show very similar patterns to charts of medians).
  • Some vehicles moving through an intersection might get counted at multiple loops, but I would hope this has minimal impact on overall traffic volume trends.

How have traffic volumes reduced during the pandemic?

Firstly, median 24-hour loop volumes for each day:

Note: the actual numbers aren’t very meaningful, it is the relative numbers that matter. Unfortunately at the time of updating, data for some dates was missing (or clearly erroneous so I have excluded it).

Traffic volumes declined over the second half of March 2020, as more restrictions were introduced, students stopped attending schools and universities, and workers were asked to work from home if possible.

School holidays started early (on Tuesday 24 March) although many students stayed home in the last days of term. School resumed on Wednesday 15 April with most students remote learning at home.

The first official easing of restrictions took effect from Wednesday 13 May (week 20) allowing some social gatherings and this has seen some significant traffic growth (although it appears traffic volumes were already slowly increasing before that date).

There are variances by day type and by week, so here is a chart looking changes by day of the week, relative to the first two weeks of March 2020:

At their lowest, weekday volumes went down around 40%, while weekend volumes went down more like 50%.

In late-May volumes were down more like 20-25%, with significant growth on weekends.

A curious outlier is Thursday in the week of 5 April – this was Thursday before Good Friday, so there may have been some travel to holiday homes, or other travel that happens normally on a Friday being the end of the working week.

However we should be careful because there is some underlying seasonality in traffic volumes, as well as week-to-week variations (perhaps impacted by events and/or weather). Here is a chart comparing 2020 with 2019 for weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays (excluding public holidays):

You can see again weekends recovering the fastest so far.

The next chart compares each 2020 week with the same week 2019, although it is important to note that there was quite a bit of week to week variation in 2019:

On this measure, weekdays were down around 38% on 2019, but have recovered to be ~27% down in week 20. Weekends were down around 50%, but Saturday 16 May was only ~22% down on the equivalent Saturday in 2019. Sundays had recovered to be only ~37% down on 2019 in week 19.

How has traffic reduced by time of day?

The traffic signal data is presented in 15 minute intervals, generating huge amounts of detailed data (more than I could load into Tableau Public which has a limit of 15 million records). I’ve managed to load data for most days of the week for March and April 2020.

Here’s a look at the traffic volumes by time of day for Wednesdays:

You can see a significant flattening of the traditional peaks from late March, although curiously the PM peak still commences around 3 pm, even during the school holidays.

Evening traffic was down considerably but it’s a little hard to gauge this reduction the chart. So here is a chart showing traffic volume changes relative to the first week of March:

Volumes were down the most in the evenings (particularly around 9 pm) which might reflect the closure of hospitality venues, cessation of sports and reduced social activity. The AM and PM peak periods are down around 50%, while the inter-peak period has held up the most – being only down around 30%.

I should point out that this analysis compares to a baseline of a single day, and there may be some associated noise (eg weather or event impacts on particular days).

Here is the same for Fridays:

10 April was Good Friday, hence much quieter traffic with retail trading restrictions.

Late evening traffic is down even more than for Wednesdays, which probably reflects higher volumes of hospitality-related travel on Friday nights.

Here is Saturdays:

The Saturday profile shape hasn’t changed as much as weekdays, but the evenings are down most significantly.

25 April was the Anzac Day public holiday, and the spike in afternoon travel probably reflects retail trading restrictions that apply until 1pm.

Curiously there are several spikes in the curve in the morning – and they are the 15 minute intervals leading up to the hours of 7am, 8am, 9am, and 10am. Initially I wondered if it was a data quality issue, but perhaps they reflect a surge in travel just in time for work shifts and other activities that start on the hour.

For some reason traffic volumes were relatively low around 6 am on Saturday 7 March, which has resulted in other days showing less reduction.

Saturday night travel is down considerably – by over 70% by midnight. You can also see early Saturday morning (Friday night) travel down around 60-70%.

Here is Sundays:

Sunday 12 April was Easter Sunday, which might explain quieter traffic. Sunday 8 March was on the Labour Day long weekend (including the Moomba festival), which probably explains the much busier traffic that Sunday night (not being a “school night”). You can more clearly see that on the following chart:

One aside on this – it’s possible to compare the traffic profiles of different days of the week (sorry I had to exclude Tuesdays and Thursdays due to data volumes). Here’s the first week of March before the shutdown:

This data suggests a roughly a one hour lag on Sunday mornings compared to Saturday mornings – ie travel volumes hold up an hour later on Saturday nights and ramp up an hour later on Sunday mornings. This pattern holds up for other weeks.

Here’s another look at relative time of day traffic volumes for March and most of April:

If you look closely (no, your eyes are not losing focus!) you can see:

  • Significant reductions after schools finished on 23 March
  • A surge in traffic on 9 April – the Thursday before Good Friday
  • Extremely quiet traffic on Good Friday (10 April)
  • Generally higher traffic on the last weekday of the week, particularly in the afternoon and evening (including during the shut down period)
  • The middle of the day being busier on (pre-shutdown) Saturdays compared to weekdays.

Have traffic impacts been different by distance from the CBD?

Here’s a chart showing year-on-year reduction in median traffic volumes at intersections by distance from the Melbourne CBD for weeks 14 and 15 (the lowest two weeks of the lock-down):

What is clear is that the central city experienced much larger traffic volume reductions than other parts of Melbourne, which makes sense as office workers stayed home, universities, cafes, restaurants and night-life closed, and (non-essential) retail activity slowed considerably.

There is some noise in the variations by distance from the CBD but I suggest not too much should be read into that as there will be various local factors at play.

Traffic signal data comes out pretty much daily, so I will try to update this analysis periodically during the recovery.