Travel was clearly a thing of the past for many Floridians in March. A year-over-year analysis showed a 47.5% decline in travel on Florida’s roads, both rural and urban.
Traffic declined after businesses were ordered to close and as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased, said a traffic data study published on Wednesday. Researchers from four institutions — Florida Atlantic University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Louisiana State University and the University of Hawaii — analyzed data from the Florida Department of Transportation. Researches compared same-day traffic numbers for March 22, 2019, and March 22, 2020.
“Whether the reduction in travel demand was attributable to the closure of activities and trip generators or a function of increased fear arising from the increased lethality of COVID-19 requires further exploration,” said John Renne in the report. Renne is the director of FAU’s Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions.
Researchers pondered why activity differed on rural versus urban roads throughout March 2020. They found between a million vehicles traveling daily on rural roads, with activity dipping by March 20. The numbers fluctuated on urban roads — falling and rising throughout the month — from about five million vehicles in early March, then high volumes up to seven million and then a low of just under three million.
“It would be interesting to determine if starting some of the actions earlier, such as closing restaurants and bars, would have resulted in steeper increases in trip reduction. Clearly there was a lag between urban and rural areas and more investigation into reasons and motivations for the slower reaction is warranted. This knowledge could be useful in messaging, especially if the protective action decision-making is transferable to other hazards and threats,” Renne said in the study.
The temporary closings early on hurt many business owners in South Florida. Some are voluntarily closing again after reopening — to curb the renewed spread of the virus. Amid increasing COVID-19 cases, locals are now required to wear a face mask in public in Miami-Dade and Broward.