Rush hour decline
In 2020, the city’s development-related right of way permits increased by 6.5% compared to 2019.
The school year usually increases morning trac, but Aug. 2021 is well below the week of Feb. 2, 2020, the transportation department’s pre-pandemic baseline.
Temporary use of ROW permits
Driveway/ sidewalk permits
Week of Aug. 15, 2021
Week of Aug. 22, 2021
Week of Aug. 8, 2021
Back-to-school trac has picked up slower than the Austin Transportation Department projected.
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SOURCE: AUSTIN TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENTCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
Austin trac remains belowpre-pandemic levels after school starts
BY BENTON GRAHAM & TRENT THOMPSON
Additionally, AISD shifted to allow for students too young to receive a vaccine, kindergarten through sixth grade, to attend classes virtually. According to the district, 4.6% of AISD’s student body decided to attend school virtually this fall. “SINCE THE PANDEMIC, EVEN AS TRAFFIC COMES BACK, IT’S BEEN A LOT MORE FLAT OF A CURVE, LIKE NOT AS MUCH PEAKING AND MORE SPREAD OUT.”
That dip in peak rush-hour trac had the unintended eect of giving construction crews more time to work on road and development projects throughout the city, due to the city allowing more construction during peak times. In 2020, the city’s development-related right of way permits increased by 6.5% compared to 2019. The 4,200 active daily permits in August 2021 also exceeded pre-pandemic gures, which typically sat around 3,000. Typically, the transportation department prohibits temporary lane closures on heavily tracked roads during peak hours, such as from 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. However, fromMarch 2020 to Aug. 9, 2021, the program was suspended due to the reduced trac, giving some crews four more hours to work on projects. Even though trac has not increased to pre- pandemic levels, the open road hours are still in eect. ”We can say anecdotally we had a number of customers report to us that being able to work during typical open road hours prior to May of 2021 really allowed them to accelerate their construction schedules. But it’s just business as usual now,” said Paloma Amayo-Ryan, programmanager with the city’s transportation department.
The Austin Transportation Department prepared for trac to increase as schools in the Austin area welcomed students back to in-person learning, but that surge never materialized. “In the early summer, we were starting to see an increase of a few percent a month, volumes coming back,” said Jen Duthie, managing engineer of the transportation department’s arterial management division. “We were thinking by the fall, we would be back to typical trac conditions.” That is because when classes return to session, Austin morning trac typically sees a 10% increase, Duthie added. However, ATD data from August shows that, despite a minor increase, trac peaks have not fully returned. During the week of Aug. 22, overall trac volume was down 11% and the morning peak down 20% compared to the week of Feb. 2, 2020, the department’s pre-pandemic baseline. Some of the largest schools in Austin began classes in mid- to late August, including Austin ISD on Aug. 17, Austin Community College on Aug. 23 and the University of Texas on Aug. 25. Duthie said the lack of trac peaks could be a result of COVID-19 cases surging due to the delta variant or simply more people working from home than prior to the pandemic.
JEN DUTHIE, MANAGING ENGINEER OF THE AUSTIN TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT’S ARTERIAL MANAGEMENT DIVISION
Duthie also said that trac patterns in general have attened since the start of the pandemic. “Typical conditions pre-pandemic were we would see a morning peak in trac and an afternoon or evening peak in trac,” Duthie said. “Since the pandemic, even as trac comes back, it’s been a lot more at of a curve, like not as much peaking and more spread out.”
CENTRAL AUSTIN EDITION • SEPTEMBER 2021
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