Outside Boston, Cellphone Data Suggests A Biking and Walking Boom
Cellphone data confirm that Bay Staters are walking and biking considerably more this year compared to 2019 – just not in Boston or its immediate surroundings.
MassDOT has published a new “data dashboard” to illustrate traffic and travel trends since March, and while large declines in transit ridership and highway traffic volumes are getting the most attention, the data also reveal significant shifts in walking and bicycling activity across the state, with distinctive regional patterns.
These walking and bicycling data come from Streetlight, a data broker that collects and interprets anonymized location data from cellphones.
Here, for instance, is the map of bicycling activity in September 2020 compared to September 2019:
More urban municipalities around Boston saw considerable declines in bike traffic between 2019 and 2020 – likely due to a plunge in bike commuting trips and the closure of major college campuses (in western Massachusetts, Springfield, Amherst, and Williamsburg also saw a large dip in bike activity).
But suburbs and small towns – especially along the South Shore and in central Massachusetts – generally saw strong increases in bicycling activity. Streetlight estimates that biking activity increased by 99 percent in Wareham, by 154 percent in Attleboro, and 57 percent in Saugus.
Pedestrian activity across the Commonwealth saw much stronger growth in 2020 compared to 2019, albeit with similar geographical patterns:
Again, with the exception of college towns like Cambridge (down 27 percent) and Amherst (down 57 percent), almost every municipality in the state had considerably more pedestrian activity in September 2020 than in 2019.
Two other notable exceptions in this map: the central Massachusetts town of Brimfield, where Streetlight registered 51 percent less foot traffic this September than in September 2019, and the Pioneer Valley suburb of West Springfield, where foot traffic was down by over 80 percent.
That could be because Brimfield is home to the massive Brimfield Flea Market, and West Springfield hosts the Eastern States Exposition – major events that were both cancelled this year.