Articles / Driver safety

COVID Traffic Patterns Mean Drivers Need to Be Alert in New Ways

By Aviva Canada on


The world—and our roadways—are not what they once were.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, municipalities across Canada have observed reduced traffic and public transit volumes, increased speeding offenses and the need to create more public space for people to walk, cycle, run and play—in a socially distanced way.

We’ve seen cities respond in interesting ways:

  • In Winnipeg, several streets are now bicycle and “active transportation” routes during designated hours.
  • Halifax has installed a series of “slow streets” aimed to reduce vehicle traffic and has extended sidewalks to promote physical distancing.
  • In Saskatoon, a new bylaw has been introduced that allows children under age 13 to ride their bikes on sidewalks.
  • Several B.C. cities have closed vehicle access to some roadways to allow for more room for cyclists and pedestrians, and are also looking to create up to 50 km of slow streets.
  • Toronto introduced ActiveTO, a robust program that created 62 km of temporary traffic calming measures on neighbourhood streets, imposed weekend closures of three main arteries to alleviate trail congestion, and added 24 kilometres of protected bikeways on city streets.

“Toronto Public Health and Transportation Services were asked to think about what living with COVID-19 looks like,” said Becky Katz, the City of Toronto’s cycling and pedestrian manager, in a recent conversation with Aviva.


Becky went on to comment, “The number of people biking and walking on the road is higher than what it would be pre-COVID. Our cycling volumes are at 172 per cent on the weekends compared to the same time last year. We’re working to create solutions that take into consideration the safety of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.”

Traffic patterns show a decrease in driving, transit use

Canadian passenger car trip count is at 90% of pre-COVID levels. However, dense urban cities have seen a decline in traffic volumes. Additional municipal traffic flow data shows that traffic volumes in Vancouver are at 74 per cent. And Miovision cameras in downtown Toronto show that traffic volumes are at about 65 per cent of pre-COVID times.

With more people working from home, many Canadians are using roadways more for leisure pursuits. A Canadian Google Mobility Report in late August found a 137 per cent increase in mobility for places like national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks and public gardens.How can municipalities ensure road safety in new reality?

With traffic patterns changing, including the increase in cyclists and pedestrians using roadways, municipalities may need to consider changes.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) recently announced City Limits, a new framework to set safe speed limits on city streets that provides an alternative to percentile-based speed limit setting.

Their recommendations include:

  • Setting default speed limits on many streets at once.
  • Designating slow zones in sensitive areas where there is high traffic volumes and other road users.
  • Setting corridor speed limits on high priority major streets, using a safe speed study, which uses conflict density and activity level to set context-appropriate speed limits.

How should you navigate roadways with more cyclists and pedestrians?

Make yourself aware of any changes to your city streets and adjust your habits accordingly:

  • Consider a different route to avoid ‘safe streets’ initiatives.
  • Stay alert for sudden movements, especially in areas where there may be children at play.
  • Share the road with cyclists responsibly—here are some helpful tips.
  • Reduce your speed and obey all limits.

Aviva’s commitment

The way we use our roadways will evolve along with Canada’s response to the pandemic. Throughout it all, Aviva’s Take Back Our Roads will continue to rally for change. We are using data to help our partners develop innovative initiatives aimed at reducing serious injuries and fatalities on Canada’s roads.  In addition, we are supporting on-the-ground community projects to address road safety problems.

Stay up to date with ideas, tips and tactics to making safer roads a reality. Learn more here.


The content in this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as professional or expert advice