Researchers have used smart city technology to reveal how social distancing has changed people and vehicle movement in a city.
To understand if social distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 are effective, we need to assess how far they are being followed, explained Professor Phil James and Dr Ronnie Das from Newcastle University in an article for The Conversation.
The Newcastle University Urban Observatory was established to better understand the dynamics of movement in a city. It makes use of thousands of sensors and data sharing agreements to monitor movement around the city, from traffic and pedestrian flow to congestion, car park occupancy and bus GPS trackers. It also monitors energy consumption, air quality, climate and other variables.
Focusing on the impact of social distancing, a team at the Newcastle University Urban Observatory analysed over 1.8 billion individual pieces of observational data, as well as other data sources, with deep learning algorithms.
They found that:
- Pedestrian movement in Newcastle has reduced by 95% when compared to the annual average. This shows that people have been following government guidelines closely. However, the biggest decrease in footfall only came after strict regulations were introduced on 23 March.
- In terms of vehicle movement, traffic reduced at a much slower pace to about 50% of the annual average early in the first week of lockdown. This may be due to people shifting to using cars rather than public transport, the researchers said.
The team also produced models that can measure the distance between pedestrians in public places – identifying bottlenecks where social distancing cannot be maintained.
Observational infrastructure developed through technology may lie at the heart of future crisis management responses, the authors said.
They concluded: “Our analysis of the current situation presents an opportunity to be better prepared for the next crisis, or to quantify the impacts of large-scale social change.”
The next decade will see a transformation in how we live, work and travel in cities. For an insight into how smart tech will change the face of the built environment, read Osborne Clarke’s report Future Proof Real Estate: Is the property sector ready for the 2020s?