Inauguration vs Pandemic: What Can Shut Down Washington, D.C.?

Sofia Heisler
Kuan Butts

Jan 21, 2021

Inauguration vs Pandemic: What Can Shut Down Washington, D.C.?

Sofia Heisler

Guest

Kuan Butts

Guest

Jan 21, 2021

We're barely three weeks into the (long-awaited) year 2021, and it has already been an eventful year in the US. As the national news focused first on the Capitol Riots, then the Inauguration, much of the discussion  has been centered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Using the Mapbox Movement product, a daily index of pedestrian and car traffic, we took a look at the on-the-ground impact of these events on movement in the city.

We had originally envisioned this blog post as a report on the crowds that would flood into the city and onto the National Mall to witness the inauguration. However, in-person inauguration tickets were limited to 1,000, some 0.5% of the normal number. City authorities cordoned off a sizeable chunk of downtown, turning the city's traffic maps into a level-200 game of pac-man, and it became apparent that there would be no great crowds to track. 

Road shutdowns in downtown D.C. in the week leading up to Inauguration. Source: Mapbox Traffic

And so, crowds did not flood the city, and quite the opposite happened: when we used the Mapbox Movement data to look at the past year's worth of activity, we found that the security measures around the inauguration were so effective that the National Mall, on the day before Inauguration, had only marginally less activity than at the peak of the pandemic shutdown in early April. In the depths of the COVID shut-down, the activity at the Mall fell to a bare 2.5% of activity, relative to February 1st. The day before inauguration, it was 2.9% of February’s activity index.

Activity at the National Mall compared to Downtown DC. Both series normalized to February 1, 2020. Source: Mapbox Movement data

Of course, D.C.'s overall activity levels had never recovered fully since the start of the pandemic, hovering at around 40% of the pre-COVID levels. Interesting exceptions to this included the Prayer March on September 26th, which shot the activity at the National Mall up to 100% of its "normal" pre-COVID levels; and the Capitol Riots of January 6th, which brought the activity levels at the Mall to nearly 80% of normal.

So if downtown D.C. was quiet, did the activity shift to elsewhere in the city? Well, the road closures certainly didn't improve the city's traffic. D.C. residents longing for pre-COVID times might have been comforted by the traffic at Francis Scott Key bridge, which briefly returned to 100% of its February rush-hour levels. Traffic in DuPont, though nowhere near to being back to February levels, was up nearly 50% from the pandemic average.

Activity at the National Mall compared to Downtown DC. Both series normalized to February 1, 2020. Source: Mapbox Movement data

Explore the interactive map:

Here at Mapbox, we're all looking forward to the return of normalcy. But in the meantime, if you're interested in getting other interesting insights from the Mapbox Movement data, head on over to the Movement Data page to download data, or shoot us a message, and get started today!

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