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Loop Alliance April report shows a continued, alarming rise in downtown parking levels

April parking rates continued to be disproportionately higher than business activity and pedestrian counts compared to the same date in an average pre-pandemic year.

Since early in the pandemic, the Chicago Loop Alliance has issued monthly recovery reports which aggregate data from pedestrian counters on State Street, parking space use, office building occupancy, and member surveys to track trends in downtown economic and physical activity. Streetsblog has been following these reports, sounding the alarm on high personal vehicle use compared to low levels of workers, tourists and other visitors in the Loop. Unfortunately, the recently released April report reveals increased personal car use has continued on a distressingly steep rise, even while foot traffic and office building occupancy remained on par or below March levels.

The Loop Alliance report confirms what you would figure from observing current downtown traffic : Car congestion is at near pre-pandemic levels. Indeed, the parking space occupancy rates in the Loop in April skyrocketed to a whopping 87 percent of the same time in 2019, a 20 percent increase from the prior month, while CTA ridership bumped along at or below 40 percent of pre-pandemic levels. April pedestrian rates actually decreased slightly from March—according to the Loop Alliance, an expected trend due to cool, overcast early spring weather.

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Hotel occupancy increased slowly and steadily over the last couple months—but certainly not enough to account for all those private vehicles flooding the Loop—and office occupancy remained below 20 percent, with the bulk of white-collar employees continuing to work from home. However, BMO Harris, JP Morgan Chase, and Citadel announced that they will collectively bring 10,000 employees back to the Loop in June and July. If these commuters, plus however many more come back to work at other downtown businesses as restrictions loosen, elect to drive, the situation will become untenable fast. Add on visitors to museums, re-opening restaurants and recently announced outdoor summer festivals, and Chicago could have a full-on carmaggedon by the summer solstice.

With vaccines readily available at walk-in sites and encouraging new CDC guidelines just released, the immediate future of public transportation is, in theory, looking a brighter. But commuters and visitors must be encouraged to safely return to the Loop on CTA and Metra—as well as on foot, personal bike and Divvy, particularly in these clement months. For their part, the Chicago Loop Alliance has created a “Getting Back in the Loop” guide, with tips on safely riding public transportation and biking downtown. We hope big employers will incentive returning workers to use sustainable modes for their commutes.

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