Chicago Loop Alliance report shows rising pedestrian activity downtown, and more driving
A new report from the Chicago Loop Alliance shows a resurgence of foot traffic downtown in the first months of 2023, an encouraging sign of vitality returning to one of many urban centers hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The bad news is more people are getting in the Loop by car than ever before.
The State of the Loop is a condensed version of monthly recovery reports CLA began issuing in July 2020, which tracked economic and physical activity in the Loop compared to pre-pandemic levels. Previous reports included line graphs comparing hotel and office occupancy levels, Metra and CTA ridership, parking volumes on surface streets and in lots, and numbers of pedestrians tallied by counters situated along State Street. The new report, issued quarterly instead of monthly, drops the comparative graph and focuses on a few highlights from the data.
The big headline is pedestrian activity, which was almost 50 percent higher than the same time last year and more than double the same period in 2021. CLA credits the swell of foot traffic to a resurgence of arts and cultural events, including the first full-scale, in-person Chicago Theater Week in years. Attendance at the Art Institute museum and the Chicago Cultural Center both rose dramatically over the last two years.
Metra also saw improvement—downtown trips steadily ticked upward, doubling since January 2022. The CLA report does not offer a 2019 benchmark—which would be significantly above current levels—but more people on trains is always good news.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that a growing number of visitors to the Loop are choosing to travel by car. Streetsblog has been following these reports and sounding the alarm on literally off-the-charts parking levels, as many folks left public transportation and bought cars out of concern about exposure to Covid-19. Though the pandemic is now waning, high car use has sadly remained. The CLA report states that parking levels reached a staggering 179 percent of the same time in 2019. Yes, nearly twice as many personal vehicles are clogging the Loop now than before the pandemic. Distressingly, this peak coincided with St. Patrick’s Day weekend, an alcohol-soaked holiday when merrymakers should be accessing the Loop via any other mode than private cars.
CTA ridership numbers are not included in the report because the agency hasn’t released data to CLA since December. But it’s no secret that the transit agency is struggling to hire bus and train operators, provide reliable service, and improve cleanliness on trains. In a recent polls, the state of the CTA was right behind crime in voter concerns leading up the mayoral election. It’s critical that public transportation, alongside business, culture, and tourism, makes a full comeback. Rising emissions, increasing traffic violence and car-choked streets are not recovery.