UCD Data Digest Digs Into Pedestrian Usage at West Philly's Clark Park

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Jul 02, 2021 10 months ago

Welcome to the July 2 2021 edition of the UCD Data Digest. In this series, we publish data and findings from our research on topics tied to transportation, jobs, real estate, crime, and more. We are always looking for opportunities to learn, grow, and collaborate. Email [email protected] to learn more.

Clark Park, spanning 9 acres between West Philly's Baltimore and Woodland Avenues and 43rd and 45th Streets, is one of the largest public green spaces in University City. It’s home to everything from Shakespeare in the Park, one of the biggest and longest-running weekly farmers markets in the city, basketball courts, the “dog bowl,” our own Movies in Clark Park series, and lots of space to sit and relax outdoors.

Over the last 15 months, public parks have become even more critical pieces of urban infrastructure, allowing people to gather outdoors and stay physically distant. At Clark Park, this was especially true in the winter months. As you can see below, average daily park usage was nearly double the prior year’s levels in October, November, and December of 2020, and January of 2021, as people seemed less concerned with the weather if it meant they could gather together during the pandemic.

Disaggregating the data to separate weekdays (Monday-Thursday) from weekends (Saturday-Sunday), we can see that most of the increase in use came during the week. Weekday usage has been higher than the prior year’s average every month since May of 2020. Usage was particularly high in the fall months, when nice weather made the park a pleasant place for remote workers (as the author can personally attest to) to set up for the day.

Weekend usage paints a slightly different picture. In the early days of the pandemic, weekend park usage was much lower than in 2019, and only began to exceed prior-year levels in the fall. This could be due to a whole range of factors – potentially including summer heat, early uncertainty about the spread of COVID in outdoor spaces, or people spreading out their park time across the week. By the fall, however, usage on weekends began to outpace prior-year levels, a trend that has continued into 2021.

What does this increased usage mean for the maintenance of parks going forward? For programming? For outdoor remote work? If park usage remains above pre-COVID levels in the coming years, cities and neighborhoods will likely need to make adjustments to public space, to accommodate more traffic, perform more frequent maintenance, and develop space for new uses. As stewards of public space, we'll continue to monitor, analyze, and share data as we move through the months ahead. 

Park usage data sourced from StreetLight Insights Pedestrian Index.