UCD Data Digest: Dipping Into Vehicular and Pedestrian Numbers

A graphic depicting the logo for the UCD Data Digest
Aug 02, 2021 2 years ago

Welcome to the July 30th 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.


The summer months of 2021 have been a story of ups and downs for the economy. The easing of restrictions has allowed restaurants and stores to open at full capacity, but some have struggled to hire a full staff. Robust travel numbers have boosted forecasts for the hospitality industry, but consumers have faced shortages of rental cars in most destinations. And in University City, people are commuting into the district more frequently than earlier in the pandemic, but rates remain significantly below pre-COVID levels. In this edition of the Data Digest, we’re digging into different types of commuting in our district.


Car traffic into UCD during the peak morning commute hours of 6 AM – 10 AM remains just over half of its pre-COVID baseline. After topping out at 72% of pre-pandemic levels in the fall of 2020, June 2021 averages were at their lowest point in the past year. This is likely due to workers and students at the universities ceasing to commute into the district for the summer, plus people taking summer vacations once restrictions eased enough. Whatever the root cause, the real test for auto commuting traffic will come this fall, when the universities reopen fully, and many employers expect a “return to work” in some capacity.



But there are other ways to get around University City. We examine commute methods each year when we publish our annual State of University City publication and frequently tout our neighborhood's status as both a walker and biking "paradise" according to metrics established by WalkScore.com. The number of people out and about on foot in UCD is also not quite back to pre-pandemic volume, but it’s much closer to pre-COVID levels. What has changed, though, is the type of trips.



Before COVID, the largest share of pedestrian trips in the district was “Non-Home Based,” meaning they did not start or end at one's home. An example of a “Non-Home-Based” trip would be running out to grab food during a lunch break, or walking to the store after work. Once COVID lockdowns began, the share of those “Non-Home Based” trips fell by about 10%, while “Home Based – Other” trips jumped by nearly 10%. These “Home-Based Other” trips include things like going from home to the grocery store, and the numbers suggest that people did less “running around” in the neighborhood once COVID lockdowns began. The final category “Home – Work,” includes daily commuting. What’s interesting here is that levels have mostly stayed the same, despite lockdowns and restrictions easing in recent months, potentially indicating that travel patterns formed during the past year are sticking to some extent.



If we disaggregate the data on pedestrian commuters (home-work trips), we find an interesting pattern emerging. Before COVID, most pedestrian commuters (around 45% of the total) were considered low-income, defined as those earning up to $35,000 annually. Middle income ($35,001 - $100,000 annual income) commuters made up about 37% of the total, while high income (over $100,000 per year) pedestrian commuters made up the remaining 18%.


Once the pandemic struck in the spring of 2020, the share of pedestrian commuters shifted significantly. Those in the lowest bracket suddenly made up more than half of total pedestrian commuters, while those with incomes above $100,000 fell to a low of just 12.6%. This likely reflects that many of the roles filled by what we now know as “essential workers” are low wage, and in-person work in the early days of the pandemic was performed mostly by workers earning low wages. Gradually, this has begun to shift back to its pre-pandemic level and is now within 1-2 percentage points of its pre-COVID baseline.



Whether these trends continue as more people return to office settings remains to be seen. At UCD, we work with outside agencies to improve all manners of transportation within our neighborhood, including collaborations with: Indego to research and recommend stations for their bike share program; SEPTA to develop new public transit routes to serve the community; with local transportation agencies through our Transit Management Association (TMA) to study vehicular traffic; or with the Streets Department to develop and install pedestrian plazas to make walking through our neighborhood more safe and pleasant. We remain dedicated to this type of work as patterns and trends shift.


About the Data: All data is sourced from StreetLight Insights Stl index.