UCD Data Digest: The Steady Return of Pedestrian Traffic in University City

UCD Data Digest graphic header
Jun 10, 2022 2 years ago

With summer rapidly approaching, students are heading home for a few months' break, and many of us who work in University City offices are settling into new hybrid work schedules. This has an impact on how we get around the neighborhood, so this month we are revisiting our transit recovery statistics. 

Back in the fall, we were thrilled to see foot traffic around the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University return to their pre-pandemic volumes. The recent months have been no different, with pedestrians continuing to be out and about enjoying the springtime weather. 


To get an idea of pedestrian traffic outside campus hubs, we also started tracking foot traffic at 36th and Market, the heart of uCity Square and home to several life sciences start-ups, office buildings, and medical offices. Just like we see on campus, foot traffic has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels, starting in the fall of 2021, and continuing into this spring. 


For those who prefer four wheels over two feet, commuter vehicle traffic remains well below the 2019 average. While it may not seem like it when sitting in traffic, we continue to see fewer cars on average coming into the district each day. This spring, traffic volumes have hovered around 65% of previous averages. 


One of the factors leading to reduced car traffic is hybrid work schedules, which currently remain the norm for many white-collar workers. To examine the impact of these patterns, we looked at the Market Street corridor between 34th and 38th streets – the main bi-directional route across University City. Beginning in the late summer of 2021, we can see a huge spike in traffic volumes on Wednesdays compared to other days of the week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are also busier days. Unsurprisingly, Mondays and Fridays are the days with the least amount of commuter traffic along Market Street.

Another way to look at the shift to hybrid work is to compare daily traffic volumes by year. While Wednesdays rank as the busiest days both now and before the pandemic, the 2022 daily averages for Tuesday and Thursday traffic are the closest to pre-COVID levels, at 78% on Tuesday and 76% on Thursday. Fridays and Mondays are at only 68%. 

Finally, we will look at SEPTA ridership on some key University City routes. We have found that ridership on these routes remains at just 50% of the 2019 baseline. Trolley Routes 10 and 34 recovered more quickly early in 2020 but have only seen nominal increases in ridership since the fall of 2021. The El has fared slightly better, but remains at less than half of its prior ridership. As more and more people do come back to offices, it will become critical to encourage commuters to choose public transportation over single-occupancy vehicles, to mitigate congestion and emissions. 

What does this all mean for University City? The most encouraging statistics show that people are out and about walking the streets. This is great news for restaurants, shops, general public safety, and neighborhood engagement. As new commuting patterns emerge with hybrid schedules, some adjustments may be needed to cater to the peak “in office” days. As an example, some restaurants are remaining closed on Mondays. While it’s concerning that ridership on public transit remains low, we hope that encouragement from big employers such as the SEPTA Institutional Pass Program, along with continued commitments to cleaning and safety, will help to encourage commuters to return to buses, trolleys, trains, and subways, and avoid adding additional too much traffic to a busy, vibrant neighborhood.