Despite Drop in Loop Activity During Omicron, January CLA Report Shows Slow Recovery – Streetsblog Chicago

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chicago Loop Alliance has published monthly reports that track downtown physical and economic activity, including pedestrian counts, CTA and Metra ridership, parking volumes and occupancy of hotels and office buildings. Now, with more than 20 months of data, the jagged lines in the CLA report have become a good indicator of the collective mood during a public health crisis that has lasted longer than expected. The theme for the January 2022 report reflects conversations I’ve had over the past six weeks, like “Omicron is really disheartening but, hey, we’re better off than this time last winter.”

Since the onset of the COVID crisis in March 2020, most lines in the CLA recovery report have been gradually and steadily increasing, with a spike in the summer of 2021 when Covid infection rates were low and vaccines widely available. A blue vertical line on the graph passing through the lowest point in Covid infections marks when the city entered recovery phase 5 and activity in the loop saw a noticeable increase.

Image: Chicago Loop Alliance
Trends for various loop metrics relative to typical levels. See the full graph of parking reservations (pink line) below. Image: CLA

An outlier – and the theme of these last year’s publications – is the alarming volume of parking reservations in streets and surface lots. Throughout the pandemic, many Chicagoans have avoided trains and buses (even though studies have shown the risk of spreading COVID on public transportation is relatively low), leading to a significant increase the volume of parking in the city center compared to all the other indicators. Parking has literally exploded in the summer, hitting a “typical” pre-pandemic year-to-date high of 156% last September. It eventually fell below 100% of the 2019 baseline (“typical year”) in December, although this is likely related to the same sharp drop in office occupancy, when the highly infectious variant of Omicron caused a massive increase in cases, delayed and/or canceled return-to-office plans, and dropped what had been an encouraging improvement on nearly every metric by 20 percentage points.

Fortunately, parking reservations fell below normal levels in December.  Image: CLA
Parking reservations have remained slightly below normal levels since December. Image: CLA

The numbers rebounded quickly as Omicron dwindled. However, a record number of pedestrians at the end of January – 93% of the reference – is due to the polar vortex that took place the same week in 2019 when temperatures dropped to -14F, making the black dotted line of the “typical year” in January anything but typical. CTA ridership also rebounded, up 59% from 2019 figures, also no doubt inflated by the extreme cold of the same week of the comparison year.

Pedestrian traffic continued to increase.  Image: CLA
Pedestrian traffic continued to increase. Image: CLA

Nonetheless, 2019 was also the norm for last January’s CLA report, when pedestrian counts and CTA ridership were about 30% of the baseline. To account for the weather anomaly, the current CLA report provides an average pedestrian rate last month of 62%, nearly double that of January 2021. CTA fared worse, with a average rate of 44% in January, 17 points more than the previous one. year.

The recovery of CTA traffic has been slower.  Image: CLA
The recovery of CTA traffic has been slower. Image: CLA

It’s good to see improvement, even incremental improvement, but as COVID restrictions ease, it’s crucial that transit agencies, employers, and the city make public transit the preferred option. safest, most convenient and affordable way to get around downtown.

Amanda J. Marsh