What Happened to Foot Traffic in Large U.S. Cities?

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Between 2019 and 2022, pedestrian activity decreased in all of the best 100 American metro areas, in part as a result of changes in mobility brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including commuting.

Americans are moving much less on foot.

This is perhaps the most succinct summary of a new report from the transportation data analytics firm StreetLight Data. Daily walking trips have decreased by 36 % between 2019 and 2022, according to StreetLight’s analysis of pedestrian trips in the 100 most popular U.S. metro areas.

Researchers claim that the fact that this trend coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which altered working and commuter patterns both then and now, is no accident.

During a webinar on November 9 to discuss the data, Emily Adler, director of content at StreetLight, remarked,” I will say that when I initially saw this data. ” We frequently discuss remote work, how it has affected downtowns, and the economic effects. However, I do n’t believe we discuss how it affects our overall, day-to-day experience of walking around as much.

Adler claimed that by not entering offices as regularly, walking trips to and from the bus stop, making it impossible to go for lunch. This is particularly true for remote workers who reside in non-walkable areas. When Americans went into a wholesale shutdown mode in 2020, vehicle trips during that time period fell precipitously. However, they have since recovered and are now only 4 % below pre-COVID levels.

Adler remarked,” So people might never be walking as much.”

She continued,” But they are finding reasons to drive about,” noting that this can be the case for isolated, home-based workers who might not live in areas that are accessible and need a car for perhaps brief journeys.

According to the report, every metro lost pedestrian trips during the study period, which are defined as walking trips of at least 250 meters. These losses ranged from 23 percent to 49 percent. The smallest decline in walking was seen in nine of the ten metro areas that were located in nice weather. Cities with hot weather tended to experience the slightest declines. For instance, the decline in walking activity in Sarasota, Florida, was only 23 %. Ohio’s Akron saw the biggest decline in walking, falling by almost 50 %.

The largest metropolises in the United States, New York and Los Angeles, both experienced a 30 % decline in walking trips.

We are beginning to see walking activity returning in a few specific metro areas, according to Adler, who noted that Los Angeles led the recovery in 2022 with an increase in walking of 19 %. Cities in California accounted for nine of the leading 10 increases in walking activity in 2022.

No one metro or state appears to be experiencing a level of decline that is completely irreversible, despite the fact that this data generally seems to not be moving in the direction we might want it to. According to the data from 2022, a rebound is also possible, according to Adler.

As cities develop their infrastructure and transportation policies, they will significantly rely on the types of movement data produced by businesses like StreetLight. Additionally, the data must be current and bidirectional, which may be just as crucial.

Sam Roxas, director of state and local people policy at Replica, recalled that some officials have been curious about what this new standard looks like since the COVID-19 pandemic. The transportation analytics company builds a replicated model of travel using de-identified movement data from mobile devices to learn more about travel patterns.


Viktor Musil

Victor Musil, pen name for Edouard Py, advocates for inclusive, people-centered city development. His work underscores the importance of ethical considerations and equitable access, shaping the discourse on urban innovation worldwide.

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