Pedestrian traffic in the city center rebounds, but office occupancy rate remains low

While pedestrian traffic for residents and visitors is experiencing a healthy recovery from its lows during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, office buildings are still particularly fairly vacant. These effects can be felt in the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries.

the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation held a discussion on Tuesday about how the city operates at this point in the pandemic when vaccines are plentiful but cases continue to fluctuate. Paul Levy, Chairman and CEO of the Downtown District; Joel dales, the deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Police Department; and Jody holton, SEPTA Deputy Director General of Planning and Strategic Initiatives, shared what they saw in their respective agencies.

The city still does not see the same number of workers, residents or visitors in its downtown area as it did before the pandemic, Levy said. Earlier this year, data based on pedestrian volumes at 20 locations in the downtown core showed daily averages increased to 103,296 people in April, from 91,574 people per day downtown in October. 2020.

In October 2021, the city center had nearly 150,000 pedestrians per day, one of the highest numbers since the start of the pandemic. But where these pedestrians spend time shows a picture.

Daily pedestrians in October 2021. (Image via CPDC)

Retail corridors along Chestnut, Walnut and Sansom Streets have seen a return to semi-normal levels with people visiting shops and restaurants, but Market Street and JFK Boulevard – where many of the downtown office buildings are – cities are grouped together – have not seen the same return. These areas receive about half of the visitors at 2019 levels.

Levy told attendees that while vaccines have enabled businesses to recall their employees to work, occupancy levels in downtown office buildings are currently around 30-40% of their pre-pandemic levels. . Prior to 2020, buildings experienced a vacancy rate of around 11%, but it’s around 18.5% today, he said.

“The ones currently in buildings are the ones who can’t work remotely,” Levy said.

Outside of the city center, in nearby areas like Northern Liberties or Queen Village, restaurants and retail stores operate at around 81% of their taxable income, indicating that people are spending their money closer to home than in the city center.

Holton said that while SEPTA’s ridership is still down from its pre-pandemic rates, it is increasing. The agency has improved its cleaning protocols and its air circulation system ensures clean air on vehicles every two to three minutes. There has been no outbreak related to ridership, and its use will play an important role in getting back to office, she said.

There are many factors at play, said Levy, but a safe return to office will play a role in the city’s economic stability as we learn to live with COVID-19.

“If you walk around downtown and take a look at the bars and restaurants, you’ll find that people aren’t afraid to be there,” Levy said. “So what’s the reluctance with the offices?” Social distancing is easy to achieve and suffice it to say that if we want a competitive city that works to reduce poverty, it’s time to bring office workers back to the office. “