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Chicago’s Loop sees 63 percent drop in foot traffic due to coronavirus concerns

A new report quantifies the dramatic drop-off in activity

A view down a metal bridge leading to a dense urban street with glass and stone skyscrapers on either side. Getty Images

Amid efforts to contain the spread of novel coronavirus, the Loop seemed eerily quiet and less crowded this week. While the scenes may not be as bleak as the hypothetical Chicago ghost town created in this artist’s photography project, the downtown area has significantly changed.

Foot traffic in the Loop is down by 63 percent, according to a report from the Chicago Loop Alliance. The percentage was calculated from data collected by mechanical pedestrian counters installed in 18 Loop locations such as high-traffic intersections and the Chicago Pedway.

The drop can be attributed to the widespread adoption of work from home policies, recommendations to limit group gatherings, and the closure of the city’s schools, dine-in restaurants, and bars.

And it’s not just foot traffic that’s down due to COVID-19. Numbers released by SpotHero show a more than 43 percent drop in demand for Chicago off-street parking spots compared to the previous week. Meanwhile, mobility research firm INRIX saw Chicago’s notoriously slow rush hour travel speeds surge due to fewer cars on the road. Automobile commuters moved 70 percent faster than usual on Wednesday morning.

“We think it’s important to connect data to these assumptions, and we will continue to monitor pedestrian counts and act as a resource,” said Michael Edwards, president and CEO of Chicago Loop Alliance, in a statement. Edwards added that he expects numbers to decrease further as more businesses and individuals heed the advice of public officials and healthcare professionals to stay home and practice social distancing.

Historically, the Loop hasn’t experienced too many economic challenges due to its strong central business district and thriving tourism industry. The impact of COVID-19 could change that.

“It’s not often you hear that the Loop is suffering the brunt of a bad situation,” Edwards says. “But in this case, the area with a relatively low residential population and a very high worker population is really going to suffer.”