Philly’s COVID recovery

Philly on the rebound: Over 100k people walked through Center City last week

The numbers bode well for businesses in the heart of the city after a rough year.

A line outside the Liberty Bell in late March 2021

A line outside the Liberty Bell in late March 2021

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
michaelawinberg-2020-2

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The ultimate sign the city is inching its way back to pre-pandemic life? Philadelphians are walking around Center City again.

During the first week of April, the Center City District counted 103,300 people strolling or hustling through the city’s central core, according to data from spokesperson JoAnn Loviglio, meaning an average of about 14k people touched Center City sidewalk each day.

The count is higher than any week last year, including pre-pandemic months, according to CCD staff.

It appears the end of a quarantine winter is a powerful incentive. The number of people walking through central Philly has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the year, with a jump in March as the weather started to warm. The 103k+ Philadelphians in Center City last week is 3% more than the prior week, and up 42% compared to the beginning of last month.

How does the CCD even know this? Fun fact: The organization has 20 cameras set up around Center City.

These cameras record 24/7, all the way from JFK to Locust, 8th to 18th streets. They’re paired with technology that can recognize the shape of a person and then tally the number of people that pass through the view.

(FYI: The cameras aren’t meant for security, so the footage isn’t preserved, CCD staff says — just counted and then deleted.)

The March numbers bode well for businesses in the heart of the city after a rough year. Center City lost 88% of its foot traffic at the onset of the pandemic, which was catastrophic for retail shops. A February survey of 554 retailers found that by the end of 2020, 5% had shut down permanently. But there’s reason for optimism: the same survey showed Center City’s retail employment in December was higher than last January.

The district’s latest monthly footage analysis isn’t fully ready, said Loviglio, but she did reveal a few other interesting data points.

Most popular spot in March 2021? The corner of 16th and Chestnut — with an average of nearly 15,800 people passing by every weekend, and over 13,500 on weekdays.

Many people walk by the 1200 block of Market, too: more than 11k people passed by on both weekdays and weekends. Least popular was the 1700 block of JFK, with an average of 1,860 people visiting each weekend and 2,770 people there during the week.

The cameras are catching people at the following Center City spots:

  • Two on JFK between 17th and 18th
  • Two on Market between 8th and 9th
  • Two on Market between 12th and 13th
  • Two on Market between 16th and 17th
  • Two on Walnut between 12th and 13th
  • Two on Walnut at 17th and 18th
  • Two on Chestnut between 11th and 12th
  • Four on Chestnut between 15th and 18th
  • Two around 13th and Sansom

At this point, with many Philadelphians and suburb-dwellers still working from home, most Center City blocks see much more foot traffic on the weekends, with the peak around 3 p.m. Tourism is returning, and there have been steadily long lines at attractions like the Liberty Bell in Old City.

Though there’s been a big rise compared to last year, it’s still way below pre-pandemic numbers.

Back in March 2019, almost every intersection with cameras saw more people come through on the weekdays. The peak travel times corresponded with the traditional work day — with surges in pedestrians around 8 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m.

The most popular block now, 16th and Chestnut, was also the most highly frequented two years ago, but with many more people. There were 92% more people passing by each weekday, and 57% more on the weekends.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s COVID recovery stories.

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