Traffic counts show regional travel decreased, transit ridership increased

The latest travel numbers are in, and likely due to the recession, they show that overall travel activity in the Delaware Valley dropped between 2005 and 2010. That’s roughly on par with the national trends, as is the region's growing transit ridership. In Philadelphia, highway travel to and from Center City fell by 9.3 percent while regional rail ridership to Center City increased by more than 15 percent.

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) shared these findings in two new travel studies: 1995 – 2010 Travel Trends in the Delaware Valley and 1980 – 2010 Travel Trends in the Philadelphia Central Business District.

Both studies are the result of DVRPC's latest traffic counting surveys.

The first study looks at automobile and transit trips in the Delaware Valley in five-year increments. The second analyzes highway traffic volume, public transit ridership and bicycle and pedestrian trips entering and leaving Philadelphia’s central business district. 

In Center City, the decline in vehicle travel can be seen on local streets. Even the busiest local street, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which has 31,657 vehicles per day (vpd), saw a 28.6 percent decline in vpd between 2005 and 2010. Vehicle travel on South Broad Street dropped 28.8 percent, from 24,575 vpd to 17,504 vpd, and Columbus Boulevard saw a 39.7 percent decrease in vehicle travel. 

While travel overall declined, public transit ridership to Center City increased by 3.2 percent between 2005 and 2010. That number was boosted by a 15.7 percent increase in regional rail trips to Center City. 

Still, 67 percent of the 1.8 million people who enter or exit Center City each weekday travel by automobile. Twenty-seven percent travel by public transit. Five percent are pedestrians, and one percent travel by bicycle. Pedestrians and cyclists represent a growing share of regional travel with 93,409 pedestrian trips and 11,438 bicycle trips to and from Center City in 2010. 

Outside of Center City, the traffic counts show declining travel activity as well.

Between 1995 and 2005, the region as a whole saw traffic increase by 19.3 percent, but with the onset of the recession in 2007, growth trends reversed. Between 2005 and 2010, highway volumes in the region fell 5.4 percent, and vehicle miles traveled decreased 4.7 percent. 

"The decrease in vehicle traffic is likely due to the recent recession," said DVRPC's Executive Directory Barry Seymour in a press release. "And we expect travel activity to pick up again as the economy recovers."

Seymour is already looking ahead to the 2015 traffic counts and said that only then, will the region be able to distinguish the changes that were due to the recession from changes that are part of longer term demographic and generational shifts in travel choice.

About the author

Christine Fisher, Transportation reporter

From 2012-2014 Christine covered transportation, writing about everything from pedestrian concerns to bicycle infrastructure, bridges, trail networks, public transit and more. Her favorite assignments sent her bushwhacking through Philadelphia’s yet-to-be-cleared bike trails, catching a glimpse of SEPTA’s inner workings or pounding the pavement to find out what pedestrians really think. Christine also covered community news for Eyes on the Street, where her work ranged from food sovereignty to public art and urban greening. She first joined PlanPhilly in fall 2011 as an intern through a partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods website. 

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