Dec 8, 2021 - News

COVID's effect on downtown Austin traffic persists

Businesses boarded up in Austin in July 2020.
Downtown businesses in Austin boarded up in July 2020. Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Visits to downtown Austin still lag since the pandemic began, a sign that COVID-19 continues to shape when, where and how people move, per new data.

Driving the news: Downtown trips to Austin this fall were down 21% compared to February 2020.

The big picture: Traffic congestion is returning to many U.S. cities, but has yet to match pre-pandemic levels, according to new data from INRIX, a mobility research firm.

  • One reason: People aren't making as many trips downtown, in part because many employees continued to work remotely.

The good news: Austinites are spending a lot less time stuck in traffic.

  • The average local driver lost 32 hours to congestion this year — worse than the 19 in 2020, when traffic was light — but down from the 69 hours typical in 2019.

Flashback: We've reported how downtown Austin is making a recovery.

  • The number of businesses operating downtown has increased by more than 60 between February and October.
  • And taxable alcohol sales are increasing at downtown restaurants, bars and entertainment venues after falling 99% year over year in April 2020.

Nationwide, downtown trips have decreased 22% compared to pre-COVID levels.

Data: INRIX; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
Data: INRIX; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
  • Houston's downtown trips are off 25%; Dallas', 32%; and San Antonio's, 5%.
  • Of note: The data includes trips downtown for sporting events, shows and restaurants, not just work commutes.

Oddly: Austin's I-35 was not on the list of top 25 worst U.S. corridors in the INRIX report.

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