5 minute read time
June 12, 2020

On March 11, the downtown cores of Canada’s largest cities were packed with people going to work, grabbing a bite to eat and hitting the shops on their way home.

On March 12, concerned about the school closures and an announcement from the World Health Organization that COVID-19 was officially a pandemic, many stayed home.

By March 21, once bustling centres stood silent.

In the wake of COVID-19, Canada’s busiest office and retail hubs have seen unprecedented drops in foot traffic, as employees work from home and avoid leaving their houses for non-essential errands. As the Canadian economy gradually begins to reopen, it’s worth watching how activity in these once high-traffic areas changes.

Let’s take a look at how radically these areas changed in the past few months.

Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto

 

Nestled between the Eaton Centre, one of the city’s most popular movie theatres and Yonge St shopping, Yonge-Dundas Square is reliably one of Toronto’s busiest intersections.

Or at least, it was.

From the beginning of the year to March 1, the square saw thousands of visitors per day, flowing through the intersection of Yonge and Dundas and making their way to events in the public square.

Those numbers started to fall on March 12 and have stayed at record lows ever since. From March 21 to May 31, there was a 84% decrease in foot traffic.

 

Yonge and Dundas - Foot traffic vs. Covid-19 Cases
Notes: 100 = Average Foot Traffic Volume (Annually indexed); Foot traffic is rolling 7 day averages; Foot traffic data is from Uber Media; COVID-19 data is from Government of Ontario; ontario.ca View larger imageResize

 

Yonge and Dundas - Heatmap View larger imageResize

 

Robson and Thurlow St, Vancouver

 

Robson St is one of Vancouver’s premier shopping destinations.

From January 1 to March 12, the area saw thousands of visitors a day.

As of March 12, that began to fall. From March 21 to May 31 the area saw foot traffic decrease by 71%.

 

Robson Street - Foot traffic vs. Covid-19 Cases
Notes: 100 = Average Foot Traffic Volume (Annually indexed); Foot traffic is rolling 7 day averages; Foot traffic data is from Uber Media; COVID-19 data is from British Columbia Centre for Disease Control View larger imageResize

 

Robson Street - Heatmap
View larger imageResize

 

Rue Sainte-Catherine Shopping District, Montreal

 

Montreal’s Rue Sainte-Catherine Shopping District had high levels of foot traffic from January 1 to March 12, 2020.

The map shows an area defined by dense traffic, almost completely red.

From March 21 to May 31, foot traffic dropped a whopping 88%.

 

St. Catherine Street - Foot traffic vs. Covid-19 Cases
Notes: 100 = Average Foot Traffic Volume (Annually indexed); Foot traffic is rolling 7 day averages; Foot traffic data is from Uber Media; COVID-19 data is from Government of Canada Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) Outbreak update, quebec.ca View larger imageResize

 

St. Catherine Street - Heatmap
View larger imageResize

 

Reopening Canadian Cities

 

What can these maps teach us about our cities, and what might they look like once restrictions are lifted?

For one, even as workers begin to slowly return to downtown cores, we’re unlikely to see the same level of density that was present during the first few months of the year.

Many offices and businesses are considering operating at a much lower capacity in order to maintain physical distancing and secure the health of their employees. That means a sizeable part of their workforce will continue to work from home, away from the central hubs they used to frequent.

Those same workers will also likely be cautious about entering stores, while restaurant density is likely to be limited for the foreseeable future. While nothing is for certain, we are almost certainly many months away from seeing crowded city centres like we used to.

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