Nov 2, 2023 - News

Downtown Austin foot traffic lags behind pre-pandemic levels

Downtown foot traffic recovery, spring 2023
Data: University of Toronto; Note: Downtown defined as the central location with the highest concentration of employment in each metro area; Chart: Axios Visuals

Foot traffic downtown remains roughly three-quarters of what it was in 2019, according to University of Toronto researchers tracking how cities are emerging from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By the numbers: Austin ranks 31 out of more than 50 major U.S. cities in terms of post-pandemic downtown recovery, with a nearly 73% recovery rate.

  • That's based on the number of downtown visitors in March through mid-June 2023, as compared to the same time period in 2019.

Why it matters: The pandemic reshaped the way we work and when residents head downtown.

Zoom in: Office vacancy rates in Austin have continued to impact the city's downtown recovery as companies change their move-in plans.

What they're saying: "The extreme heat in Central Texas during the summer months was a strong motivating factor for employees to work from home," the Downtown Austin Alliance report found. "With the approaching holiday seasons, we anticipate employee turnout to further decrease in the coming months."

Between the lines: University of Toronto researchers shifted their methodology for tracking downtown visitors for the latest report.

  • Most crucially, the researchers changed how they define "downtown." They used to define it by ZIP codes with the highest job density but now do so by broader areas with the highest concentration of jobs.
  • They also shifted from using two location data sources to one (these analyses are based on anonymized mobile device location data) and looked at a slightly more current time frame as compared to their last update.
  • The methodology shift moved Austin's ranking from 37 to 31.

Our thought bubble: Nowadays most of us are drinking, dining out and socializing like we were before COVID-19 — but the rise of remote work during the pandemic continues to reverberate in how we use our downtowns.


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