Has CBD pedestrian activity in Melbourne recovered since Covid-19?

Has CBD pedestrian activity in Melbourne recovered since Covid-19?

Researchers at RMIT and UTAS are exploring pedestrian counts in the City of Melbourne to assess Covid-19 activity recovery in their recent working paper titled “Mapping local economic recovery paths using pedestrian counts. A City of Melbourne Case Study”*. Like many cities around the world, the City of Melbourne has sensors located throughout the CBD which count, in real-time, the volume of pedestrians.

The City of Melbourne is different however from many other cities - it is one of a few cities around the world with a well-developed automated pedestrian counting system established as early as 2009 (Sydney for example only started trailing pedestrian sensors in 2020) that can be freely accessed. The sensors are positioned in high transit areas in the city; the busiest location is Melbourne Central which is near one of the busiest train stations and in close proximity to the centre of Melbourne’s CBD with an average pedestrian volume of 1,087 per hour.

Between 2010-2019, there is a positive trend in pedestrian traffic, with increasing number of pedestrians across all days of the week except Sundays. The data illustrates changing patterns of footfall and other major events in the city. Researchers explore how city activity reflected in pedestrian patterns have changed after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Comparing the last full year prior to Covid-19 (2019) to the first year clear of major restrictions (2022), the researchers observe that pedestrian counts in 2022 are back to only about 70% of the 2019 figures, on average. Weekday traffic in general is still significantly down compared to what it would have been if the pandemic (and its policies) had not occurred. On average, pedestrian counts on weekdays (Monday-Friday) in 2022 are back to only about 59% of the 2019 figures. Friday and Monday, unsurprisingly, are the furthest away from being ‘normal’, unlikely to return to pre-Covid-19 levels for another six years according to researchers’ estimations. Tuesday in contrast to Monday and Friday could be back on trend within four years. Moreover, researchers observe a change in the least busy day from Sunday to Monday (post-Covid-19) - indicatively illustrating a change in working week-related engagement patterns. 

Weekend traffic has returned to trend and may even exceed trend values on current estimates. Weekend pedestrian counts (Saturday-Sunday) in 2022 are back to about 92% of the 2019 figures. The busiest times of the week of 8-9am, 12-2pm, and 4-6pm in 2022 are back to only about 45%, 65%, and 62%, respectively, of the numbers in 2019, indicating a very low (high) return to work (work from home) figures. In comparison, the evening (8pm to midnight) and early hours after midnight (until 4am) which are generally associated with nightlife and entertainment times, are back to about 89% and 95% respectively.

Whilst Saturdays and Sunday, and evening traffic appears to have recovered – researchers expect that they are insufficient to compensate for the decrease in worker traffic during week hours in week days.   

Recovery for cities and regions may be a long and difficult process, and detailed micro data, such as pedestrian data, will provide timely information to enable more effective interventions to support regions’ residents and businesses in their recovery. Moreover, pedestrian counts, available in real-time at high frequencies, can provide an opportunity to gauge real-time and forecast patterns in local level economic activity, providing valuable insight to local councils and urban planning.


* Link to paper - “Mapping local economic recovery paths using pedestrian counts.  A City of Melbourne Case Study”.  



Maria Yanotti (Economics, University of Tasmania), Ashton DeSilva (Economics, RMIT College of Business and Law), Sveta Angelopoulos (Economics, RMIT College of Business and Law), Sarah Sinclair (Economics, RMIT College of Business and Law), Yonatan Navon (Economics, RMIT College of Business and Law)

07 June 2023


07 June 2023


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.