How has COVID-19 affected foot traffic in downtown Burlington? Here are the numbers.

If you’re looking for a sobering statistic that shows the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has levied to date, bookmark the following:

One in every two would-be visits to downtown Burlington … haven’t happened.

Trips to Burlington’s bustling pedestrian hub in 2020 are down by half compared to a year ago, according to data collected by Church Street Marketplace. There hasn’t been a day since March 14 that has come close to matching the traffic levels of 2019.

That is despite the pre-coronavirus period of January, February and early March — plus three months of free parking in the city as it sought to maintain stability during the pandemic.

Data was collected via cellphone trackers

The data, published as part of Burlington’s COVID-19 information dashboard, is produced by a system that pings cell phones in a given area to approximate traffic.

The Church Street Marketplace in Burlington gets a fair amount of foot traffic on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

More:Location data shows how much Vermonters have cut down on travel because of the coronavirus

The city has devices installed on lamp posts at the four main pedestrian intersections on Church Street, according to Kara Alnasrawi, the executive director of the Church Street Marketplace. They can only count people who have a phone with them, meaning it often excludes children and many of the elderly. 

While limited in scope, the data is startling in what it shows for Burlington’s busiest half-mile.

Burlington tracked more than 1.4 million visitors to Church Street in 2019. This year, averaging less than 1,900 per day, the city is on track for roughly 715,000. 

This data visualization from the city of Burlington shows average daily visits to Church Street Marketplace are down drastically since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the area in March. The top line represents 2019 while the bottom line charts the path of 2020.

How does the 2020 data compare to 2019?

Downtown most resembled a ghost town in April, the city’s data shows, after Gov. Phil Scott issued his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order in response to the pandemic.

That month, an average of 875 people traversed Burlington’s famous bricks each day — a nearly 80% drop from 2019 levels.

That trend corresponded with a jarring spike in unemployment claims in the city, according to data from the Vermont Department of Labor. Burlington’s unemployment rate went from 2.7% in March to 15.4% in April.

In more positive news, the first third of September has seen the biggest rebound with an average of 1,955 daily visitors. But that, too, is less than half of the number posted 12 months before (4,086).

Aug. 28 saw the most traffic of any day since mid-March, with more than 2,400 people visiting Church Street.

Contact Austin Danforth at 651-4851 or edanforth@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @eadanforth.

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