Vancouverites returning downtown at highest rate in 10 months

Foot traffic still trailing pre-pandemic levels, according to Avison Young data

Foot traffic in downtown Vancouver is at its highest level in all of 2022, according to data from Avison Young | Chung Chow, BIV

Vancouverites are returning to the city’s downtown office towers, restaurants and bars at the highest rate in nearly a year, according to new data from Avison Young (Canada) Inc.

But even with restrictions over mask-wearing and vaccine cards lifting over the past few weeks, foot traffic in the downtown core is still drastically trailing pre-pandemic levels.

Avison Young’s downtown “vitality index” shows foot traffic the week of April 11 is up 6.4 per cent compared with a week earlier – the highest level it’s been all year and the highest level it’s been since the week of June 21, 2021.

Despite the gains, foot traffic is still down 57.4 per cent compared with the week of March 2, 2020, just prior to the pandemic, when thousands of workers either began working remotely or else were laid off from mainly service industry jobs.

The vitality index uses anonymized cellphone location data to measure foot traffic based on city as well as industry.

At least 29 street-level businesses have closed on Granville Street since 2020 as of this past February, according to Nolan Marshall III, CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.

“Our populations downtown during the week are not where we’d like them to be or where we hope they are in the future,” he told BIV earlier this year.

Even with the sizeable loss of foot traffic compared with pre-pandemic levels, Vancouver’s downtown is the sixth busiest among two dozen North American cities analyzed. 

Foot traffic in No. 2 Edmonton (-40.9 per cent) and No. 5 Calgary (-50.7 per cent) is outpacing Vancouver, while Toronto ranks No. 21 (-73.3 per cent). 

An Avison Young spokeswoman told BIV three main factors are driving the pace of return-to-office efforts: reliance on mass transit, length of stay-at-home measures imposed by provincial governments and the types of industries centred in any given city’s downtown core.

“Real estate, construction, professional services have been quicker to return to office,” Andrea Zviedris said in an email. 

“Tech and banking have been quicker to go remote.”