Foot traffic steps up in downtown Eugene

Foot traffic steps up in downtown Eugene »Play Video
Click, click, click: 4 times per year for 15 minutes, you are being counted

EUGENE, Ore. – One, two, three, four, five.

Click, Click, Click.

For 15 minutes, four times a year since 2011, Eugene city planners have volunteered to count the number of pedestrians walking through downtown at 12 different locations.

Nan Laurence, Urban Development Project Manager, said pedestrian counts are a way to determine how many people are downtown and to measure downtown activity and vitality.

Over time, she said, the numbers can help measure the impact of new development and revitalization efforts.

“We’re trying to have our downtown completely pedestrian friendly,” Laurence says. “It is really a showcase in the community of what it’s like to create a walk-able, accessible, inviting downtown.”

Laurence said there are two elements to the study:

1. What’s tangible: the simple count of pedestrians

2. The intangible: what can Eugene do to increase the number of pedestrians walking downtown

“The stronger that we can make our downtown, the more vibrant and the more pedestrian friendly it is,” she said. “It has a direct connection to the entire prosperity of our region.”

Pedestrian counts aren’t new. In fact, the city has been keeping track somewhat since the late 1980s.

Laura Hammond, Community Development Coordinator, said the division has consistently conducted these quarterly counts since 2011.

Since 2011, the downtown core has seen an overall 11 percent increase in visitors.

Between December 2013 and the most recent count on March 18, 2014, there was a 24 percent increase in pedestrian usage.

Hammond said weather is a factor in the counts, but between the winter counts of 2011 to 2013, there too, was about a 25 percent increase.

Broadway, Willamette, 8th and 5th are generally the most popular corridors.

“We need to cluster activities along those streets, and then that activity will actually benefit and spill out to the smaller streets,” Laurence said.

A number of city projects like improving downtown lighting, widening sidewalks and opening of new businesses are attracting more people, she said.

The study can help bring in new businesses and shows them parts of town that have more foot-traffic, Laurence said.

“When a new retail establishment is thinking about locating downtown, we can tell them how many pedestrians walk by that
storefront,” Laurence said. “We can also use that as an indicator to say when that storefront goes in, what happened? Did their business increase nearby counts?”

Long term, Laurence said the city may be able to charge businesses more if they sit on a popular block.

A volunteer herself, she said the city goes beyond the count.

“It’s not just the walking. I’m also paying attention to the speed of walking because when people begin to stroll downtown, it’s an indication of how comfortable people feel.”

She said the more comfortable people are, the more likely they will stay downtown longer, shop, eat and enjoy the downtown environment.

“That’s what we want,” Laurence said. "People from all over Eugene and Springfield to feel comfortable and drawn to downtown on a regular basis for a variety of activities.”