Melbourne CBD bounces back after lockdown lifted, pedestrian data shows


Melbourne bounced back to life after months of lockdown on Wednesday, with pedestrian data showing people flocked to CBD hotspots.

The easing of restrictions meant retail stores were able to open again, while the city’s famed cafes, bars and restaurants were also allowed to serve dine-in customers, albeit with strict capacity limits.

According to Melbourne City Council data, 526,391 pedestrians were clocked in the CBD on Wednesday — more than three times the Wednesday average in recent weeks.

There was also a 12 per cent spike in traffic on the city’s roads, Department of Transport spokeswoman Georgia Main told ABC Radio Melbourne.

Bourke Street Mall

Bourke Street Mall’s major retailers are able to open after months of lockdown.(AAP: James Ross)

More than 28,000 people were recorded walking through the Bourke Street Mall on Wednesday, according to pedestrian censor data.

It was a huge jump on the past four Wednesdays, which saw an average of just 5,035 people being detected in the mall.

Not surprisingly, Wednesday’s peak came in the afternoon.

Pedestrian traffic in the mall was still well short of 2019 levels, which had a Wednesday average of more than 55,000.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said a visitor booth had been re-opened in the mall this week.

“It’s wonderful to see Melburnians back in the city enjoying our shops, cafes and restaurants and bringing a sense of activity back to our streets,” she said.

Flinders and Elizabeth streets intersection

The ornate sandstone and bluestone entrance to a train station appears completely empty without anyone in sight.
Flinders Street Station, pictured during the lockdown, is becoming busier every day.(ABC: Darryl Torpy)

One of the busiest parts of the CBD, according to the pedestrian data, is the intersection of Flinders Street and Elizabeth Street.

Flinders Street Station has an exit near the intersection, there are numerous restaurants and shops nearby, and there is also a tram hub for commuters travelling to the city’s east, west and north.

On an average Wednesday in 2019, a pedestrian sensor recorded about 46,000 people using the intersection.

This week it was 18,395 — a jump of about 74 per cent on the four-week average during lockdown.

Southern Cross Station

Despite the lockdown easing, things remained quiet at the other end of town.

Southern Cross, a station that serves as a major connector to regional buses and trains, Docklands Stadium and office workers in the CBD’s west, continued to have low foot traffic on Wednesday.

Only about 1,800 pedestrians were counted at the station on Wednesday. The 2019 Wednesday average was more than 25,000.

Southbank

A murky Yarra River lined with empty walkways and a backdrop of skyscrapers
A deserted Southbank in April during Melbourne’s first COVID-19 lockdown.(ABC Melbourne: Kristian Silva)

It’s normally lined with bustling restaurants, buskers, tourists and the odd cyclist — but for much of 2020, Southbank has been eerily quiet.

In 2019, an average of 29,351 people were tracked at the location on Wednesdays.

This week, there was an encouraging reprieve as more than 10,000 pedestrians were clocked on the strip by the Yarra River.

It was well above the four-week Wednesday average of about 5,900.

Chinatown

Restaurants line a street in Melbourne's Chinatown but the road  is empty except for one delivery driver and three pedestrians.
Melbourne’s Chinatown, pictured in September, is seeing a spike in dining bookings.(ABC News: Simon Tucci)

Melbourne’s Chinatown, which has existed since the 1850s, is home to some of the city’s best Asian restaurants.

The narrow strip on Little Bourke Street has taken a significant financial hit during the pandemic.

Data from Wednesday shows there was a lunchtime rush as customers returned to their favourite restaurants, along with a spike for dinner.

Matt Barr, the chief product officer at eftpos Australia, said there had been a “significant jump” in overall spending across the state on Wednesday.

“The last time we saw this kind of spend in Victoria was back on the 8th of July, and then before that, all the way back in late March with the first lockdown,” he said.

“It is in line with expectations.”

The overall picture?

A couple smile while waiting for their meal
Melbourne restaurants can open, but they must comply with strict capacity limits.(ABC News: Ron Ekkel)

Due to changes in sensor locations and the number of sensors operating in the CBD, Melbourne City Council’s data cannot paint an entirely accurate picture of crowd levels across the CBD on Wednesday compared with 2019 figures.

However, the locations mentioned above were ones that remained in place over the last month, and during last year.

The chart below shows the total number of pedestrians tracked on Wednesday, compared with the monthly average and the 2019 Wednesday average.

It suggests Melburnians may have been making the most of their new-found freedom, spending more time out on Wednesday night than they normally would.

But again, keep in mind the data presented isn’t perfect.

As Victorians, especially Melburnians, enjoy a sense of normality after months in lockdown, the state’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, urged caution.

“It is not over,” Professor Sutton said on Friday.

“We do have to recognise that if we put aside all of those behaviours that we know have worked in stopping transmission, we put everyone at risk again.”



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