Foot traffic data indicates that on average Evanston’s nine business districts are doing slightly better now than they were before the pandemic

But the picture varies dramatically among districts, and only two of the city’s four largest districts for foot traffic are showing growth.

Data presented to the city’s Economic Development Committee from — which estimates foot traffic to businesses based on cell phone data — indicates that six of the business districts saw more foot traffic in the 12 months ending in June compared to the same period three years earlier.

Total visits to the nine district are up nearly 5%.

The West End district — which the city defines as encompassing the area west of Dodge Avenue running from Oakton to Lake streets — showed the largest total number of visits at 9.1 million — and the second best growth — up 18% from three years earlier.

But the second-biggest visit-generator, Downtown Evanston, had 6.2 million visits during the most recent period — down nearly 9% from three years earlier.

The Main-Dempster Mile district, with 2.8 million visits, was up nearly 10% from three years earlier.

But Central Street, with 2.2 million visits, was down nearly 4% from three years before.

Downtown Evanston, with its mix of office space and residential units and nearby university campus, is actually doing fairly well compared many office-dependent downtown areas in bigger cities across the country.

Foot traffic data analyzed by the School of Cities at the University of Toronto and reported by Axios indicates that among 52 major U.S. cities studied only four are seeking more downtown foot traffic now than three years ago.

The best performance, at 139% of pre-pandemic levels, is shown by Salt Lake City, Utah, while San Francisco is doing worst, at just 31.9%.

Downtowns with a diversified mix of uses seem to be doing best. The Toronto researchers say foot traffic to Chicago’s downtown is only at 52% of pre-pandemic levels.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Launching a similar study in August 2024 that would correlate sales volume and gross revenue by all Evanston based major retailers to the Evanston paper bag tax/plastic bag elimination would be very interesting.

  2. Part of the problem of lack of downtown foot traffic, I feel, is the lack of cultural activities, especially live music in restaurants, or other cultural events. Lack of sophisticated meeting places like the late Cinemark lounge, Bill’s Blues, jazz at Orrington Hotel etc. No culture, what’s to draw besides beer and pizza?

    1. That’s a good point. I enjoyed going to Cinemark lounge after seeing a movie to talk about the movie.

      You would think a college town could support at least one bar that focused on music.

  3. It should still be worrisome that foot traffic is still considerably behind pre-pandemic levels for downtown Evanston. The area is the largest producer of tax revenue for social issues that Evanston has gained a national reputation for being progressive and supportive towards. I’ve lived downtown for the last three years and it’s a shame to see how aggressive Evanstonians were towards instituting some of the strictest COVID policies in the country and at the same time, putting hundreds of people out of a job who lived paycheck to paycheck. I believe in this town and it will come back, it just shouldn’t be taking this long.

  4. What happened to the plan that we paid big money for? I am not seeing any new initiatives. Isn’t Evanston Thrives the answer to all of our issues?

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