Foot traffic on Yonge Street downtown higher over the holidays than before COVID-19, BIA says

People are shown here walking on Yonge Street downtown on Friday. (CBC - image credit)
People are shown here walking on Yonge Street downtown on Friday. (CBC - image credit)

Toronto-area residents headed downtown over the holidays, with pedestrian traffic on Yonge Street at the end of the year surpassing pre-pandemic levels, says a business group.

Data shows pedestrian traffic on Yonge Street downtown was about 11 per cent higher between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 than it was over the same period in 2019, according to the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area (DYBIA).

Numbers collected from the DYBIA's electronic counting system, stationed at five major intersections, suggest more than 1.7 million people were walking on Yonge Street downtown over that period. The number represents a 39 per cent increase over the same period in 2021.

"For the first time over this holiday season in 2022, we have actually seen our numbers outstrip the pre-pandemic numbers from 2019," said Pauline Larsen, the executive director of the DYBIA, which represents more than 2,000 businesses.

She said the numbers are "very heartening" in a Friday interview with CBC Toronto.

Larsen said the numbers suggest people were walking, shopping, window shopping and going to restaurants. The electronic counters have been installed at Yonge and College, Gerrard, Dundas, Shuter and Queen. She said one person could be counted twice theoretically.

CBC
CBC

According to its data, Boxing Day was particularly busy on Yonge Street downtown, with a total of 190,794 pedestrians counted on Yonge from College to Queen. That's 150 per cent more than on Dec. 26, 2021.

New Year's Eve, as well, saw a significant increase, with 191,554 counted on Dec. 31, up 62 per cent from the previous year. The number of pedestrians was 19 per cent higher than on Boxing Day in 2019 and 23 per cent higher than on New Year's Eve that year.

Larsen said the DYBIA has also seen its street-front vacancy rate begin to decrease. In the last three months, it has dropped by about 1.5 per cent and now sits at 12 per cent, she said. Retail sales numbers for the holiday period, however, are not available yet.

'Economic recovery is not linear'

"What I've learned in the last couple of years is that economic recovery is not linear," Larsen said. "It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. We are looking forward to seeing that hustle and bustle continue into the new year."

She said she would like to see more of "what we've just started to see," as well as more university students back in person at school and theatre goers seeing live theatre in the area, because greater numbers of people coming downtown for different reasons would help, she said.

CBC
CBC

But one business owner in the area said more pedestrians doesn't necessarily mean more business.

Tony Sadiku, owner of Dundas Square Barbers, said he is not as busy as before the pandemic.

"Not even close. It is busy, but not even close. Before COVID, it was super busy," he said. "You see people coming through, but not as much."

In addition to closures because of pandemic lockdowns, businesses in the area have had to deal with rising inflation, construction and safety concerns in Yonge-Dundas Square, he added.

"You see a lot of people scared to come down here. They don't feel comfortable. They don't feel comfortable at night time," he said.

According to Larsen, the DYBIA has a crisis response outreach team, in place since 2018, that responds to non-violent calls for service with the help of eight partner agencies and police. The idea is to help the area's most vulnerable citizens, she said.

The organization is also in regular contact with its members to identify problems and solutions, she added.