Data: Has Detroit foot traffic returned to pre-pandemic levels?

Data shows increase in people visiting Downtown Detroit attractions

David Barr and Sergio De Giusti's 'Transcending' sculpture sits in Hart Plaza in Detroit, Michigan on October 13, 2017. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images) (Raymond Boyd, 2017 Raymond Boyd)

DETROIT – Things are beginning to feel more normal these days. Coronavirus cases are lower than we’ve been used to in the past, many businesses are up-and-running again and, in most places, you’re able to see the lower half of people’s faces.

But has everything returned to normal completely? Certainly, we’re still in a pandemic, and not everyone is returning to the office, or even the same job, and businesses are operating at different hours and with smaller staff.

Things are still ... “uncertain” ... it seems. So, we wanted to know if that uncertainty is still having an impact on Downtown Detroit and its most beloved attractions.

Enter: Dataherald, which has been keeping track of foot traffic at popular “tourist” destinations in Detroit and across the country. Using their data, we’ve been able to see how many visitors stopped at certain attractions before and during the pandemic, and compare those numbers to today’s numbers.

Here’s what we found.

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The data

Dataherald’s dataset observes visits to locations throughout the city of Detroit. A visit is defined as a “stay at the location lasting more than four minutes.”

When looking through the data, we decided to explore foot traffic at some of the most popular Detroit locations: The Ambassador Bridge, Belle Isle, Cadillac Square Park, Campus Martius, Dequindre Cut, Grand Circus Park, Hart Plaza, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and the Detroit Riverwalk.

As you can imagine, foot traffic fluctuated throughout the pandemic, with visits occurring less frequently at the onset of the pandemic and during a COVID surge at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. Foot traffic picked back up in the summer of 2021, and hasn’t dipped back down too far since.

Here’s a closer look at the numbers.

Foot traffic declined in 2020 (obviously)

The world essentially shut down in March 2020, and people stayed indoors -- or, at least, away from public spaces -- for weeks.

According to the data, foot traffic significantly decreased at popular Detroit locations between 2019 and 2020. Visits to the Detroit parks and sites listed above showed a decrease from March 2019 to March 2020, but that margin widened even more when comparing April 2019 to April 2020.

In April 2019, the following spots had the following number of visitors, according to Dataherald:

  • Belle Isle: 3,470
  • Campus Martius: 2,781
  • Grand Circus Park: 1,615
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 2,726

Here’s what those numbers looked like in April 2020:

  • Belle Isle: 1,328
  • Campus Martius: 131
  • Grand Circus Park: 183
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 725

The month of April in 2020 -- the first full month of being in the pandemic -- showed the lowest foot traffic of any month between 2019 and 2022. Visits picked up in May 2020, but those numbers were still nowhere near the numbers in 2019.

Take a look at the data in the chart below.

Note: Campus Martius is listed twice in the chart above because the data set labeled the location as “Campus Martius” between February 2019 and October 2021, and then added the label “Campus Martius Park” in November 2021. To get the accurate numbers for Campus Martius visits after November 2021, add the numbers from both of the labels.

The number of visitors notably declined when comparing June 2019 to June 2020. In June 2019, the Detroit locations we examined had the most visitors of any other month in our dataset -- so the numbers in June 2020 certainly came nowhere close.

In June 2019, the following spots had the following number of visitors, according to Dataherald:

  • Belle Isle: 11,002
  • Cadillac Square Park: 1,201
  • Campus Martius: 3,099
  • Dequindre Cut Greenway: 332
  • Hart Plaza: 1,441
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 5,773

Here’s what those numbers looked like in June 2020:

  • Belle Isle: 5,657
  • Cadillac Square Park: 282
  • Campus Martius: 401
  • Dequindre Cut Greenway: 235
  • Hart Plaza: 128
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 2,485

Foot traffic remained steady throughout the summer of 2019, and slightly declined, then plateaued, for the remainder of the year. In 2020, foot traffic picked up during the summer months after initial lockdowns, then dropped low again in the winter months.

Foot traffic slightly increases in 2021

People did not visit Detroit attractions in large numbers at the beginning of 2021, which is when the city (and nation) struggled with a significant COVID-19 surge. However, foot traffic began to increase once again in April as spring rolled around, and then continued rising into the summer, surpassing 2020 numbers and getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.

Once again, the following spots had the following number of visitors in April 2020:

  • Belle Isle: 1,328
  • Campus Martius: 131
  • Grand Circus Park: 183
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 725

Those numbers increased in April 2021:

  • Belle Isle: 3,207
  • Campus Martius: 416
  • Grand Circus Park: 458
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 1,641

Let’s compare the numbers in July 2020 to July 2022, as July appears to be one of the busiest months for city traffic.

Visitors in July 2020:

  • Belle Isle: 6,146
  • Campus Martius: 517
  • Dequindre Cut Greenway: 205
  • Grand Circus Park: 684
  • Hart Plaza: 104
  • Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit: 36
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 2,897

Visitors in July 2021:

  • Belle Isle: 6,930
  • Campus Martius: 1,300
  • Dequindre Cut Greenway: 174
  • Grand Circus Park: 855
  • Hart Plaza: 118
  • MOCAD: 78
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 3,420

Numbers closer to normal in 2022

After the city saw an increase in visitors in the summer of 2021, foot traffic has continued to surpass 2020 levels. In 2022, foot traffic appears to be at about the same level as it was in 2019, before the pandemic.

Let’s compare the numbers.

Visitors in Feb 2019:

  • Belle Isle: 1,226
  • Cadillac Square Park: 1,235
  • Campus Martius: 2,106
  • Grand Circus Park: 696
  • Hart Plaza: 216
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 1,693

Visitors in Feb 2022:

  • Belle Isle: 1,153
  • Cadillac Square Park: 361
  • Campus Martius: 768
  • Grand Circus Park: 557
  • Hart Plaza: 65
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 7,491

Altogether, the city saw more than 10,000 visitors to the locations in our dataset in February 2022, compared to just under 8,000 visitors in February 2019.

Visitors in April 2019:

  • Belle Isle: 3,470
  • Campus Martius: 2,781
  • Grand Circus Park: 1,615
  • Hart Plaza: 296
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 2,726

Compared to visitors in April 2022:

  • Belle Isle: 4,031
  • Campus Martius: 858
  • Grand Circus Park: 743
  • Hart Plaza: 40
  • Detroit Riverwalk: 4,595

The city saw nearly as many visitors in April 2022 as it did in April 2019, according to our dataset from Dataherald.

The software company has not yet released data for the month of May this year, so it will be interesting to compare foot traffic during the summer months of 2019 to foot traffic this summer once the data comes out. If you want to explore Dataherald’s data on your own, click here.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.