A new study from the University of Wollongong has used data to track the foot traffic in 24 Australian cities and regions, finding that some cities had a decline of up to 60 per cent of foot traffic since COVID-19 restrictions began in March.

Researchers from the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility partnered with Meshed IoT to examine the impact of the global pandemic on local economies and community vitality, across 24 Australian cities and regions.

The COVID19 Pedestrian Index Research was based on real time data collected from nearly 100 locations, sourced from counting devices that recognise mobile Wi-Fi signals. Researchers used baseline data from a pre-COVID time to compare how pedestrian activity had changed after mandatory social distancing and quarantining policies were imposed across the country.

The study found a 36 per cent drop in the median value of pedestrian activity after the initial lockdowns occurred, with some locations experiencing as much as a 60 per cent decline.

SMART Infrastructure Facility Director, Senior Professor Pascal Perez, said using technology to gather data helps make cities smarter.

“Pedestrian activity is the pulse of a city, so when that is taken away, you start to experience a downturn in both the economy and social health of an area,” Prof Perez said.

“Pedestrian data can also underpin investment decisions, which contribute to vibrant and safe places, creating community vitality.”

Senior Professor Pascal hopes businesses can use the research to plan for their recovery back to full operation.

“The research showed a significant drop of 50 per cent in pedestrian traffic on peak days, normally Thursdays, and a 44 per cent decline on Sundays, which is the lowest traffic count day of the week,” he said.

“Businesses can use this information to plan their return to operating to full capacity, perhaps using the data sets to map out business hours and staff numbers for particular days.”

The data also showed a 17 per cent drop in average dwell times during the crisis, with people unable to socialise in public spaces or make unnecessary trips.

“This pattern coincides with significant job losses in the food, entertainment, retail and services sectors, which heavily rely on passing trade for business,” Meshed IoT Co-Founder and Director, Catherine Caruana-McManus, said.

“With this data, the local authority can automatically see the areas that are most affected by the crisis in order to assist in recovery and targeted stimulus.”‘

The project is also a finalist for the Social Good award at the IoT Alliance Australia Industry Awards.

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