Foot Traffic in the Central City Has Improved but Looks to Be Plateauing

It’s a concerning development as city leaders try to enliven the central city.

DROPPING OFF: Exiting a car in downtown Portland. (Brian Brose)

New figures published by the Portland Business Alliance in its annual economic report show that both employee and visitor foot traffic in the heart of Portland recovered steadily after the spring of 2021, but has since stagnated—a concerning development as city leaders try to enliven the central city.

Employee foot traffic across downtown, Old Town and the Central Eastside as of December 2022 was 48% lower than it was pre-pandemic. Still, that’s a stark improvement from the spring of 2021, when foot traffic bottomed out at around 75% less than it was prior to the pandemic. ECONorthwest, the research firm that produced the data, used a technology that measures cellphone activity.

However, there’s reason to be cautious: The graph below illustrates that the central city’s employee foot traffic is at the same level it was in the spring of 2022. That should signal to politicians that vacant office space, as some economists have warned, will only rebound to a point; hybrid work, to some extent, is here to stay for many companies that once called Portland’s core home.

“A sustained decline in foot traffic will imperil critical employment opportunities, small businesses, and the tax revenue that our local governments depend on to deliver essential public services,” PBA CEO Andrew Hoan tells WW. “It is imperative that state and local leaders continue to make the recovery of our central city an urgent priority.”

Tourists, diners and shoppers are more enthusiastic. Visitor foot traffic in the central city gradually increased throughout most of 2022, until September, when it began a slight decline, which may be seasonal. Still, as of December, visitor foot traffic was 27% lower than it was pre-pandemic. That’s not great, but it’s better than office attendance.

Foot Traffic

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