Putting Pedestrians First: How Two European Cities Improved Their Footfall

Converting streets into pedestrian-only zones has been a significant trend that has been accelerated by Covid. This has become a key strategy used in many European cities in an attempt to lure people back to city streets.

Research shows that retail vacancy rates are five times higher on streets with high levels of vehicle traffic and retail turnover in pedestrianised areas generally outperforms non-pedestrianised areas. So transforming urban locations into pedestrian-only zones can in general be a solid investment and directly lead to a rise in retail sales. But while it can be good for business, can pedestrianisation attract footfall back to our towns and cities especially during the continuing pandemic? Many European cities are undertaking pilot projects to find out.

We used PlaceSense data to examine two cities who are taking some active steps in putting pedestrians first.

Munich: The Impact of No Traffic Zones

In Germany, the city of Munich has been turning an increasing number of its streets into low or no vehicle traffic zones, especially since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. Starting in 2020, Sommerstraßen München (Summer Streets in Munich) has been held each summer, where a selection of its streets are closed to cars and converted into pedestrian zones. 

Using PlaceSense data to analyze one street that took part in the project the positive impact is clear. On Westenriederstraße, which already had very strong footfall, the share of pedestrian numbers increased by 15% and accounted for 95% of all traffic in 2021 when compared to 2019 before the project began. Furthermore, the share of residual vehicular traffic in 2021 was only a sixth of what it was in 2019.

The modal share on Westenriederstraße in the project periods 24.07.20 – 25.09.20 and 01.06.21 – 28.10.21 was compared to respective reference periods in 2019. The share of pedestrians increased by 15% and accounted for 95% of all traffic in 2021 when compared to 2019 before the project began

Bologna: 28% increase in foot traffic

One city in Italy is at the forefront of this movement. Over the past few years several areas in Bologna’s city centre have been completely pedestrianised in accordance with a new pedestrianisation action plan for the historic city centre. The focus of this project is to radically revolutionise mobility in the city, with pedestrians put at the heart of all new planning initiatives. 

As part of this project streets are closed on weekends to motorized traffic, encouraging people to stroll comfortably along the streets. It also helps to reduce air pollution, which is a relatively big problem in Bologna’s city centre due to the lack of urban green spaces in the historic city centre.

The measures undertaken in Bologna have seen an increase of approximately 28% foot traffic and a decrease of 36% of non-foot traffic on an average weekend compared to during the week (in the analyzed timeframe January-October 2021), according to PlaceSense data. In turn, we see almost 55% more non-foot traffic and around 22% less foot traffic on the average during the weekday compared to the average weekend.

Bologna has seen an increase of approximately 28% foot traffic and a decrease of 36% of non-foot traffic on an average weekend compared to during the week.

Investing in the Future of Cities

Investing in pedestrian-friendly zones has been shown to bring quantifiable returns, according to The Pedestrian Pound report. It highlights a case study where a £10 million investment was made in Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent, in the UK that led to a 30% increase in footfall traffic in the area. It found that such improvements in footfall can be seen to directly lead to increased retail sales.

With the hospitality and retail sectors in cities hardest hit by the pandemic, pedestrianisation is now being used to breathe new life into city streets. City halls and town planners are speculating that the attraction of pedestrianised public places, in tandem with colorful shops, cafes and restaurants, will attract shoppers and tourists as lockdowns are eased. The hope is that this will make a key contribution to improving the vitality, vibrancy of city centres around Europe as they successfully exit the pandemic and flourish well into the future.


About Adrian Burk 

Adrian is Customer Success Manager at PlaceSense. During his study career in economic geography in Marburg, Bonn and Bologna and his work career at PlaceSense he has gained many experiences in digital based data, their potential and their importance for sustainable smart city projects.

About Luise Vibrans

Luise is currently working as an intern in the Customer Success Team at PlaceSense. She holds a degree in sustainability management and communication studies from the universities of Leipzig, Halle and Tasmania and has previously worked in scientific research on photovoltaic adoption. At PlaceSense, she has been able to apply her knowledge of quantitative data analysis.

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