New Brunswick

People counters track Saint John life during pandemic

Whether it's the busiest summer street festival or the darkest day during a pandemic, Uptown Saint John's network of people counters keeps track of numbers.

Uptown group learns numbers in late March and early April were 'pretty consistently terrible'

A people counter in the Saint John City Market. The devices use a laser beam to track visitor numbers. The information is sent to Uptown Saint John for analysis. (Connell Smith, CBC)

Whether it's the busiest summer street festival or the darkest day during a pandemic, Uptown Saint John's network of people counters keeps track of numbers.

For the past three years, the eight toaster-sized boxes have unfailingly noted each time their laser beams were broken by a pedestrian walking past in either direction.

"We have King Street, we have Water Street, we have some in the City Market," said Nancy Tissington, Uptown Saint John's executive director. "So we can monitor within 15 minute intervals how many people are walking our streets." 

The numbers are fed to a computer in Uptown Saint John's office, where the data can be used to analyze overall numbers and even how many people turned up for an individual event.

Allie Ruigrok of Uptown Saint John. The numbers were 'pretty consistently terrible' in early Aprill, she says. (Uptown Saint John)

There are no privacy issues. The boxes do not take pictures or record video.

Uptown Saint John's marketing and communications co-ordinator Allie Ruigrok sifted the data for CBC News.

It shows that during the month of April 2019, for instance,115,000 people entered or left the City Market from Charlotte Street. In April of this year, the number had dropped to under 16,000..

The darkest days were a three-week period starting around the fourth week of March.

On March 26, only about 300 people entered the City Market, where just a handful of food retailers remained open.

"It was pretty consistently terrible from the 22nd to mid-April," said Ruigrok.

A people counter on the north side of King Street recorded 46,000 pedestrians in April 2019, while the number was barely 10,000 in April of this year.  

As employers gradually reopened their offices this spring the numbers finally began to trend upward.

Saint John People counters in the City Market, on King Street and on Water Street. The trend is upward but there's a long way to go. (Uptown Saint John)

But it's been a slow process, said Ruigrok, and there's still some way to go.

"We were going from max a thousand people a day on any of the counters in March, and now we're at max 2,200 a day on the counters in June," she said.

"If it kept increasing at the rate it's going now, it would take longer than the summer to get back to where we had been." 

The technology has its limitations. Two or more individuals walking side by side on a street will often appear to the counter as one person.

Uptown Saint John also periodically moves its counters which means data from previous years cannot be used for comparisons.

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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