Have you ever heard someone say, “No one goes to the Fulton Mall”?  Well, the data is in, and we can finally lay that one to rest.

For three days in October, my students and I counted and surveyed pedestrians on Fulton Mall.  Funded by the Downtown Association of Fresno (now PBID Partners of Downtown Fresno), the research sought to set a baseline of data about Fulton Mall pedestrian use so we can accurately measure the impact of any future urban design efforts in downtown.

I present some of the data below, but the biggest story is the extent to which the Fresno public radically underestimates the number of people who walk on Fulton Mall.  Whatever else is wrong with the Mall, we can say this for sure: there are far more Mall users than we think.

Here’s a summary of the count data:

The number of pedestrians who passed the Clock Tower at the intersection of Fulton and Mariposa Malls between 10am and 6pm each day on Oct. 5 (Tuesday), 6 (Wednesday) and 9 (Saturday) were 4516, 5228 and 4671, respectively.  (This was a study of use or load, so we counted passersby without regard to repeat trips; in other words, everyone was counted, even if they passed multiple times.  The counters estimate that about 5% of the passersby made repeat passes.)  Bicyclists numbered 143, 262 and 309 (Saturday’s number was buoyed by the DTA’s Bike Ride Through History event, which accounted for about 100 of the bicyclists that day).

I should note that the first week in October was chilly and rainy.  On Tuesday, Oct. 5, for example, it rained lightly all morning and temperatures were in the mid-50s.  Yet, 1048 people walked past the Clock Tower, in the rain, between 10am and 12 noon.

Count numbers peaked slightly around midday.  For example, 929 people walked past the count line between noon and 1pm on Wednesday, Oct. 6, compared to 674 from 10-11am and 324 from 5-6pm.

Why were the weekdays so strong compared to Saturday, a well-known shopping day on the Mall?  Wednesday’s pedestrian count was surely boosted by the farmer’s market, which drew people all morning and into early afternoon.  However, a broader explanation lies in the “purpose of visit” question on the survey we administered to every tenth passerby.  Shoppers are strongly present on the Mall during the week (27% of pedestrians on Tuesday, Oct. 5, and 33% on Wednesday, Oct. 6, were shoppers).  These shoppers, in combination with people walking to and from work and conducting personal business (likely at the various public buildings) account for the high numbers during the week.  On Saturday, the percentage of shoppers among the respondents increased to 52%, but work commute and personal business numbers dropped.  This means that the Mall during the week is a place for shopping, work commute and personal business, but on Saturday, it become more homogenous, with shopping as the main activity and other categories of use less prevalent.

We surveyed, in both English and Spanish, 157 people who passed the count line.  A summary of some significant findings is at the end of this posting.

The big story here, though, is the gap between the count numbers and public perception.

During the weeks after the count, DTA sponsored a “Guess the Pedestrians” contest in which the public was invited to guess the number of pedestrians who passed the Clock Tower during the count periods, with the closest guessers for each day awarded gift certificates to downtown businesses.  Seventy five people submitted guesses for the three count days.  The results are listed below.

Average guess:  1041

Median guess:  625

Lowest daily guess (submitted for Oct. 6):  55

Highest daily guess (submitted for Oct. 5):  7000

Obviously, the guessers vastly underestimated the number of pedestrians on the Mall, by an order of eight for the median guess and nearly one hundred for the low guess.  The person who offered 7000 for Oct. 5 also guessed a relatively high 6500 for Oct. 6.  These were the only guesses that over-estimated the number of pedestrians.  Interestingly, however, this guesser estimated pedestrians on Saturday, Oct. 9, at only 600, implying that even this optimistic weekday guesser was very pessimistic about pedestrian activity on the Mall on weekends.

Evaluating the “success” or “failure” of the Fulton Mall is a complex thing, involving issues like rate of economic activity, amount of city revenue generated by Mall businesses, and the Mall’s historical and aesthetic value.  These issues are up for debate, but, make no mistake about the numbers:  each day, over four or five thousand people walk the Fulton Mall.

Fulton Mall at the Clock Tower, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 11:30am

Fulton Mall at the Clock Tower, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 3:15pm

Survey Results:

General

  • About one third of the respondents had homes in the three zip codes that include the downtown core and the neighborhoods just to its south and east.
  • About one third of those surveyed were walking on Fulton Mall for the first time.  Two thirds had visited the Mall five or fewer times in the last month.  Almost one fifth reported that they visited the Mall daily.
  • Over one third of respondents cited “shopping/doing errands” as their primary purpose on the Mall the day they were surveyed.
  • The Mall during the week is a place for shopping, work commute and personal business, but on Saturday, it becomes more homogenous, with shopping as the main activity and other categories of use less prevalent.
  • Whites and Asians were present on the Mall in fewer numbers and African Americans and Latinos in greater numbers than their presence in the Fresno County population.

Significant Differences

  • Individuals from zip codes with higher percentages of the population living in poverty are less likely to be first time visitors in the survey, i.e. more likely to indicate that they visit the Fulton Mall more frequently.
  • Individuals whose home zip codes have a median family income less than $24000 have the highest predicted probabilities across the most frequent visit categories as compared to other median income values.
  • Non-Latinos are more likely to utilize the Fulton Mall for work/school/commute purposes.
  • Individuals from higher income areas are less likely to visit the Fulton Mall for recreational purposes, for personal business, or to shop, and more likely to visit the Mall for work.
  • Individuals from poorer areas are more likely to shop and use the Fulton Mall for personal purposes.

More data and details on methodology can be found in the report submitted to the DTA (now PBID Partners of Downtown Fresno).

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