People-Counting Cameras Are Watching the Streets of Durham, N.C.

Three strategically placed cameras are keeping track of pedestrian traffic as part of a five-year business data gathering effort.

by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, The Herald-Sun / July 6, 2018

(TNS) — If you're walking through downtown Durham, there's a good chance you're being counted.

Three cameras mounted inside businesses at three busy intersections downtown — Five Points, Corcoran and Main streets, and Duke and Main streets — collect data about how many people are walking by and going which direction. Plus the weather, too.

Matt Gladdek of Downtown Durham Inc. said the organization put up the cameras to provide better data to retailers — and potential retailers — about the pedestrian traffic outside their buildings. Downtown Durham Inc. is a nonprofit founded in 1993 to spur the city's downtown revitalization. The sensors have already collected a month's worth of walkers.

Of the three intersections, Corcoran and Main streets is busiest by far. The camera is mounted inside 21c Museum Hotel's bar and restaurant Counting House, across from One City Center, and faces Main Street.

Pedestrian traffic for June:

Corcoran and Main streets: 85,278

Five Points: 36,150

Duke and Main streets: 36,243

The Five Points camera is installed in an office above the clothing boutique Vert & Vogue, facing Main Street. The Duke and Main camera is in the Chesterfield building and faces Main Street. Gladdek said the sensors can also tell which direction people are walking. The sensor at Duke and Main streets showed 19,020 people walked toward downtown, with 17,232 walking toward Brightleaf Square.

The cameras, will be up for five years. Downtown Durham Inc. can see an hourly breakdown of how many pedestrians have passed by the counters along with the weather. They view the numbers on a dashboard sent via a SIM card.

The cameras were installed by Motionloft, a company based in San Francisco, which tracks pedestrian and vehicle data in real time. According to the company, Motionloft has counted 4.5 billion objects in the past three years.

Businesses volunteered the space and power for the cameras, Gladdek said.

Downtown Durham Inc. isn't the only city business group using the technology. Motionloft sensors are installed in downtown Boston and New York City, as well as Sacramento, New Orleans and Minneapolis. Durham, however, is the only city to use them in North Carolina.

Justin Miller of Motionloft said the cameras are used in urban cores to track the busiest blocks. He said they've noticed trends of higher pedestrian traffic with a morning rush, lunchtime activity and evening rush across cities. Downtowns with tourist traffic even out those peak walker times.

Kelli Cotter, owner of Toast, the restaurant at Five Points, said she didn't even know the pedestrian counters existed downtown.

"I would love to see more data on foot traffic at different points of the day. I don't know if it would make me change our hours, but I'd be curious to learn about it," Cotter said. "I know it's certainly different from when we first opened!"

Toast celebrated its 10th anniversary in February.

Miller, director of sales at Motionloft, said that some retail clients use the cameras inside buildings for data like "dwell time." That's how long someone stays in one area of the store. Durham isn't collecting dwell time on city streets yet, he said.

The cost of the cameras is $3,600 for installation, delivery and wireless data transmission per unit for one year. Miller said longer contracts, like Durham's five-year one, reduce the cost by half in subsequent years. Many of the company's clients are cities who want to study pedestrian traffic for a set amount of time, with the minimum being one month.

For those who worry about Big Brother watching them, Gladdek said that no pictures are stored.

"It’s just a count," he said.

Miller said the cameras track a walker, not the person, so if a person walks by the camera twice in one day, they are counted twice. "We can't tell who it is," he said.

The technology itself isn't new, but it has gotten cheaper. It's "basically plug and play," Miller said. The Motionloft data is cloud-based storage using Amazon web services.

©2018 The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.