Pedestrian behavior or ‘Beyond the Induction Loop’

One of the more complex challenges in traffic management is the safe road crossing for pedestrians. Pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users and especially children or the elderly might not even have an alternative for participating in traffic.

There are ongoing efforts to increase the number of crosswalks and improve their design. The options range from various traffic lights over nudging elements for motorized traffic to different positions and the general design of crosswalks.

However, all these interventions are ineffective if they do not meet the natural needs and behaviors of pedestrians. Significant mismatches (missing or misplaced crosswalks) lead to a behavior known as ‘jaywalking’ or ‘rogue/wild crossing’. And hence to some of the most dangerous situations in urban traffic. 

All that said: By observing pedestrian behavior, it is easy to gain insight into the need for changes to the placement and design of crosswalks.

Solution

The key elements are surprisingly simple. For each counting element, do not just count expected traffic along lanes and intersection origin-destination tracks. Simply add one or more counting lines in the middle of the road and have the optical sensor count the number of pedestrians crossing the road in each respective zone.

This grants immediate insight into the acceptance of current installations and possible remedies such as:

  • Relocation of protected zebra crossing
  • Obstacles such as fences to prevent unauthorized crossing
  • Nudging signals to push pedestrians back to protected crossings

Conclusion

For far too long, we have focused on measuring the expected. Induction loops count traffic only in expected lanes. Infrared or photoelectric barriers count pedestrians at traffic signals. 

Safety, however, is about knowing – or at least anticipating – what happens unexpectedly: Cars and bicycles driving in the wrong lane or even in the wrong direction, pedestrians crossing where there is no crosswalk or traffic light, vehicles speeding, bicycles with high-velocity differences on narrow lanes, buses overtaking bicycles without  a safe distance.

Improving safety in increasingly tense traffic situations requires better infrastructure and smart sensors capable of measuring the impact of any intervention. The first step can be taken tomorrow, if not today. Save lives.

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