Archive for the ‘Pedestrians’ Category


Here’s a job that you may not have known existed: “Pedestrian Management Agents.”

In order to create a truly world-class public space in Times Square, the Bloomberg administration and the New York City Department of Transportation have necessarily concentrated on pedestrian traffic flow. Sam Schwartz Engineering (SSE) was hired to deploy our Pedestrian Management Agents (PMAs) at four intersections in Times Square during the pilot program.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the notoriety of New York City walkers for seemingly using every available opportunity to cross a street regardless of whether cars are coming or not, our agents were able to increase compliance with walk/don’t-walk signals by 62%, from a rate of 57.5% to 93.4% compliance with the walk/don’t walk signals.

SSE has also provided Pedestrian Managers to augment pedestrian safety around the World Trade Center site, most significantly at the intersection of Church St. and Vesey St. This is the main access/egress point from the WTC PATH station, and by our counts may be the intersection with the highest peak hour pedestrian volumes in the city.

Our pedestrian managers all come from law enforcement backgrounds and bring at least 15 years of experience with them to the job. At any one time there is nearly a century of experience guiding pedestrians across Church St. In addition to their law enforcement and crowd control qualifications, all of our employees have received certification through the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA).

Posted on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 at 10:49 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Unlivable Streets

Peter sends along this troubling video of a woman struck by a bus — I’m sure any number of you out there could dissect the many things wrong with that street (not sure where it is).

Almost as disturbing as the video is the fact that its categorized on Digg as “comedy,” which in the world of Internet culture, I’m sure it is.

Posted on Monday, February 8th, 2010 at 12:17 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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American Idle

In my latest Slate column, I consider the drive-through.

One thing that struck me was the historical novelty of the form; McDonald’s didn’t begin to unroll them until the mid-1970s, and they now, rather shockingly, account for the majority of their restaurant business. It’s a subtle, yet indicative, symbol of how much American society has changed, driving-wise, in a few decades. At one moment, most children, like me, were walking to school, and while we may have driven to McDonald’s, we actually got out of the car to eat our meal (and something like McDonald’s, pre-drive-through, was then an occasional novelty, at least for me).

Posted on Saturday, December 12th, 2009 at 1:26 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Pedestrian Crossing Behavior: Lemmings or the Lone Wolf?

I was walking down New York City’s Fifth Avenue yesterday (the windows at Bergdorf Goodman are a particular pleasure this year), which as usual around this time of year was incredibly crowded — I begin to feel less like a person than a permanent obstruction to someone’s snapshot. The corners were particularly bulging with people — for some reason the police were actually blocking pedestrian crossings with yellow tape at around 51st Street — and it’s always interesting to note the little patterns: The Europeans and out-of-towners tend to wait for signals, while the intrepid New Yorkers often sail through. And sometimes, one pedestrian’s bold move can fool others into thinking the signal has changed, when in reality there is a yellow taxi bearing down on the crosswalk. At times things can get so crowded that the mass essentially sort of spills into the street, perhaps triggered by some early crosser but now possessed of an energy all its own.

In any case, I was thinking of this when I came across a study by Tova Rosenbloom, “Crossing at a red light: Behaviour of individuals and groups,” in the journal Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour (and, by the way, the idea that this journal goes all the way to ‘F’ gives you an idea of how complex and wide-ranging the field is). In any case, Rosenbloom, looking at pedestrian behavior in Tel Aviv, came to a rather different finding than what I suspected might be the case based on my Fifth Avenue perambulations, and she offers a few reasons as to why this might be.

She writes:

The first hypothesis of the study was that more people would break the law (i.e. cross on a red light) while standing alone than people waiting with others on the curb. The findings of this study support this hypothesis. The more pedestrians present at the curb, the lower was the rate of people crossing on red. Two explanations may account for this pattern: one is theoretical while the other is pragmatic.

The theory of Social Control (Hirschi, 1969) describes the mechanism behind obedient behaviour as the motivation to be rewarded just for being conformist. Normal individuals have inner controllers that prevent them from breaking the law and therefore encourage them to behave in a normative fashion. The sanctions of society are greater deterrents for normative people than are formal sanctions (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1994).

Indeed, people who reach a crosswalk alone when the light is red are less concerned with social criticism and so break the law more easily, while those surrounded by other pedestrians waiting for the green light feel more committed to social order and to social norms and therefore tend to stick to social norms, although not all of them, of course. It should be clarified that it is the immediate social constraints that make people feel more committed to social order. In other words, a transient social state operates to engage pedestrian behaviour. This is also consistent with the social learning explanatory framework (Bandura, 1969).

This being true, this tendency might potentially have some beneficial implications. Hirschi (2004) assumes that strengthening the ties to conventional social institutions might increase the commitment of individuals to normative behaviour. Authorities might want to apply this principle by implementing public educational programs for increasing self-control and hence normative and safer behaviour.

This tendency does have exceptions however. Comprehensive research (Ben-Moshe, unpublished Master’s thesis, 2003) that examined the road crossing decisions of young children and adolescents (6, 9 and 13 year old boys and girls) revealed an opposite trend. Each participant standing with his/her peer group on a crosswalk was much more lax regarding risk-taking in crossing the street than the same participant standing alone. Thus, the mechanism of social facilitation ([Corston and Colman, 1996] and [Sanna and Shotland, 1990]) works differently when teenagers are involved. Support for this notion is found in other studies ([Christensen and Morrongiello, 1997] and [Miller and Byrnes, 1997]) which point to the adolescent tendency to take more risks in the presence of their peer group. Carsaro and Eder (1990) tried to explain that values such as social acceptance, social solidarity and popularity are much more considered among adolescents than among mature people.

An important perspective of road behaviour, such as pedestrians’ road crossing, is the cultural context of the society (e.g. Levine, Norenzayan, & Philbrick, 2001). The behavioural norms of society might be reflected, for example, in the tendency to walk alone or in groups (Rosenbloom et al., 2004).

The current study was conducted in an urban setting at a pedestrian crosswalk in the largest Israeli metropolis – Tel Aviv, which is not typified by any unique features that can be found in other regions in Israel where minorities lives (such as the ultra-orthodox citizens, for example, who walk together in large families and groups as documented by Rosenbloom et al., 2004). So, it can be predicted that individualism-collectivism, for example, could play an important role in explaining people’s behaviour. Sagy, Orr, and Bar-On (1999) found that religious students scored higher in a questionnaire than the secular students on items emphasizing collectivist orientation.

In addition, the decision to cross streets when the light is red is probably influenced by the traffic law associated with crossing on red. In Ireland, for example, crossing in red light for pedestrians is not a traffic violation but rather a warning for pedestrians to be careful while crossing the street. In Israel it is forbidden by law, and those who violate this law take the risk of being fined by the police ( In a way, the current study’s findings are in line with these norms since people usually do not intend to violate the laws but do control each other’s behaviour.

What then, could be the pragmatic explanation for crossing intersections on red when alone? From past experience, people know that the larger the group of people waiting on the curb, the shorter the waiting time is likely to be. In a quick ‘cost-benefit’ calculation they decide it is worth investing a few more seconds to be on the safe side. Here, our recommendation is to install more traffic lights that also indicate the time remaining for the light to change. Further research on this topic is recommended.

From a pragmatic point of view, large groups of pedestrians should have a stronger feeling of safety than individuals have, due to the “safety in numbers” effect (Harrell, 1991) that they feel when many other pedestrians are also crossing. One might assume that oncoming traffic is better able to see pedestrians and come to a stop when there are many of them grouped on the crosswalk or many of them beginning to cross on red. Consequently, there may be greater confidence that drivers would stop under these (crowd) conditions, eliminating the need for caution by the pedestrians.

Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 at 9:38 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Streets Ahead in Islington

Via This is London, the London borough of Islington is going to ramp up its number of 20-mph zones:

Islington council has agreed to introduce the limit in January to cut accidents, congestion and pollution. More than 150 miles of road will be affected, with motorists able to drive at 30mph on just 15 out of 1,420 streets…

This year the Government announced plans intended to reduce the number of road accidents, with a 10-year target of lowering traffic deaths by a third. As well as 20mph limits in residential areas, the plans include a tougher driving test and cutting the speed limit at accident black spots on some A-roads from 60mph to 50mph.

In London, 31 of the 33 councils have introduced a total of 400 20mph zones. In Islington half of the roads already have the limits.

Rather than rote anti-jaywalking campaigns and the like, it’s nice to see some sanity entering the issue of urban speed. The recently released findings on pedestrian safety in cities, which again found Florida hogging several of the most-dangerous spots, speak to this; it’s not uncommon, in cities like Orlando, to see 40-mph zones in dense, pedestrian-heavy areas.

Posted on Monday, December 7th, 2009 at 8:26 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Foot Notes

Ian Walker hates pedestrians.

Posted on Monday, November 16th, 2009 at 9:03 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Latest Slate Column

Headlines stretch things: I wouldn’t call it so much a “defense of jaywalking” as a challenge to the idea that it ranks as the key issue in pedestrian safety. In any case it’s here.

And my Slate colleague Christopher Beam, in my absence, contributed this excellent column on the eternal issue of bicycles and traffic laws.

Posted on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 at 7:58 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Shibuya Circus

London’s Oxford Circus is one of those Yogi Berri-esque ‘so popular no one goes there anymore’ sorts of urban spaces — I once did a little bit there for the BBC with Scottish-Sikh funnyman Hardeep Singh Kohli on “pedestrian rage” on the overcrowded street. It’s just gotten some relief in the form of a diagonal crossing (i.e., “scramble”), modeled on the crossing at Hachikō Square in Shibuya, Tokyo, a place one can easily lose a few hours just watching the action from a nearby donut shop). The video above describes the dynamics and shows the “before.” The impressive “after” can be viewed here.

Notes the BBC:

In homage to its Far Eastern inspiration, Mr Johnson struck a two-metre high cymbal as Japanese musicians played taiko drums.

A giant X, in the form of 60m (196ft) of red ribbon was also unfurled by devotees of cult Japanese Manga characters dressed in colourful costumes.

As with elsewhere in the city, pedestrian barricades have been removed (“giving shoppers and workers that visit annually around 70% more freedom to move,” notes the BBC).

I don’t know precisely when the first diagonal crossing was unveiled, though its popularity is certainly linked to Henry Barnes, NYC’s former traffic capo, who first unveiled it in Denver (where it earned the name ‘Barnes Dance’; he himself noted it had been tried elsewhere previously).

Here’s Barnes from his memoir, The Man with the Red and Green Eyes:

As things stood now, a downtown shopper needed a four-leaf clover, a voodoo charm, and a St. Christopher’s medal to make it in one piece from one curbstone to the other. As far as I was concerned–a traffic engineer with Methodist leanings–I didn’t think that the Almighty should be bothered with problems which we, ourselves, were capable of solving. Therefore, I was going to aid and abet prayers and benedictions with a practical scheme: Henceforth, the pedestrian–as far as Denver was concerned–was going to be blessed with a complete interval in the traffic signal cycle all his own. First of all, there would be the usual red and green signals for vehicular traffic. Let the cars have their way, moving straight through or making right turns. Then a red light for all vehicles while the pedestrians were given their own signal. In this interim, the street crossers could move directly or diagonally to their objectives, having free access to all four corners while all cars waited for a change of lights.

It’s hardly common, but does pop up in places with extraordinary pedestrian volumes or some other special circumstances, as in the historic-entertainment district of San Diego, where fellow INFORMS attendee Sean Devine snapped the photo below (alas, I didn’t experience the crossing myself, as I was out looking at seals).

Here’s another one, in Toronto, captured in time-lapse glory.

Scramble from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

(thanks James)

Posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2009 at 8:13 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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More Lazy Anti-Pedestrian Commentary

I could write this post every day, but here’s another piece, this time from San Francisco, equating pedestrian death rates with careless pedestrian behavior — and no other potential causal factor (i.e., speeding, drunken, distracted drivers running on sidewalks, violating rights of way, etc.).

Posted on Monday, October 26th, 2009 at 4:06 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Jaywalking Redux

For more shockingly dangerous pedestrian behavior, I present Streetfilms and Mark Gorton.

Posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 at 10:26 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Jaywalking Menace

Also in the Globe, is it just me or nowhere in this story is there any actual indication that the crash statistics referred to are the result of jaywalking or other pedestrian action? Given that academic studies attribute the vast bulk of pedestrian-car crashes to driver —not pedestrian — behavior, I’m always amazed by the sheer torrent of anti-jaywalking stories in the country’s newspapers, reflective of an old bias against non-vehicular modes.

After giving these eye-catching scare statistics about pedestrian danger, the story then interviews a number of people who are jaywalking — the only problem being they actually weren’t struck by cars, which doesn’t exactly prove the main point.

In Peter Norton’s book Fighting Traffic, there’s an interesting discussion of an old campaign to come up with a term, a particular pejorative, for “jaywalking” drivers. Maybe it’s time to revisit that idea.

Posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 at 10:03 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Mode Shift

Via the Sydney Morning Herald:

With the advent of high-speed trains, rail travel in Europe has become so popular that some intercity flight routes are being cancelled.

Why would you fly from London to Paris, for example, and tackle Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle airport check ins plus security when you can catch a high-speed train that lands you right in the centre of town?

Now about 90 per cent of people travel by Eurostar between these two cities.

And there’s no longer any flights on the Paris-Brussels route. Many now also go by train between London and Brussels.

Posted on Saturday, October 10th, 2009 at 9:40 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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I come across stories like this all the time. The subhead announces, “POLICE are warning tech-savvy school students to unplug, log off and look out, amid a surge in pedestrian deaths in Victoria.”

It then quotes a police official: “It’s no surprise to police that with more and more people, especially school students, owning MP3 players, and lots of people walking and sending text messages, that we’re seeing more and more collisions between distracted pedestrians and vehicles,” Insp Parr said.”

The only problem is that among the surge in deaths reported, we are not given exact figures, or really any clue, as to what extent that has to do with distracted pedestrians, as well as what other factors might have been involved. This is not to dispute the idea that a pedestrian acts differently and loses situational awareness when on a mobile device — and this idea should give any driver pause — but we can’t just announce an iPod scare when for all we know the bulk of the rise in pedestrian fatalities may have been due to distracted (or otherwise negligent) drivers (and there are plenty of observational studies hinting at the added risk to pedestrians from drivers on cell phones, a point raised at the Distracted Driving Summit).

Posted on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 at 9:06 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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I’m currently down in Savannah, Georgia, at the meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association. At an afternoon panel I was struck by a brief line of inquiry let out by Michael Ronkin. Briefly, he asked the audience to consider the word “pedestrian.” If you see someone coming down the hall toward you in an office, do you think of them as a pedestrian? If you were hiking in the woods and someone came walking along, would you say, ‘here comes a pedestrian’? The word pedestrian, Ronkin suggested, only makes sense in relation to traffic, and I suppose it’s a function of our auto-centric society that to do something we were born to do, indeed evolved over a long time to do, should be considered a “mode,” an “activity,” or some kind of “road user.”

Strange too is the confluence of its meaning; not just the sense of a walker but from the Latin pedester, meaning “plain, prosaic.” This contrasts with equester, i.e., one who goes by horse, which is decidedly not equated with the plain or prosaic. Was there even some kind of pre-automobile bias against people walking? I don’t have in front of me, but if any book would have an answer it’s presumably Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust. The irony, of course, is now that it’s driving that’s become pedestrian, and walking which is novel.

Following the talk the group assembled for a “pedestrian safety walking tour” of the historic center (such an exercise would be futile in the suburbs) of Savannah, one of the country’s “ten most walkable cities” (in part because of the squares originally put in as part of a defense regimen, and one wonders here about a thesis to be written on military defense planning and walkable cities; i.e., medieval city walls as the original urban growth boundaries). Even walkable Savannah has its issues; Bay Street, for example, is 12% heavy truck traffic (to and from the port), lumbering down nine-foot lanes — as the city’s engineer explained it, people feel they are going faster than they really are, because of their size. Then there’s Paula Deen. Her “Lady and Sons” restaurant has become so popular (following her rise on TV) that massing waiting crowds often develop on the corners; the city eventually installed a four-way stop.

But once one is on the lookout for it, one realizes how strange that word — pedestrian — is; waiting at a marked crosswalk for vehicles to stop — some do, many don’t (though the city has seemed more concerned with jaywalking than “failure to yield” by vehicles) — one sees huge signs, warning those same drivers to “Stop for Pedestrians.” I thought, ‘wait, who’s a pedestrian? Is that me?’ Simply by going out for a walk I’ve become this strange being, studied by engineers, my rights presumably codified by signs (why not: “Stop for People”). On the same signs were often attached additional signs advising not to give to panhandlers (and call 911 if physically intimidated), subtly equating walking with being exposed to an urban menace (in some places you might be considered the menace).

Lastly, I wanted to check out a restaurant that had been recommended. I punched it into the maps app on the iPhone, and noted that the default setting for giving directions, and journey times, is for car. The time mentioned was 3 minutes. Walking, the third option, was 9 minutes. I doubt that the time listed for car includes walking to the car — that moment when all of us become pedestrians — finding parking at the destination, walking to the destination.

Posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009 at 7:24 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Dangerous Trees or Dangerous Drivers?

The Daily News notes that a number of trees are going to be cut down on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx and replaced by a guard-rail, presumably to cut down on the number of fatalities by drivers swerving into trees. “The roadway is very dangerous the way it is,” a local pol said.

But dangerous for whom? As the story notes:

According to Police Department figures, there were 185 accidents — with 29 injuries — from January to July 31 of this year along the parkway. Since 2003, there have been two fatalities, both involving struck pedestrians.

The only certainty in removing trees is that speeds will increase. I’m not sure how those pedestrians were struck, but I would guess the issue is not that the trees failed to protect them, and their risk will only increase with driver speed.

(thanks Streetsblog)

Posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2009 at 7:15 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Where the Fault Lies in Crosswalk Collisions (Hint: It’s Not the People on Foot)

According to the UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center, more than 80 percent of crosswalk collisions are related to driver behavior – not pedestrian behavior.

From a salutary editorial in the Sacramento Bee.

Posted on Friday, August 14th, 2009 at 5:17 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Intexticated: Texting Teen Falls Into Manhole

Full story here.

The family is planning a lawsuit, notes the story.

Pursuant to my post on roadway factors, maybe we need to start building “forgiving sidewalks”?

(Horn honk to Nathan)

Posted on Sunday, July 12th, 2009 at 7:48 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Directional Pedestrian Flow

Kirai (a geek in Japan) notes that there are special uni-directional pedestrian schemes in Tokyo.

In Shinjuku there are even some sidewalks with rules concerning pedestrian traffic. For example, this sign is indicating that on the right lane from 9 in the morning until 6 in the afternoon it is a one way lane.

But on the left lane the direction changes depending on the time. These “extreme” rules are needed only in districts like Shinjuku where more than three million people commute by everyday.

I wonder if this explicitly signed scheme happens anywhere outside of Japan?

Posted on Thursday, July 9th, 2009 at 1:39 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Indonesia’s Scarlet Letter for Pedestrians

One should be leery, given historical precedent, of any attempt to make a certain class of people wear markers denoting them as part of some group. From Indonesia, a place that is unsuccessfully trying to build urban transport models around the car, comes this absurdity:

An article in the new Traffic and Road Transportation Law passed by the House stated, “Handicapped pedestrians are obliged to wear special signs that can be easily recognized by other road users.” Lawmakers said the article aimed to protect handicapped pedestrians, but activists have called it discriminatory.

To put it lightly. There’s many other potential problems, like enforcment, or the issue of pedestrians not wearing the signs: Are they to be treated with any less caution?

Rather than scapegoating its most vulnerable residents in the name of “safety,” Jakarta would be better of dealing with its litany of actual traffic problems — ranging from lack of public transportation to police corruption.

Posted on Thursday, July 2nd, 2009 at 2:42 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Beneath the City Streets, the Beach

I always liked that phrase, from Guy Debord, and the headline on my latest Slate column, “Beach Chairs in Times Square,” seems to evoke that sentiment.

“The word square,” notes James Traub in The Devils’ Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square, “does not have the same meaning in Manhattan as in Paris or Rome.” For one, New York’s squares are often not squares; the imprecise geometry of Herald or Times Square is hewn by the wily, diagonal progression of Broadway, New York City’s largest rebuke to the hegemonic grid. For another, these spaces tend to not be, as Traub notes, “punctuations or pauses in the street plan” but, instead, uneasy slivers cast like fractured icebergs amid the urban scrum. As the writer Benjamin de Casseres observed in the early 20th century, Times Square “is a ganglion of streets that fuses into a traffic cop.”

Posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2009 at 7:58 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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May 19, 2009
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Metropolis and Mobile Life
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New York State Association of
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