how do pedestrians avoid obstacles?
July 18, 2005 3:09 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone point me to scholarly articles/resources on the way pedestrians navigate through a scene? I'm specifically interested in the "flow" of pedestrians around obstacles.

I'm guessing that architects, civil engineers, transport engineers, city planners and the like will all have something to say about this, but have been having difficulty finding my way around the literature.
posted by handee to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
A very good place to start would be The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William Hollingsworth Whyte.
posted by enrevanche at 3:22 AM on July 18, 2005

there was some work (simulations) done a while ago (year?) about how the flow of people is counterintuitive (or at least, not like physical flows) - they move faster at the edges than in the centre.

i thought i posted it on my mailing list, but i can't find it now and google isn't turning up anything. sorry.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:45 AM on July 18, 2005

I remember that study too. Was it by this guy?
posted by skarmj at 5:43 AM on July 18, 2005

You might want to check out Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill. He's a retail anthropologist who deals fairly extensively with those issues... (and it's a good read, too.)

His second book, "The Call of the Mall" is all about Mall design and architechture, in particular.
posted by ph00dz at 5:43 AM on July 18, 2005

You also might be interested in Boids which is an AI simulation of flocking, usually used in reference to the movement of a flock of birds or a school of fish, but which I think could be applied equally to humans' movement. The simulation is caused by each of the individual units obeying a simple set of rules. The flocking on a large scale grows out of those rules.
posted by Inkoate at 5:56 AM on July 18, 2005

yeah, thanks skarmj.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:06 AM on July 18, 2005

This is studied by anthropologists but mostly by ethnographers. And also architects, of course. So you can add these terms to your google searches. Nothing comes to mind, but I'm sure there are some good accounts.

The question that I have is that if you have an ethnographic account of a particular place, with windows over here and a tall desk over there and a little bay window area with a couple of chairs in it over there, will it be applicable to your similar but different situation? Just something to think about.
posted by zpousman at 7:38 AM on July 18, 2005

Any beginning interior design text is going to cover this relative to a room space, both large and small. Maybe not what your looking for exactly but it may be helpful.
posted by iwouldificould at 8:26 AM on July 18, 2005

Response by poster: I'm more interested in outdoor stuff (why do people put lamp-posts and street furniture where they do? what effect does it have on pedestrian dynamics?) but anything is a start. Cheers all.
posted by handee at 8:39 AM on July 18, 2005

I second books by Paco Underhill, Why We Buy is just great.
posted by mrs.pants at 9:31 AM on July 18, 2005

Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture by Christian Norburg-Schulz. Not only does it deal with how we place things in space it examines why we define things like shelter, community, paths, etc. the way we do. As I recall I don't think I agreed with many of his conclusion but found the book interesting none the less. Also Variations on a Theme Park, The New American City and the End of Public Space, Has a number of good essays on space issues. Maybe George Hersey's The Monumental Impulse; Architectures Biological Roots. The Geography of Nowhere by James Kunstler might help, but I think that this gets a little far from what you want.
posted by iwouldificould at 10:07 AM on July 18, 2005

You can definitely find quantitative engineering analysis of this issue, but it isn't my field. I did a search for IEEE pedestrian traffic flow and the first hit was a researcher interested in the topic: Kardi Teknomo.

Wikipedia IEEE article, in case anyone is unfamiliar with that search term.

I'm not sure if you are interested in this type of technical analysis.
posted by Chuckles at 2:40 PM on July 18, 2005

andrew cooke: there was some work (simulations) done a while ago (year?) about how the flow of people is counterintuitive (or at least, not like physical flows) - they move faster at the edges than in the centre.

That is cool! It is counterintuitive for fluid dynamics specialists, but anyone who walks in big crowds knows the truth.

It must be related to personal space issues... Personal space, a walkers risk threshold for hitting walls, and the slowing that happens when two people hit each other - fluid molecules would be much more elastic. (I should read the article, right?)
posted by Chuckles at 2:59 PM on July 18, 2005

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