People weigh risk versus convenience in whether to use pedestrian bridges

By Chris McCahill

Pedestrian bridges may help keep people away from heavy traffic, but only if people are willing to use them. And that often isn’t the case, according to a new study in Accident Analysis & Prevention. People will cross at street level to avoid tall or narrow, constrained bridges, according to the study, and they usually take extra precautions when crossing at street level.

For this study, researchers observed more than 600 people at 10 different pedestrian bridges in Hanoi, Vietnam, during busy weekday periods. While there were no legal street-level crossings at the sites, the study found that as many as 64 percent of people crossed in the street, depending on the location. Time and convenience played a major role. For instance, people were less likely to use tall overpasses and overpasses crossing relatively narrow roads. People were more likely to use the overpasses in wet conditions and when the bridges offer more space.

The study didn’t look specifically at safety outcomes, but it did find that people tend to compensate for the added risk of crossing at street level. For instance, people crossed the street in larger groups and they typically avoided distractions such as phones, music devices, and social interactions when doing so.

This all suggests a need for useful guidelines to assess when constructing such bridges makes sense and whether they will even be used. There seem to be practical limitations on how tall or narrow they can be, along with cases where safer, street-level crossings could be the only reasonable option.

Chris McCahill is the Deputy Director at SSTI.