Pedestrians respond to built environment changes, according to study

Pedestrians holding hands.

By James Hughes

With consistent growth in most urbanized areas around the world, changes to the built environment to accommodate multimodal travel will become one of our most important adaptations. A recent study from Melbourne, Australia, of pedestrian flows over five years found that built environmental changes accounted for 50-60% of the increase in foot traffic in the downtown region.

According to the study, urban design and accessibility are the largest contributing factors that influence pedestrian flows. Destination accessibility contributes heavily to pedestrian walking patterns and was the key focus of the Melbourne study. Design elements affecting pedestrian flows include buildings with few windows or glass, narrow alleys, or other “boxed in” areas that may be an afterthought when designing a building or public facility. Understanding pedestrian flows throughout downtown Melbourne, and how built environmental changes impact pedestrian behavior, could be used to construct far more pedestrian-friendly and accessible spaces in other cities.

In this study, models were developed using Melbourne pedestrian flows to determine the level of effect that changes in urban form, land uses, amenities, and pedestrian walkways have on walking movements. The pedestrian volume data was available from the City of Melbourne, using sensors placed at many downtown intersections. These flows were then sorted with origin and destination pairs of similar land uses to map changes in movement as destinations and the built environment changed over five years.

At a time when transportation agencies are beginning to move from mobility metrics to multimodal accessibility metrics, knowing what types of access and design choices change pedestrian movement and flows remains extremely valuable. SSTI continues to work with transportation agencies to develop tools and methods for incorporating accessibility metrics into decision making and its impacts on multimodal transportation. Observing pedestrian movement using technology that is already available, paired with accessibility metrics, can help create more pedestrian-friendly spaces and advance knowledge of influences on walking decisions.

Photo credit: Paweł L. from Pexels, unmodified. License