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Mobility Perspectives

Why Pedestrian Counting Is Not so Pedestrian

William Chernicoff | October 18, 2017

People are not just part of the mobility system. The system exists to serve the people. The system wouldn’t exist at all without them. Yet much of the attention in blogs, consultant pieces, and media focuses on the machines, technology, and user experience with them – they do not truly consider individuals. Improved intelligent transportation systems may soon manage and provide mobility options that include autonomous ride-hailing, car-sharing, public transportation, and smarter traffic management. Unfortunately, solutions focus on innovations in the private sector, and the conversations regarding personal experience and unhindered movement across different settings have fallen by the wayside. This conversation includes pedestrian movement. If we want the future to be comfortable and equitable, local governments need tools to facilitate a person-centered experience.

For everyone, the journey starts and ends as a pedestrian. Most people don’t wake up and say “I want to ride a bus today.” They want to do something specific. Make it to work on time. See a concert. Meet a friend for lunch. At some point, even if we use our favorite ride-hailing app, we all are pedestrians. We go to a sporting event and walk to a bar afterwards. To be a pedestrian is an inevitable step in the journey towards freedom and independence. Local governments have a responsibility to ensure that their pedestrians can move safely, comfortably and efficiently to their desired destinations. In other words, pedestrians – like cars – need to flow easily.

Much of what makes pedestrian flow possible happens behind the scenes, and local governments have several choices on how they implement. Some cities accomplish this through pedestrian friendly design such as improved sidewalk access and urban space, or they close roads on the weekend to stimulate open pedestrian movement. These changes clearly improve the pedestrian experience. More important, they provide a foundation upon which local governments can better value pedestrians in a healthy, human-centered city.

Likewise, consider active crowd management. How does the government provide enhanced mobility service to the pedestrian in crowds? Should the walk light stay on for 20 seconds or 45? Should the city close an extra road or send more police for traffic control and safety? Currently, government data combined with a traffic measurement and management system connects the movement of people to other forms of mobility. However, it does not recognize the vast fluctuations or chaotic nature of pedestrian activity. What tools and platforms will allow local governments to do more for active crowd management? How do cities get the data, platforms, and tools that they need to collect and share data? How do they do it in a way that holistically incorporates the pedestrian journey? How do they make sure to put pedestrians first?

Crowd management is not just about enhancing the pedestrian experience. It is also about the local and specific person-centered experience. Planning is important, but both recent natural disasters and horrific human-caused tragedies demonstrate the need for real-time coordination and management in chaotic situations. These events are not the time for general theory or static plans. Government’s active coordination requires up-to-date data and simultaneous real-time analysis. It requires not just accurate and precise crowd counting, but directional information.

It is not about the machine. It is about the people who use them. How do local governments give equal or greater priority to pedestrians? Just as with cars, operators try to prioritize management based on quantity and flow, but one cannot manage what one cannot measure.

We need to tackle this missing piece of the operations management puzzle and overcome the biggest challenge: active pedestrian counting and tracking. This is why the Toyota Mobility Foundation (TMF) has decided to partner with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and California State University, Los Angeles’ (Cal State LA) work on real time pedestrian counting and tracking. In a few weeks, attendees at LA CoMotion will experience and benefit from a potential solution. Pedestrian management may not be glamourous, and it may not yield the next great app or dotcom unicorn. But through this initiative, TMF wants to support the government in providing and managing the infrastructure for its citizens to move freely and allow more people to go more places throughout their journey. Right now, pedestrian counting is not so simple. If we are successful, the hard work of government, academia and industry to maximize the pedestrian experience will make it just that. Pedestrian.

Topics: Autonomy, Innovation

William Chernicoff, Senior Manager – Global Research & Innovation, Toyota Mobility Foundation

Dr. Chernicoff is currently the Senior Manager of Global Research and Innovation for the Toyota Mobility Foundation. He defines and coordinates the foundation’s research agenda, providing technology guidance to projects.