IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 66

Groups move differently from
individuals.
suffer from a variety of unexpected drawbacks that
can make day-to-day life very difficult. Subway systems
often aren't wheelchair- or buggy-accessible (for insight
into this, see [14]); footpaths are often too narrow;
indoor spaces are often too dark; street crossings are
often too quick/short; and while aesthetically charming, the issues posed by cobbled streets often impact
on all users, especially in the rain. If a user with access
needs wants to travel somewhere new, they might be
forced to spend a long time researching where they are
going to ensure accessibility levels are sufficient. This
has given rise to community-led programs to provide
members with the specific accessibility-related information of buildings [15].
In the age of the Smart City (see Toronto's futuristic
Sidewalk Labs project), it is expected that future infrastructure projects will function smoothly for all users.
Pedestrian dynamics tools provide a method of ensuring this by automatically alerting designers to issues
that might otherwise go undetected. For example, if
town planners wanted to convert a central square to a
pedestrianized zone, they could create a pedestrian
dynamics model and use it to investigate accessibility
issues. The design would be acceptable if, for example, a wheelchair user could access the same areas as
a fully mobile pedestrian, with a similar user experience. In the short term it remains prohibitively expensive to adapt full cities to improve accessibility, but a
pedestrian dynamics approach makes it far easier to
identify where efforts should be focused for both retrofitting existing infrastructure, and for the construction
of new designs.
Current research efforts have examined how pedestrians with disabilities move [16] as well as anthropomorphic data [17], but improvements are required
before models can be considered appropriate for
assessing accessibility levels. There remain significant
unanswered questions surrounding the wayfinding and
movement behavior of visually impaired or aurally
impaired pedestrians, especially during non-ideal scenarios such as reduced lighting.

Safety
This design paradigm can be extended further to
include safety related concerns. Pedestrian dynamics is
regularly used for this purpose, including determining
how a building can be safely evacuated. In the

66

aftermath of large-scale disasters such as the 2017
Grenfell Tower fire [18], understanding human behavior
is becoming recognized as an important element in the
design process. Being able to model the effects of specific behavioral traits is key to improving the outcome of
these disasters, as it allows emergency management
officers to understand the cause of specific issues, such
as congestion.
Previously, fire evacuation calculations have been
done through prescriptive guides, such as assuming the
maximum allowable flow rate through a door, the
required width of corridors, or the number of exits from
a room [19]. This can even incorporate demographic differences, but only at an approximate level.
However, some of these prescriptive guides have
their origins in the hazy years when computing power
wasn't so easily accessible, and these rules of thumb
were considered applicable for all scenarios. An infamous example of this is the oft-quoted 2.5 minutes
required to evacuate to a place of safety [20].
Although its precise origin is unconfirmed (which is
surprising given the pervasive use of this figure), this
number anecdotally comes from an analysis of a theatre fire in 1911. During this fire, in an effort to maintain calm, the orchestra played the U.K. National
Anthem, lasting approximately 2.5 minutes, by the
end of which the audience had evacuated. This figure
cannot encompass the differences in evacuation
behavior seen in the variety of infrastructure projects,
nor can it possibly include the different requirements
for vulnerable populations.
For private buildings, fire evacuations are generally
under the purview of the safety officer, or fire officer,
who will also be responsible for drills and building inductions to ensure the building population understands how
to leave in a fire. But what about a public building, like a
train station, or an airport? It is impossible to ensure
that all users are aware of the fire exits, and it is difficult
to know exactly who is using these buildings on a given
day, or who will use them in future.
It can be seen, therefore, that the current safety
design paradigm is insufficient, both when considering public buildings, and when considering differing
access and mobility requirements. It is necessary to
improve and develop this paradigm, and pedestrian
dynamics represents a method of investigating largescale infrastructure projects, while keeping a high
enough resolution to detect access constraints at the
individual level.
Understanding how occupants evacuate is key to ensuring their safety during emergency incidents, and therefore
understanding the differing movement behavior of these
occupants is crucial. This includes behavior of occupants
who will not necessarily be aware of their surroundings,

IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

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DECEMBER 2019



IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019

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