Research Highlights
NC State | GaTech

Ped XingNC State: Collecting Data to Understand Driver Responses to Pedestrians

Do you yield to pedestrians?

Researchers from three STRIDE universities have joined forces to answer that very question, and to better understand and describe the complex interaction between pedestrians and vehicles at crosswalks. In the STRIDE project Livability Considerations for Simulation-Based Performance Assessment of Non-motorized Transportation Modes, researchers from North Carolina State University (NC State), the University of Florida, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham are keeping close watch as pedestrians select gaps in traffic and as drivers yield to pedestrians – or not. “We are seeing a lot of variability in yielding behavior,” says Dr. Bastian Schroeder, the project’s principal investigator at NC State. “In some locations, drivers are quite willing to yield, while other times, they seem to blatantly ignore even assertive pedestrians.”

The two-year research project has already collected data at 30 crosswalks at locations on and off campus in three different states, and the researchers have started their initial analysis. Through detailed video observations and behavioral surveys, the researchers are measuring yielding rates and gap selection, while considering a host of attributes about pedestrians, drivers, and the crosswalk environment. “We measure the speed of vehicles, heavy vehicles effects, whether cars travel in platoon, whether pedestrians travel in groups or alone, the approximate age of pedestrians, and many other factors,” says Schroeder. The researchers hope to correlate all these variables with driver and pedestrian decisions to ultimately build predictive tools that engineers can use to analyze crosswalks in microsimulation.

In addition to the crosswalk studies, the project just kicked off an in-vehicle driver behavior study, where study participants are evaluated based on their response to pedestrian events. In the study, drivers travel predetermined routes where they are expected to encounter pedestrians. The researchers then measure driver response to pedestrians, including willingness to yield, reaction times, deceleration rates, and other factors. The in-vehicle study is intended to give insights into the psychology and decision-making of drivers, which is difficult to capture in the roadside yielding studies. In combination, the two types of studies are intended to result in a comprehensive dataset on the complex interaction of these two transportation modes.

The project presently supports four graduate students at the three STRIDE consortium partners. Because of the significant coordination required in the development of the data collection and data reduction parts of the study, this research project has given these students the opportunity to interact with their peers at other universities, as well as with other researchers, and to work as part of a larger team. 

Left: Completed data-collection sheet.  Right: Equipment setup at a data-collection point

Data Collection
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GaTech: Undergrads Getting Involved in Sidewalk Quality Efforts

Project Overview

Sidewalk maintenance and design have significant impacts on pedestrian safety, mobility, accessibility and quality of life. Improving sidewalk conditions promotes pedestrian travel and healthy lifestyles and also provides increased accessibility to transit and equitable access to the public, including to people with physical disabilities.  Planners need an inventory of existing infrastructure to identify problem areas within the inventory to develop reasonable implementation plans for maintaining and improving pedestrian facilities.  However, technological, temporal, and fiscal barriers have historically limited large-scale sidewalk inventories and assessment of facility quality.   To overcome these barriers, Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a tablet application to automatically assess sidewalk quality under the STRIDE project, Automated Sidewalk Quality and Safety Assessment System.  The software collects video, accelerometer, gyroscope, and GPS data.  These data are evaluated using video and sensor data processing technology to assess sidewalk width, surface roughness, absence of access ramps, and presence of obstructions.  Approximately 65% of the target amount of sidewalk data within a prioritized area of the City of Atlanta has been collected to date.

Data are collected by graduate and undergraduate students by attaching an application-equipped tablet to a standard wheelchair and walking it along any desired route.  Researchers are also engaging community members and stakeholders as volunteers to collect data throughout the region to achieve the goal of creating an extensive database of the City of Atlanta’s sidewalk system.

GaTech Student Assistants in the FieldUndergraduate Researchers’ Role in the Project

Spring 2013 marked the first semester that undergraduates joined the research team for course credit.  Each semester since then, a small group of Georgia Tech undergraduate students signs up for research credits to work on the Sidewalk Quality Assessment Project and other pedestrian-related research problems.  The students work directly with graduate student supervisors every week to work on special projects.  The students prepare research plans, conduct literature reviews, collect and analyze data, and obtain feedback from the graduate students and the principal investigator.  In summer 2013, the program was supported by the Georgia Institute of Technology not only on the administrative level, but also financially with a $1000 grant for materials for the undergrads’ role in the project which was used to bring in new technologies for the students to test.

The undergraduate research experience provides about 10 hours per week of research activity.  Students meet as a group with the professor and graduate student assistant each week for one hour, conduct four hours per week of field data collection (above left), and dedicate about five hours per week to research initiatives.  Most projects are structured as group projects, with some guidance on how to divide and QA/QC the work.  Other assignments are completed individually.  The objective is to have the students learn new research methods and develop analytical skills.

Undergraduate researchers accomplished three important tasks last semester: 1) collecting field data with local high school students, where the undergraduate students planned the deployments and mentored the high school students in the field; 2) setting-up and taking the lead on testing new technologies with mentorship from graduate students; and 3) conducting literature reviews and producing written reports related to specific sidewalk and pedestrian research problems.  The undergraduate student activities introduce students to transportation research, engage the students in valuable learning opportunities, and will hopefully encourage them to consider graduate school in their future.

Program Outcomes

Beyond the experience in the lab and in the field, the undergraduate research teams have completed a series of papers each semester.  Over the last semester and a half, undergraduates have completed research related to: 1) tree encroachment impacts on sidewalks; 2) legal and regulatory aspects of tree encroachment; 3) ADA compliance; 4) comparisons of multiple walking indices (Hall Planning and Engineering Walkability Index and Walkscore); 5) data collection manual revisions for the Sidewalk Quality Assessment Project; and 6) database design for managing sidewalk and pedestrian assets.  Undergraduates over the summer also designed, drew, and fabricated new mounting boards for the new tablets, thereby gaining experience in the machine shop.  They also learned how to test accelerometer drifts from flat table testing.  This fall, students are learning how to write a journal-style paper and are assisting with innovative research in pedestrian counting methods.

Undergraduate students, whether participating in the sidewalk research project for pay or for university credit, are gaining valuable research skills.  The students work with each other and the graduate students, thus gaining experience in working on a research team.  The students also have the opportunity to develop relationships both as mentees, with graduate students, and mentors, through outreach activity.  Our graduate students also gain from the experience by assisting in the development of student projects and working more closely with the undergraduates than they would in a typical Teaching Assistant position.  Graduate students increase their ability to organize others in research and field data collection logistics, and improve their teaching, mentoring, and leadership skills over the course of the semester.