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Calculating pedestrian flows to optimize walking routes

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Having a forest within walking distance or a footpath along a watercourse makes a residential area more popular and encourages local people to go out for walks or jogging. Local councils want to provide their citizens with an attractive environment to live in, which includes having easy access to local recreation areas, with no barriers in the way that make access difficult. A new WSL computer model simulates pedestrian flows between residential and local recreation areas and thus helps to determine the effects of improving walking routes.


The model is a so-called agent-based model that represents the decisions of individuals. Each agent represents a person walking from their home to an attractive local recreation area and back again. At each crossroads, the agent decides how to proceed. The criteria for deciding include the nature of the route, i.e. whether it is a path, a gravel track or a tarred road, as well as aspects of landscape quality, such as a whether there is a beautiful view or a water body.

In the model, the researchers calculated various decision strategies: the shortest or most scenic route, a combined route and a purely random choice. For each strategy, the agent-based model was run 100 times. The results show what effects certain upgrading measures have. Such measures include building a pedestrian bridge or an underpass under the motorway, shortening access paths to an attractive stretch of water or forest, or resurfacing tracks with natural material. The model thus helps the local authorities to prioritise planned measures. “Having more attractive and shorter paths with many natural features also attracts people from more distant neighbourhoods,” says project manager Silvia Tobias, who developed this method as part of a Swiss federal pilot project for sustainable spatial development.

The researchers conducted a survey to find out how well the model matches the decisions made by real recreationists. Locals in Wil (SG) plotted their walking and jogging routes on maps. The model corresponds with the paths chosen in reality quite well and thus provides communities with plausible indications as to whether it is worth removing certain obstacles. The researchers applied the model to the Glattpark region on an experimental basis and compared it with survey results there. “We came up with results giving routes comparable with real walking paths,” says Tobias. It seems, therefore, that the agent model could, in principle, be applied to all towns and suburbs in Switzerland. (Beate Kittl, Diagonal 1/19)