Whether we’re walking on the sidewalk, lining up to get into a store or being seated on a restaurant patio, the concept of physical distancing has become commonplace since the early days of the pandemic.
What are new mobility interventions?
The assumption and hope are that, by keeping people distanced, there will be less virus transmission. To achieve this goal, many jurisdictions have introduced structured active transportation programs that contain a set of “mobility interventions". The mobility interventions present an engineering measures, education and enforcement, etc., that are designed to promote the physical distancing between people (pedestrians, cyclists, etc.).
The City of Toronto, for example, has introduced a variety of mobility interventions under the umbrella of ActiveTO, CurbTO and CaféTO programs, formalizing the City’s approach to physical distancing. These programs have resulted in significant changes to the arrangement of city sidewalks, how people move about, and how businesses are being supported to succeed in a pandemic and post-pandemic environment.
However, do these interventions actually result in the desired outcome, which is to keep people safer than they’d be without any intervention? Until now, there has been little research done to compare the theoretical concepts behind Active TO/CafeTO/CurbTO to its actual impacts on the movements of people and vehicles – and whether the program is really resulting in people staying more physically distanced.
Our pilot study
TraffMobility is a Toronto-based multi-disciplinary firm that specializes in bridging the gap between theoretical models designed in labs, and the real world where human patterns don’t always behave in predictable ways. Our focus is to take the concepts designed in academic settings, and apply and test them in real world settings. Our mission is to harness the new thinking being developed, for instance, by academics, to improve the way our public spaces work, and help people, goods and traffic get to where they’re going faster.
Partnering with a York University team of researchers (under the leadership of Dr. Peter Park, Lassonde School of Engineering), the TraffMobility team has launched a study to assess how well Toronto’s mobility interventions have kept people distanced on the City’s downtown sidewalks.
Given the impact on our public spaces, with the reassignment of curb lanes to free up room for pedestrian sidewalk and restaurant patios, it’s critical to have a data-driven scientific assessment of whether this approach was actually keeping people farther apart – and by extension, actually lowered the risk of virus transmission.
Focusing on the Queen Street Curb Lane Pedestrian Zone, the study assesses the quality of physical distancing maintained by pedestrians with and without a Curb Lane Pedestrian Zone. The team has re-created the study zone with a high degree of accuracy, using two micro-simulation tools - PTV Vissim and PTV Viswalk - to mimic vehicular traffic and pedestrian behaviour.
The model results were presented during the Health and Transportation session at the 2021 Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) Conference. The model result informs the effectiveness of mobility intervention programs using the latest research on Levels of Pedestrian Physical Distance (LPPD). This performance metric takes into account pedestrian space and compliance rate (for meeting the 2m physical distancing requirement) to understand the risk of physical contact. The approach taken in our study can be adapted to multi-modal interaction, between cyclists, pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Everyone with a stake in the success of the ActiveTO/CafeTO/CurbTO programs – from Public Health officials, to traffic planners; business owner to elected officials - will benefit from knowing whether the re-engineering of our shared urban spaces has been worthwhile or not. The study could even be used to inform whether these programs should be expanded to other areas of the city, or possibly be considered as a permanent feature. Last but not least, its findings should also be meaningful to the general public, many of whom will have a deep personal interest in knowing whether this program means they’re safer on their downtown sidewalks. Reach out to the TraffMobility team today to learn more.
Other Useful Links
Levels of Pedestrian Physical Distance Research Paper: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2020.105066