The Value of Pedestrian Modeling

by Randy Schulze, PE, PTOE, PTP

The Value of Pedestrian Modeling

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Pedestrian modeling is the use of software packages to accurately simulate pedestrian behavior in a range of settings. This modeling is a valuable tool in planning and adapting to pedestrian loads at a wide range of pedestrian-intensive locations such as sports events, airports, and entertainment venues.

Importance of Pedestrian Flow 

Pedestrian modeling is essential in the planning and design of pedestrian access and egress for new facilities, and for pedestrian scenario planning for existing venues. The applications for this tool include sports venues, theme parks, transit stations, convention centers, hospitals, office buildings, large churches, border crossings, parades, festivals, demonstrations, airports, and other situations where the safe and effective management of significant numbers of pedestrians is important. Events with varying crowd size, security requirements, and participant behaviors can be analyzed as part of the security and crowd management process. Pre-event and post-event scenarios often have different needs and can, and should, be analyzed separately.

While it is simple to draw a three-foot radius around each person and plan accordingly, human behavior is not the same as boxes on a conveyor belt. Pedestrian planning, interior or exterior, must consider a range of factors if the pedestrian plan is to be effective and economical.

Pedestrian modeling integrates the entire pedestrian experience into a simulation with excellent correlation with actual conditions after the completion of projects. Moving pedestrians (escalators, stairs, ramps, etc.) are integrated with storage (queues at ticket stations, security checkpoints, platforms, etc.) so that the system can be adjusted during design to avoid or manage bottlenecks. Existing systems can be analyzed to test physical and operational changes under consideration. Existing crowd control plans can be analyzed to test their sensitivity to different crowd sizes or different pedestrian behavior.

With better knowledge of pedestrian flow, event details can be managed better, including:

  • Barrier placement
  • Street closure
  • Ticket vending and reading
  • Traffic signal timing
  • Police officer placement
  • Lane closure
  • Surveillance
  • Security checkpoint staffing
  • Remote parking shuttle management


Managing pedestrian flow safely and efficiently will benefit any event with large pedestrian volumes. In the current COVID-19 situation, safety considerations are obviously at the top of everyone’s list. Social distance requirements have drastically changed the space needed to accommodate pedestrians. Improving safety is not only the right thing to do, but it will also encourage visitors to return to the facility and event sooner. Additional benefits to developing an accurate pedestrian model include the reduced likelihood of crush loading, reduced queues and delay, and the ability to adapt to unique situations quickly to minimize the impact. All of these will result in happier patrons and a more successful event or facility.