The Science, and Art, of Navigating a Crowded Sidewalk

Like a school of fish navigating the ocean depths or a mass migration of wildebeests, pedestrians follow fundamental laws of swarm behavior when making their way through crowded sidewalks. Alexandra Horowitz explains the laws of the herd.
Garyisajoke / Flickr

If you've ever tried to navigate the sidewalks of SoHo on a busy weekend, it may seem like the maddening pedestrian behavior is chaotic and irrational. To the contrary, however, humans behave like other animals in crowds, according to a natural logic. And the science of pedestrian movement can help explain how the sidewalk animals are behaving. With the help of Fred Kent, from the Project for Public Spaces, who learned his craft from the eminent urban sociologist William H. Whyte, Horowitz describes the three primary rules that guide pedestrian movement.

"First, avoid bumping into others (while staying comfortably close)... A second rule: Follow whoever is in front of you... The final rule: Keep up with those next to you," explains Horowitz.

"These rules of 'attraction' (staying with others ...), 'avoidance' ( ...while not too close), and 'alignment' (going the same direction and speed as those around you) are sufficient to explain all herd, school, flock and swarm behavior — not to mention that of big-brained and busy human pedestrians."

Full Story: Walk Like a Fish

Comments

building block set

NEW! Build the world you want to see

Irresistible block set for adults when placed on a coffee table or desk, and great fun for kids.
$25
Red necktie with map of Boston

For dads and grads: tie one on to celebrate your city!

Choose from over 20 styles imprinted with detailed city or transit maps.
$44.95
AICP CTP Storefont Display

The first online AICP* CTP exam prep class

Are you ready to take the AICP* Certified Transportation Planner exam?
Priced at $245 for May exam!
Book cover of Unsprawl

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places

Explore visionary, controversial and ultimately successful strategies for building people-centered places.
Starting at $12.95