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Monitoring Movement through Time and Space

Crowds are vital to the active dynamic of city life. Research completed at the University of Maryland provides insight into pedestrian and crowd behavior in everyday and emergency scenarios and offers guidance for urban planning, social science, architecture and disaster preparedness.

This work demonstrates the important role of modeling and simulation for crowd behavior research. It advances fundamental knowledge about how people move through space and it also creates decision-support tools for a spectrum of real-world scenarios.

The expanded use of agent-based models can effectively simulate a range of thought processes humans use for such activities as acquiring geographic information, route planning and wayfinding, and orientation and locomotion. By studying the behavior of "pushy" agents who slip into temporary, but sometimes long-lived, convoys of people moving in one direction through busy streets, the researchers have begun untangling the complexity of common patterns of crowd behavior such as spontaneous lane formation.

For emergency scenarios in which people try to move through the bottleneck at the exit, the researchers found that behavioral models can improve upon standard physics-based approaches. Whereas physics-based models projected relatively smooth patterns of movement, like sand through a funnel, behavioral models demonstrated stop-and-go behavior that moved backwards through the crowd as people converged on a single doorway. Geographic information science and space-time analysis can validate model results for real-world scenarios.


  • simulations provide insights into crowd behavior
Simulations provide insights into crowd behavior in ordinary and emergency situations.
Paul Torrens, University of Maryland

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