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Survey: How Do You Cross a Connecticut Street?

Feb 16, 2016

Researchers want to know more about how pedestrians behave when facing car traffic.

If you’re at a crosswalk, do you wait for the walk signal to cross to the other side? Or do you just cross when there's no oncoming traffic? What if you’re with other people, or children? 

That’s what researchers at the University of Connecticut and Manchester Community College are asking in a survey they hope to circulate online. 

The results, researchers say, could inform engineers about how to build better crosswalks. 

“If you understand how people actually behave, instead of having an idealistic vision of how they should behave, then it could affect -- and we don’t know; this is speculation -- how they construct those places, so people stay safe,” said Rebecca Townsend of Manchester Community College. 

Townsend, whose field is communication, is leading the project with UConn researchers Dr. Nalini Ravishanker, a statistician, and Dr. John Ivan, a civil engineer. 

Ravishanker and Ivan have been researching highway safety for over a decade. Now, they’re curious to see how social networks will affect pedestrians’ decision-making. 

"Suppose somebody [said] I don’t care, I can cross the road, I can dart across," Ravishanker said. "Maybe, if they were modified by friends or family who discuss things with them, or bring up educational material -- or something in the context of a social network -- is it likely that a person’s crossing behavior be modified?"

Townsend said they hope the survey will spread beyond Connecticut. But some pedestrian habits may also be determined by habit rather than locale. 

“I was driving through Springfield, Massachusetts, right past the scene of a terrible accident, where a young girl was killed crossing the street from the library to the parking lot,” Townsend said. “There used to be a crosswalk there. So there’s a history of a crosswalk. And it’s the most direct line. But when the city moved the crosswalk, it didn’t modify everyone’s behavior. So there’s culture involved, but there’s also common practice based on what people expect in a given place.” 

Pedestrians cross the street between Downtown New Britain and its CTfastrak station in May 2015.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

One part of the survey has participants watch four simulated traffic videos and asks them to identify at what point they would cross the street. 

“It’s up to people to be honest,” Townsend said. “And would there be anything that would affect that. So some people may say: if I’m with a stroller or with children, I would wait for the 'safe to cross' sign to come on. Whereas other people might say: if I’m in a rush, I’ll just go when there’s a break in the cars.”

The survey is open to public participation, and will be ongoing for several months. It will include different rounds to track how it spreads across social networks.