New mixed-methods papers on pedestrian interactions with bicycles and cars

Two new open-access papers from the REACT Lab examine public perceptions of comfort and safety for pedestrians interacting with cars and bicycles in unsignalized crosswalks.

The first paper (Gill) uses structural equation modelling of quantitative ratings to examine the relationships among perceptions of yielding, comfort, and safety. The findings reveal how perceptions of comfort differ from perceptions of safety, and the important role of perceived yielding in mediating how interaction and perceiver attributes influence each. For example, differences in perception of comfort between cyclists and pedestrians are rooted in misalignment on what constitutes adequate yielding. Bicycle interactions are consistently seen as safer and more comfortable than otherwise similar interactions with cars. Drivers must yield more than bicycles (e.g., allow a larger gap) to achieve the same pedestrian comfort.

Gill, G., A. Bigazzi, and M. Winters, “Investigating relationships among perceptions of yielding, safety, and comfort for pedestrians in unsignalized crosswalks.” Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, Vol. 85, pp. 179-194, 2022.

The second paper (Bardutz) uses a novel statistical approach (structural topic modelling) to infer consistent themes in open-response text comments from the same survey. The paper shows the value of analysing open comment data, which provide fundamentally different information about perceptions than the quantitative analysis of participant ratings. This paper strengthens the previous finding that pedestrian interactions with bicycles are perceived fundamentally differently from interactions with motor vehicles. Motor vehicle interactions elicit more discussion of risk while bicycle interactions elicit more discussion yielding. Whether or not cyclists need to yield in a given situation is both a disputed and primary issue in comments, and can be expected to spark controversy for the public. Participants generally focus more on traveler behaviour of the modes they use less often, with a cycle in which drivers focus more on pedestrian behaviour, pedestrians focus more on cyclist behaviour, and cyclists focus more on driver behaviour. The findings help to illuminate why pedestrian-cyclist interactions may attract disproportionate attention from the travelling public, despite their lower risk than interactions with motor vehicle drivers. Efforts to improve comfort in intermodal interactions should focus not on strict compliance to a homogenous set of traffic rules (often developed for automobiles), but instead consider the unique characteristics of different travel modes and the varying perceptions of what constitutes reasonable behaviour in negotiating shared space (i.e., informal rules of the road).

Bardutz, E. and A. Bigazzi, “Communicating perceptions of pedestrian comfort and safety: Structural topic modeling of open response survey comments.” Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Vol. 14, 2022.

These publications follow an earlier paper that examined how comfort and safety perceptions vary across segments of the population, highlighting the differences among three participant groups: traffic safety experts, a citizen’s advisory group, and the general public. All three papers show that the most important participant attribute influencing perceptions of pedestrian comfort and safety – both quantitative ratings and open text comments – is travel habits (travel frequency by mode), not common socio-demographic variables (gender, age, income, education). We strongly recommend using travel habits to assess sample representation in future research on traveller perceptions. Also, because people focus more on the behaviour of travelers using modes they themselves do not use, it can be expected that public discussion and complaints will be biased against travelers using modes with smaller mode shares. Policy-makers should thus be cautious about responding to public indignation against users of non-dominant and emerging travel modes.

Bigazzi, A., G. Gill, and M. Winters, “Contrasting perspectives on the comfort and safety of pedestrians interacting with other road users.” Transportation Research Record, Vol. 2675, No. 3, pp. 33-43, 2021.

The papers arise from a research project funded by the City of Vancouver (see final report here), with additional support for the extended analysis from SSHRC.