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Home Analysis of emergent patterns in crossing flows of pedestrians reveals an invariant of ‘stripe’ formation in human data

Analysis of emergent patterns in crossing flows of pedestrians reveals an invariant of ‘stripe’ formation in human data

Abstract : When two streams of pedestrians cross at an angle, striped patterns spontaneously emerge as a result of local pedestrian interactions. This clear case of self-organized pattern formation remains to be elucidated. In counterflows, with a crossing angle of 180 degrees, alternating lanes of traffic are commonly observed moving in opposite directions, whereas in crossing flows at an angle of 90 degrees, diagonal stripes have been reported. Naka (1977) hypothesized that stripe orientation is perpendicular to the bisector of the crossing angle. However, studies of crossing flows at acute and obtuse angles remain underdeveloped. We tested the bisector hypothesis in experiments on small groups (18-19 participants each) crossing at seven angles (30 degrees intervals), and analyzed the geometric properties of stripes. We present two novel computational methods for analyzing striped patterns in pedestrian data: (i) an edge-cutting algorithm, which detects the dynamic formation of stripes and allows us to measure local properties of individual stripes; and (ii) a pattern-matching technique, based on the Gabor function, which allows us to estimate global properties (orientation and wavelength) of the striped pattern at a time T. We find an invariant property: stripes in the two groups are parallel and perpendicular to the bisector at all crossing angles. In contrast, other properties depend on the crossing angle: stripe spacing (wavelength), stripe size (number of pedestrians per stripe), and crossing time all decrease as the crossing angle increases from 30 degrees to 180 degrees, whereas the number of stripes increases with crossing angle. We also observe that the width of individual stripes is dynamically squeezed as the two groups cross each other. The findings thus support the bisector hypothesis at a wide range of crossing angles, although the theoretical reasons for this invariant remain unclear. The present results provide empirical constraints on theoretical studies and computational models of crossing flows. Author summary You may have noticed that pedestrians in a crosswalk often form multiple lanes of traffic, moving in opposite directions (180 degrees). Such spontaneous pattern formation is an example of self-organized collective behavior, a topic of intense interdisciplinary interest. When two groups of pedestrians cross at an intersection (90 degrees), similar diagonal stripes appear. Naka (1977) conjectured that the stripes are perpendicular to the mean walking direction of the two groups. This facilitates the forward motion of each group and reduces collisions. We present the first empirical test of the hypothesis by studying two groups of participants crossing at seven different angles (30 degrees intervals). To analyze the striped patterns, we introduce two computational methods, a local Edge-cutting algorithm and a global Pattern-matching technique. We find that stripes are indeed perpendicular to the mean walking direction at all crossing angles, consistent with the hypothesis. But other properties depend on the crossing angle: the number of stripes increases with crossing angle, whereas the spacing of stripes, the number of pedestrians per stripe, and the crossing time all decrease. Moreover, the width of individual stripes is "squeezed" in the middle of the crossing. Future models of crowd dynamics will need to capture these properties.

 

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