Tom Vanderbilt on pedestrian habits in part 2 of “Slate” series

From Tom Vanderbilt’s Sidewalk Science; The peculiar habits of the pedestrian, explained:

[William “Holly”] Whyte, in his films of New York City street life, identified the street corner as an important factor in urban dynamics. Here was a zone of serendipity where people encountered one another beneath the blinking walk man, where they paused to chat before parting, where they formed small convivial islands just as pedestrian flow was surging most strongly. Even today, corners offer new uses; one often finds people talking there on their mobile devices, either held up by the signal or forgetting to move after the signal has changed. Either way, the corner is urban punctuation, a place to pause, essential to the whole civic grammar.

In part 2 of this excellent 4-part series in Slate, Vanderbilt (author of Traffic) talks to key researchers in the habits of pedestrians — particularly Jeff Zupan.

Much of the discussion is focused on sidewalk congestion — a problem that many cities wish they had! — and on the mechanics of the body, of the wind, and of the trend of pedestrians to “minimize their dissatisfaction” through creating new paths, taking escalators, jaywalking, and the like.

By the way, on the subject of corners: One of the reasons that Savannah’s streetscape is so vibrant is that it has such short blocks — as Jane Jacobs noted, this trait gives city dwellers and visitors constant options. And the design produces more corners, more places for unexpected and creative engagement with new streets and passersby.

Here’s a video embedded in part 2. It’s not labeled as clearly as I would like, but it appears to be a pedestrian simulation near a transit stop — the blue dots leaving the train come in floods that threaten to overwhelm the walkers headed into the station.