How might we reduce jaywalking in Toronto?
Investigates the root cause and behavioural change when pedestrians feel at risk (especially when they jaywalk) on the road
About Vision Zero Initiative
Since the last municipal election, one of the City of Toronto’s more prominent projects has been an initiative called Vision Zero. The Vision Zero Project is a comprehensive five year (2017-2021) road safety action plan, initiated by the Civc Innovation Office at City of Toronto, that focuses on reducing traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries on Toronto’s streets.
Date: July - August 2018
My role: User Researcher
Research Method: user interview, observation studies, ethnography
Context: to achieve the goal of zero road deaths for pedestrians and bicyclists, there’s a lot of different angles being researched and explored as opportunities for improvement. There’s been a fair amount of quantitative research on the use of roads, characteristics of accidents, etc, but not as much qualitative research has been done to this point.
The Vision Zero approach believes that people make mistakes and the transportation system needs to be designed and operated in a way that caters to human error to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries. Therefore, the outcome of this research project will be used to inform policy design and strategy improvement from a user research angle.
Problem Statement: In the context of road safety, when do pedestrians living in downtown Toronto feel at risk, and what types of behavioural changes do they make to compensate?
Understand when do pedestrians in downtown Toronto feel at risk.
Identify the types of behavioural change pedestrians make to reduce risks on the road.
Identify areas of discrepancy between human errors and the transportation system design, especially at midblock, intersection, and crossover.
People feel at risk when motor vehicles turn right at red lights because drivers often neglect pedestrian and assert their right of way (Source: CityNews).
People feel at risk especially at midblock because mid-block crossing has accounted for over 58 per cent of the pedestrian involved fatalities in 2017 (Source: Global News).
Environmental factors such as dark lighting, wet weather, and slippery road hugely influenced road safety and make pedestrian feel at risk at night (Source: The Star).
Mobile phone usage may be a main distractor for both distracted drivers and pedestrians on the road (Source: Pedestrian Accidents – Intersections vs. Mid-Block Crossings).
Drivers often forget to slow down at midblock, intersection, and crossover, who are the primary stakeholders that increase pedestrian road risks (Source: Mayor John Tory at Global News).
I chose the downtown pedestrian population because statistics from the Toronto Police Services in 2017 indicated that 45% of Torontonians were killed or seriously injured on foot and a majority of people who travel by foot lives in downtown. Therefore, it is particularly important to further understand this subpopulation to develop a truly effective road safety strategy for vulnerable road users. Based on the demographic information of downtown Toronto, I chose to interview 3 youth (age 15-22) and 7 working age group (23-64) to represent the subpopulation accurately.
I spent the first month gathering user stories to understand their needs, challenges, habits and underlying behaviours traveling on foot in downtown Toronto. I was particularly interested in investigating how pedestrians feel about crossing at midblocks and intersections, where the collision rates are the highest according to the police report.
I chose to conduct observation study because it can effectively complement the research findings from user interviews. By observing pedestrians’ behaviours in the field, I can better understand the context of their actions and the causal relation of their behaviours while crossing the street. Since I hypothesized that social and environmental factor may play a role in affecting pedestrians’ risk perception, it is important to understand the social environment during their crossings.
Therefore, I conducted 4 sessions of observation studies at different sites, where the Pedestrian Injury Heat Map had indicated high percentage of accident in downtown Toronto. During the observation studies, I paid special attention to the interaction between drivers and pedestrians and noted any evidence that may support or invalidate the initial hypotheses.
Reframe the problem space
After the initial synthesis of the user data, I realized that the initial question is too broad and it needs to be narrowed down to generate focused, meaningful, and actionable insight for the Civic Innovation Office. Thus, I reevaluated the initial three themes (jaywalking, midblock, conflict between pedestrian vs. other road users) and decided to focus my insight around jaywalking for my final presentation.
Since the jaywalking behaviour encompasses all three themes and it has rich insights for further exploration, it will be the best to provide a detailed analysis for the question “why do people jaywalk in downtown Toronto?” instead of proceeding with a broad question that give surface insights for each big theme.
After synthesizing the findings around pedestrian’s jaywalking behaviour, I found that there is an underlying mismatch between pedestrian’s jaywalking behaviour and their safety awareness.
Pedestrians are clearly aware of the danger and risk involved in jaywalking in downtown, but they still jaywalk anyways. This mismatching behaviour is called “action - intention gap” in behavioural economics, where people’s action is different with what they say. Therefore, before providing an answer to “why do people jaywalk in downtown Toronto?”, it’s important to ask “why do pedestrian’s jaywalking behaviour mismatch with their safety awareness?”
Pedestrians are aware of the risk of jaywalking, but they still jaywalk because of an established culture of jaywalking in downtown Toronto.
“I feel awkward crossing midblock because standing in the middle feels uncomfortable and I usually just rush through the red light.”
Why would there be an established culture of jaywalking? Let’s break it down into 3 components:
Pedestrians perceive an underlying social pressure for jaywalking
Pedestrians believe jaywalking is required when crosswalk with traffic light regulation is unavailable or inconvenient
Pedestrians often jaywalk with an established strategy and confidence
“I jaywalk a lot in downtown because everyone is jaywalking. If you don't jaywalk, you feel pretty dumb standing there alone.”
“I know the cars will stop for me. I like to think I’m a careful jaywalker.”
To change the culture of jaywalking, we must tackle each component that makes jaywalk necessary for pedestrians:
Increase the number of crosswalks available
Improve pedestrian regulation
Educational (but fun) slogan
Make waiting at traffic light social and fun