Street Living Walking Lab – concept and what we do

Inspired by the concept of mobility, this project aims to design better walking experiences and help cities address challenges of overcrowding and "dead places" by developing a Living Lab in different cities. A Living Lab is an open R & D urban environment where academics, planners, consultants, citizens and tourists come together to collaborate on desirable walking futures.

Our Living Lab uniquely combines quantitative and qualitative approaches, experts and users (both locals and tourists), studies of existing walking practices and the design and test of proto-types. New smart technologies in data collection on pedestrian movements will be integrated with way-finding, ethnographic observations, video-recordings, test walks, walk-along interviews and interviews with residents and visitors to capture and understand pedestrian dynamics and experiences in specific places.

Based on analysis of this comprehensive data, we will subsequently conceptualize and test design ideas. Users will be invited to test, experiment and engage with the proposed scenarios, providing an immediate feedback and direction for the implementation.

Our Living Lab aims to help cities address challenges on walkability by providing an open research-informed innovation environment where different actors collaborate and co-design to accelerate the development of pedestrian-friendly places and inclusive walking cultures.

The process of our Living Lab follows four steps:

1. Measuring walkability

Suited areas are selected based on a dialogue with the cities. Quantitative data on pedestrian movement are collected by hetereogeneous sensors and combined with direct observations and interviews with residents and tourists to capture and understand pedestrian dynamics in the selected areas. The beginning of the Living Lab as a physical workplace is established in the selected areas to collect data and store knowledge.

2. Engage Stakeholders

Based on the data collection and gathered knowledge about the area, different design ideas are conceptualized by the project team. These design ideas are implemented in our Living Lab and the Lab is established in the chosen area of interest. Here local authorities and users of the area will experiment and engage with the proposed scenarios and design solutions, providing an immediate feedback and direction for the design and implementation.

3. Testing

Design solutions in a test-version are implemented in the selected areas and the collection of qualitative and quantitative data measuring walkability is repeated. Examples of design solutions that can be implemented in a test version are, for example, information signs or poles regarding wayfinding or behaviour, marking or barriers on paths or in areas to direct movement, the closing of streets for cars in compliance with the authorities, etc. Also, non-physical solutions to increase walkability can be developed in the Living Lab and discussed with local authorities and users of the area. This could be campaigns to influence walking culture, strategies to improve walkability on a larger scale and digital maps to inform users, etc.

4. Design Solution

The proposed solutions’ effect on walkability in the area is analysed in the Living Lab and from testing the test-versions. The conclusions and experience from the city-cases are used in the following cities. The major findings are implemented in a research and design manual and some are also discussed in scientific articles and presentations at conferences. By replicating the process and documenting the piloting in each city, the study aims to inspire other cities to adopt the approach, or specific elements of it, for pedestrian mobility planning.

Quantitative approaches

COWI City Sense

COWI City Sense is a system developed by COWI together with Blip Systems to track (anonymously and GDPR compliant) cars, bicyclists and pedestrians. By installing physical sensors in the area of interest, the system picks up Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals from peoples’ mobile phones or other electronic devices. By giving the detected signal a unique ID, the system can recognize the same device if it is picked up on another sensor in the system. This makes it possible to follow devices through an area of interest and track how long a device is in the area.

Data From Sky

Data From Sky is an advanced video analysis service delivered by a COWI DK cooperation partner from the Czech Republic. The service tracks (anonymously and GDPR compliant) moving objects based on recorded videos. COWI has an exclusive contract with the company in the Nordic countries and Data From Sky sees the potential in working together with COWI to further develop their product. By recording videos in selected areas, we can analyse the movement and behaviour of pedestrians in an area.

The Walkability Score Model

The walkability score model that COWI DK and NO developed with assistance of Elin Børrud, NMBU. This tool gives an area a walkability-score based on quantitative data inputs such as urban structure, connectivity, density, functions, lighting, traffic, location of public transport, etc. We aim to use this tool in the selected areas to locate parameters that influences the areas’ walkability and to further develop and strengthen the tool.

Qualitative approaches

We employ qualitative methods to get a richer and more human-focused understanding of why and how people walk, and how they experience it – both before and after we have implemented designs. We will on selected streets and squares with different characteristics, do the following.

Observations where we observe and film/photograph how people walk, and how pedestrians interact with each other, cyclists and cars, and the street design. We use this method to identify design problems and to test the effect of our designs.

Street interviews with walkers and non-walkers to hear their account of pedestrian problems and how design and planning can improve their experience and proclivity for walking.

Some of these will be so-called go-along-interviews where we interview people while they walk their usual route.

Test walks where we ask people to walk a specific route and report their experience to us afterward.

Expert interviews with municipality planners and designers.