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Unique laboratory could make pavements more user-friendly

A laboratory specifically designed to make pedestrian environments safer and easier to use is up and running at University College London. This new experimental facility and its potential to enhance quality of life will be described at this year’s BA Festival of Science in Norwich.

Research undertaken using PAMELA (Pedestrian Accessibility & Movement Environment Laboratory) is expected to have a positive impact on the lives of all users – which is particularly significant in view of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act in April 2005.

The laboratory makes it possible, for the first time, to observe and understand how all the different factors at work in pedestrian environments can cause difficulties for people using them. By providing detailed insights into how pedestrians are affected by uneven surfaces and visual distractions, for instance, PAMELA will generate data that leads to improvements in the design of pavements, footways and concourses, and will enable new ideas and products to be tried out.

Nick Tyler, Chadwick Professor of Civil Engineering at University College London, has led the development of PAMELA, supported by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. He will outline the laboratory’s capabilities at the BA Festival on 8th September.

PAMELA consists of three key elements, which enable different, realistic combinations of conditions and their impact on people to be studied in a closely controlled scientific environment:

•An 80m2 computer-controlled platform which can be altered to mimic the characteristics of different pedestrian environments, such as surface material, colour and texture, gradients, steps and obstacles.
•A lighting system that can mimic different daytime/night-time light conditions.
•A sound system that can create realistic ambient noise such as traffic movement, railway announcements etc.

As well as studying how accessible and user-friendly a pedestrian environment is for people with different capabilities, the laboratory can be used to pinpoint exactly how and why an environment may become difficult or confusing, e.g. a railway station subject to noises from different sources, strange lighting effects caused by shadows and arches, moving people and machines, changing floor surfaces and levels etc. Research of this kind could inform design decisions on issues such as surface types/colours/smoothness, slopes and lighting.

Similarly, the laboratory can be used to study changes in pedestrian capacity resulting from changes in the physical dimensions of pedestrian environments, or the need to step up, across or down from a bus or train to a platform, for example. This will help in the design of pedestrian spaces and transport interchanges.

“There’s enormous scope to improve the design of pedestrian environments so that people can move around them more efficiently, while minimising the risk of trips, falls and similar accidents,” says Professor Tyler. “PAMELA is the first laboratory of its kind and we’re keen to see organisations from all over the world make use of its pioneering facilities.

Natasha Richardson | alfa
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