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Traffic operations in public walking spaces are to a large extent determined by differences in pedestrian traffic demand and infrastructure supply. Congestion occurs when pedestrian traffic demand exceeds the capacity. In turn, the latter is determined by a number of factors, such as the width of the bottleneck and the wall surface, as well as the interaction behavior of the pedestrians passing the bottleneck.

This article discusses experimental findings of microscopic pedestrian behavior in case of bottlenecks. Results for both a narrow bottleneck and a wide bottleneck are discussed and compared to the results of an experiment without a bottleneck. It is shown how pedestrians inside bottlenecks effectively form layers or trails, the distance between which is approximately 45 cm. This is less than the effective width of a single pedestrian, which is around 55 cm. The layers are thus overlapping, a phenomenon which is referred to as the “zipper” effect. The pedestrians within these layers follow each other at 1.3 seconds, irrespective of the considered experiment. For the narrow bottleneck case (width of one meter) two layers are formed; for the wide bottleneck case (width of two meters), four or five layers are formed, although the life span of these layers is rather small.

The zipper effect causes the capacity of the bottleneck to increase in a stepwise fashion with the width of the bottleneck, at least for bottlenecks of moderate width (less than 3 m). This has substantial implications for the design of walking facilities.

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