Mineta Research: How underground urban rail systems can manage pedestrian traffic in increasingly crowded stations

Free report offers four recommendations
May 26, 2015
San José, CA

How can urban rail systems manage pedestrian traffic in increasingly crowded stations? This is especially problematic in subway systems, where spaces are confined. This congestion can result in passenger inconvenience, delays, and at times danger. A new Mineta Transportation Institute report, Passenger Flows in Underground Railway Stations and Platforms, addresses that challenge and offers several recommendations. The report is authored by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, PhD, Brian D. Taylor, PhD, and Carole Turley Voulgaris.

“An important goal of this report is to explain how transit system managers, planners, and designers can provide optimal passenger flow,” said Dr. Loukaitou-Sideris. “Many subway and elevated transit stations have been in service for decades, so they often must accommodate in the same physical space more passengers than they originally were designed to handle. Thus, transit station designers and transit operators not only must devise strategies to provide safe and comfortable passenger movement through the stations, they also must implement these strategies within physical and financial constraints.”

The study had three objectives: 1) Understand the particular infrastructural, operational, behavioral, and spatial factors that affect and may constrain passenger queuing and flows in different types of rail transit stations; 2) Identify, compare, and evaluate practices for efficient, expedient, and safe passenger flows in different types of station environments and during typical (rush hour) and atypical (evacuations, station maintenance/refurbishment) situations; and 3) Compile short-, medium-, and long-term recommendations for optimizing passenger flows in different station environments.

The researchers conducted a review of relevant literature, interviews with experts in transit rail station design, and an online survey of 18 transit professionals representing all 16 transit agencies in the United States and Canada with heavy rail transit stations. They then made observations and developed recommendations in each of four topic areas: (1) agency planning for passenger flows; (2) data collection and forecasting; (3) analysis; and (4) design.

Recommendations included:

  • Encourage coordination and knowledge sharing among various specialists responsible for aspects of the passenger experience, including construction and emergency evacuations.
  • Routinely assess assumptions used to estimate pedestrian volumes and pedestrian characteristics.
  • Select analysis tools and methodologies based on each particular question requiring a solution.
  • Consider the impact that each design strategy implemented in one station area will have in other areas of the station and on the adjacent street environment.

The 110-page report includes lists of those who were interviewed or surveyed, an explanation of methodology, and 11 figures and 26 tables to illustrate. Copies of the interview and survey instruments are also included.

For a free, no-registration download, go to http://transweb.sjsu.edu/project/1230.html

Tweet this: @MinetaTrans report: How underground #rail station operators can improve passenger flow. Free download. http://ow.ly/Na9ru


Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, PhD, is a professor of urban planning and associate dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. She holds degrees in architecture and urban planning. She has consulted to the Transportation Research Board, Federal Transit Administration, Southern California Association of Governments, South Bay Cities Council of Government, Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative, Project for Public Spaces, and many others.

Brian D. Taylor, PhD, FAICP, is professor of urban planning, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, and director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He holds a BA in geography from UCLA, an MS in civil and environmental engineering, an MCP in city and regional planning from UC Berkeley, and a PhD in urban planning from UCLA.

Carole Turley Voulgaris is a third-year doctoral student in urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering from Brigham Young University and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame.


The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) conducts research, education, and information transfer programs regarding surface transportation policy and management issues, especially related to transit. Congress established MTI in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. MTI won national re-designation competitions in 2002, 2006 and 2012. The Institute is funded through the US Department of Transportation, the US Department of Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. The internationally respected members of the MTI Board of Trustees represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI, the lead institute for the nine-university Mineta National Transit Research Consortium, is affiliated with San Jose (CA) State University’s College of Business.


Donna Maurillo
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