Classification of pedestrians (1)

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I used to think  that pedestrians were – well, pedestrians. Once you had the typical dimensions and walking speed for an adult person, that was all you needed. However, when you start taking a closer look  things (as always) become more complex. It turns out that there are many types of pedestrians, and pedestrians can be classified in several different ways. As (ref. 1166) says:

“One common obstacle in design of pedestrian facilities is assuming that one standard can be applied to fit an “average” population. For example, the speed that pedestrians travel can vary greatly, yet pedestrian signals are often timed for average walking speeds of 4.8 to 6.4 kph”. (This speed range is approximately 4.4 to 5.8 feet per sec (ft/s)).

To follow this point a little further, (ref. 1036) has the following table on type of physical handicap and walking speed):

pedestrians 02b

(Healthy pedestrians can travel at speeds of as much as 8.0 ft/s) (ref. 1160).

What is a “pedestrian”

One South Africa document (ref. 1076) identifies two groups of pedestrians for planning and design purposes: adult pedestrians, and “other  pedestrians,  including  pedestrians  with  special  needs,  such  as  children,  older  people and the disabled”.  In the USA Washington state law (see ref. 1166) defines a pedestrian as

“Any person who is afoot or who is using a wheelchair or a means of conveyance propelled by human power other than a bicycle”

It defines a handicapped pedestrian as

“A pedestrian, or person in a wheelchair,who has limited mobility, stamina, agility, reaction time, impaired vision or hearing, or who may have difficulty walking with or without assistive devices”

So we already have a classification of pedestrians into two groups (fit and those with an impairment of some sort).

How many people have a mobility handicap?

The group “pedestrians with an impairment” is not small. In Germany it is estimated that around 6% of the population is affected by some physical or psychic impairment which is a handicap to their mobility.(ref. 1163). According to (ref. 981) a survey in Australia found that approximately  8% of the population experienced mobility limitations.

Detailed classification of pedestrians

New Zealand’s “Pedestrian planning and design guide” (ref. 1161) gives one example of a detailed classification for pedestrians. It shows three main classes for pedestrians (on foot, on small wheels, and mobility impaired), with a number of sub-groups in each class:

pedestrians 02c

Classification – by type of handicap

One source from Germany (ref. 1163 page 21) lists the following types of handicap for mobility impaired persons:

  • Those whose movement is handicapped (people who have difficulty in standing for example)
  • People who have some sort of sensory handicap (deaf people, people who have weak eyesight etc)
  • People with a speech impediment
  • People with a psychological ailment
  • Older people
  • Pregnant women
  • People with temporary impairment (perhaps as the result of an accident, where the injury has not yet fully healed)
  • Persons with a pram, or with a heavy rucksack or luggage
  • Persons who cannot read

 The same sourceshows a figure (page 43) which gives sample dimensions for

  • Pedestrian with a guide dog
  • Blind person with a guide stick
  • Person walking with the aid of a walking stick
  • Blind person escorted by a second person
  • Person with crutches
  • Person with child pram
  • Person pushing a second person in a wheelchair

Classification – people in groups

Pedestrians do not always move as single autonomous objects. A child in a pram is not autonomous, nor are necessarily children who are part of a school party or adults who are part of a tourist group. Groups take up more space than individuals, and may also move more slowly. They are more likely to be met in transport hubs, tourist attractions etc. Pedestrian groups may be small (say 2 to 4 persons) or large (over 4 persons).

The relevance of considering pedestrians in groups is indicated by this quote from (ref. 1167):

“Our empirical observations reveal that much of pedestrian traffic is actually made up of groups. In our data, only one third of observed pedestrians were walking alone. Furthermore, it turns out that pedestrian groups have an important impact on the overall traffic efficiency”

Classification – by age

(Ref.1169) says that “not only senior citizens but also children have a high share of pedestrian fatalities. Until the age of 14 and then increasingly from the age of 65 on, the proportion of pedestrian fatalities to all fatalities is explicitly higher than in all other groups. So we could classify pedestrians by age:

  • Under 14
  • 14 to 65
  • Over 65

Classification – healthy pedestrians

Healthy pedestrians can be grouped as well. (Ref. 1160) says that “Pedestrians …. are highly diverse, including joggers, healthy adults in a hurry, groups enjoying a leisurely stroll, people carrying packages, people stopped to tie a shoe or enjoy a view, parents with children, people with pets on a leash ….”. A classification could be worked up on the lines of pedestrians  and journey purpose or speed, such as pedestrians on

  • a commute trip
  • shopping trip
  • recreational trip / stroll

 – or on the lines of pedestrians with an impediment

  • Suitcase
  • Rucksack
  • Umbrella
  • Carrying a package
  • With a shopping trolley


Arguably the type of pedestrian varies with location, so that the design of pedestrian infrastructure should be specific to the type of location. This is obviously thecase for hospitals and medical clinics; but it is also true for locations such as main railway stations and shopping centres.


981 – Australia, NSW Road design guide (1991)

1036 – Roess et al, “Traffic engineering, 3rd edition”, Pearson Education International USA; 2004

1076 – South Africa, “Pedestrian and bicycle facility guidelines (draft 1.0)”,  National department of transport, 2003

1160 – Canada, Todd Littman and others, “Pedestrian and bicycle planning – a guide to best practices” Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2005

1161 – New Zealand, “Pedestrian planning and design guide”, Land Transport New Zealand, 2007

1163 – Germany, “Leitfaden – Unbehinderte Mobilität”, Hessische Strassen und Verkehrsverwaltung, 2006

1166 – USA, “Pedestrian facilities guidebook (Incorporating Pedestrians Into Washington’s Transportation System), OTAK, 1997

1169 – Europe, EC project “SafetyNet”  “Traffic safety, basic facts 2005 / pedestrians”, 2005


About roadnotes

Robert Bartlett is an international consultant with over 30 years of professional experience as a highway and traffic engineer with leading companies and organisations in several countries, including Germany, China (Hong Kong), Qatar and the UK. Specialised in urban studies, transport and the use of GIS, research has included new ideas on subjects such as the study of social justice using GIS, the dimensions of vehicles, and comparative geometrics (highways and transport).
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