Understanding pedestrian decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic
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Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus became a worldwide global emergency in January 2020 and a worldwide pandemic in March 2020. COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory illness that primarily affects the lungs and, in some extreme cases, multiple organs, permanent organ damage and even death. The COVID-19 pandemic, and one of its primary mitigation measures, social distancing, has presented a change in the navigation of public walking spaces. In addition, measures have been put in place to reduce exposure to the disease. Generally, these efforts included recommendations to wear face masks if social distancing cannot be maintained, and at times the closure of schools, offices, businesses, and other non-essential establishments. As a result of restrictions and to encourage the maintenance of mental and physical health, public health officials have encouraged activities, such as walking outside, while maintaining a physical distance of two metres from others. Despite a large amount of research conducted on public health aspects of COVID-19, very little has been focused on the impact on pedestrians and potential changes in behaviour due to COVID-19 related recommendations for social distancing. Moreover, little research has been done on how pedestrian mental models generally develop. A mixed-method study, employing a survey and semi-structured interviews, was conducted to explore the development of pedestrian mental models within the context of following social distancing measures. The objective of the thesis research study was to discover any new walking rules and mental models that adult pedestrians within the Waterloo Region of Ontario, Canada, are using as they navigate in outdoor public spaces, with social distancing measures in place. The research study was conducted in two phases: Phase I (survey) and II (semi-structured interview), with the results of Phase I informing the direction of Phase II. The emerging mental models, rules, impacts, and changes experienced by adult pedestrians in the Waterloo Region are presented. New rules that pedestrians are using can be categorized into navigating public spaces, crowded places, and locations with strangers. The results of the survey and emerging rules suggest that pedestrians are experiencing a higher level of risk awareness when walking outdoors. The results of this study indicate that adult pedestrians are now adjusting their walking habits and rules when walking in outdoor, public spaces in response to COVID-19-related social distancing measures. Based on reported actions to be taken for walking scenarios and emerging rules, pedestrians dynamically consider risk to self and risk to others when walking in public areas. Infrastructure was also noted as an important aspect of determining what action to take by pedestrians to create or maintain social distance. Recommendations related to changes in infrastructure, including wider sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly streets, and strategies for public education are discussed.
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Georgette Edwina Greenslade (2021). Understanding pedestrian decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/16770