Crowd Management

Each year, about 20,000 students attend the University of Illinois Quad Day to explore the numerous opportunities to get involved. This interesting day attracts more and more students each year, and as the crowd is increasing, it requires more complex management and control. The F&S collaborated with CEE structures assistant professor, Shelly Zhang, CEE alumna transportation professor Yanfeng Ouyang, and their respective graduate students to develop a model that is capable of optimizing and improving pedestrian traffic flow and control. The project includes developing a series of models that make decisions on the optimal layout, guideways, and barriers set up to control pedestrian flow to increase safety and avoid gridlock. These decisions are based on a crowd movement simulation that was conducted as a prior step in the research to detect pedestrian behavior and expected congested areas. This project is a unique integration of topology optimization and transportation engineering. “This case is a very innovative collaboration, because we are not considering mechanics, we are considering the physics of people’s travel behavior, so it’s quite interesting,” said Dr.Zhang. The Quad Day was to be an appropriate field of this project's experiment that innovatively integrates the pedestrian behavior in peak hours in numerical optimization models. "The primary goal of this research is to help optimize pedestrian traffic during Quad Day so the attendees can get to all the places and tables they want to visit within a reasonable timeframe; also, this improves the safety of attendees and exhibitors," said Stacey DeLorenzo, F&S Transportation Demand Management Coordinator. 

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and in response to safety percussions, the University of Illinois canceled Quad Day for 2020. This unforeseen condition required a change in plans and a slight adjustment to the project objectives to optimize the students' flow during the return to campus. The research team will target the expected high-density areas and events on campus, such as moving day, housing-class commute, and dining halls to find the optimal crowd management plan (what are the decision variable, in other words what are the decisions that the models can recommend), so the students can get to their required destination with the smoothest flow while maintaining social distancing. The model will help control the crowd movement from/to dining hall when almost 5,000 people plan to take their lunch within the lunch break. The F&S will also reach out to the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) to check if they need assistance in modeling a safety plan for the stadium regarding crowd paths, seating, and entrance/exit of attendees. Furthermore, Stacey DeLorenzo stated that this project could be extended beyond the student's return. As the university is closely monitoring the number of COVID-19 cases, these plans mentioned above should be dynamic to consider the changes in decision needs to be taken to confront the current challenges and future opening phases and introduce a larger number of students. 

"We want to increase our academic collaborations and create more opportunities to make the U of I campus a living/learning lab, where researchers can implement projects, and F&S can assist with resources, locations, equipment, material, staff time," said Stacey DeLorenzo, F&S Transportation Demand Management Coordinator. In this project, F&S helped develop the research objectives and provided the research team with the required data to use their knowledge expertise to overcome campus crowd management challenges.