Scramble crossings? Math students weigh in
Cambie and Broadway, one of Vancouver’s busiest intersections, could benefit from a so-called scramble pedestrian crossing according to a group of Simon Fraser University math students.
After several classes spent collecting data while people-watching and surveying pedestrians, students say the method, which stops all traffic while pedestrians cross in various directions, may be more effective, and safer.
Sixty-five per cent of pedestrians they surveyed agreed it would have a positive effect as well as safety benefits.
Scramble crossings were used in Vancouver in the 1950s and the city was one of the first in North America to have such a feature. They were removed in 1970, but more recently, returned to Richmond’s No. 1 Road and Moncton Street. The City of Vancouver is weighing their use at several intersections, including the study site.
After determining scramble crossings could have benefits, students calculated the traffic light sequence that would be most efficient while also improving traffic flow by thwarting delays when turning due to crosswalk use.
Using operations research models, they not only produced near optimum light sequencing but shaved as much as eight seconds off the intersection’s current cycle length.
Students say more study would help determine how a new cycle would coordinate with other nearby intersections. They also suggest that allowing the signal times to adapt to different times of the day when traffic patterns change would allow for more efficient use of the intersection.
Students plan to pass on the findings to the city for consideration.
The class project is one of several overseen by SFU math professor Abraham Punnen as part of an undergraduate course, Math 402W, Operations Research Clinic. With student interest on the rise, SFU’s Mathematics department recently introduced undergraduate and graduate programs in operations research at its Surrey campus.
“Operations research is all about optimal decision making. Students work on real and practical problems to come up with better solutions, and for these math students that is the attraction,” says Punnen, who also has a number of industrial research projects underway. “I’m amazed at their creativity.”
Students also tackled projects related to scheduling and space allocation at universities. A study on teaching assistant scheduling problems with open tutorials won first prize at the Canadian Operational Research Society’s student paper competition last week. The intersection optimization study took second spot.
Even in first-year courses, such as Math208W, Introduction to Operations Research, students are taught sophisticated mathematical modeling techniques and software skills. Over the past term the students designed “optimal” two-week menu-plans by consulting nutritional guidelines and visiting supermarkets and restaurants to collect data. They developed and solved mathematical models for the menus using more than 1,000 variables.
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