Self-organization in Pedestrian Crowds

  • Dirk Helbing
Part of the Understanding Complex Systems book series (UCS)


The modeling of pedestrian motion is of great theoretical and practical interest. Recent experimental efforts have revealed quantitative details of pedestrian interactions, which have been successfully cast into mathematical equations. Furthermore, corresponding computer simulations of large numbers of pedestrians have been compared with the empirically observed dynamics of crowds. Such studies have led to a deeper understanding of how collective behavior on a macroscopic scale emerges from individual human interactions. Interestingly enough, the non-linear interactions of pedestrians lead to various complex, spatio-temporal pattern-formation phenomena. This includes the emergence of lanes of uniform walking direction, oscillations of the pedestrian flow at bottlenecks, and the formation of stripes in two intersecting flows. Such self-organized patterns of motion demonstrate that an efficient, “intelligent” collective dynamics can be based on simple, local interactions. Under extreme conditions, however, coordination may break down, giving rise to critical crowd conditions. Examples are “freezing-by-heating” and “faster-is-slower” effects, but also the transition to “turbulent” crowd dynamics. These observations have important implications for the optimization of pedestrian facilities, in particular for evacuation situations.


Intermittent Flow Pedestrian Flow Pedestrian Motion Social Force Model Stripe Formation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors are grateful for partial financial support by the German Research Foundation (research projects He 2789/7-1, 8-1) and by the “Cooperative Center for Communication Networks Data Analysis”, a NAP project sponsored by the Hungarian National Office of Research and Technology under grant No. KCKHA005.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dirk Helbing
    • 1
  1. 1.CLU E1ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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