Foot force models of crowd dynamics on a wobbly bridge

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Science Advances  10 Nov 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 11, e1701512
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701512

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Modern pedestrian and suspension bridges are designed using industry standard packages, yet disastrous resonant vibrations are observed, necessitating multimillion dollar repairs. Recent examples include pedestrian-induced vibrations during the opening of the Solférino Bridge in Paris in 1999 and the increased bouncing of the Squibb Park Bridge in Brooklyn in 2014. The most prominent example of an unstable lively bridge is the London Millennium Bridge, which started wobbling as a result of pedestrian-bridge interactions. Pedestrian phase locking due to footstep phase adjustment is suspected to be the main cause of its large lateral vibrations; however, its role in the initiation of wobbling was debated. We develop foot force models of pedestrians’ response to bridge motion and detailed, yet analytically tractable, models of crowd phase locking. We use biomechanically inspired models of crowd lateral movement to investigate to what degree pedestrian synchrony must be present for a bridge to wobble significantly and what is a critical crowd size. Our results can be used as a safety guideline for designing pedestrian bridges or limiting the maximum occupancy of an existing bridge. The pedestrian models can be used as “crash test dummies” when numerically probing a specific bridge design. This is particularly important because the U.S. code for designing pedestrian bridges does not contain explicit guidelines that account for the collective pedestrian behavior.

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