Pedestrian predictions

Pedestrian simulation software developed by Arup’s Toronto office is helping to improve everything from transit facilities to city streets around the world. We spoke with transportation planner and product director Erin Morrow to learn more about MassMotion.

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What is MassMotion?

It is the world’s most advanced pedestrian simulation software, in a nutshell. It’s designed to fit into the design process in a way that other softwares are not. It’s BIM-compatible. For example, you should be able to take Revit models, push them easily into MassMotion, and then set up simulations with relatively little effort — the idea being that this helps get the kind of analysis that MassMotion provides into the design process early and often.

It’s also very high performance, so you can get answers quickly.

What else does it do that other programs don’t?

It both predicts where people will want to be in a complex building or network and tells you whether or not people will be able to fit into or flow through the spaces they end up in. MassMotion is the only program that can do both of those things in a 3D environment.

Additionally, MassMotion is also capable of doing complex process modeling for things like airport check-ins or security cordons. You can program the agents to have itineraries or tasks which can be modified dynamically throughout the simulation. So you can learn not just whether a design is spatially appropriate, but also whether it’s operationally appropriate. It’s not just a question of if your departures hall is big enough — you need to know whether you have enough desks or security positions to process the volume of people that you’re expecting.

Has it changed significantly over its lifespan?

Definitely, yes. We’ve been working on it with escalating levels of intensity for probably eight years now.

How did it get started?

It was originally developed for a couple of projects in New York: Fulton Center and Second Avenue Subway. In particular, Fulton had complex spatial characteristics which we just were not able to address with the software that was available on the market. MassMotion was initially a response to the really complex interchanges and vertical transitions and everything else on that project.

It grew from that into a more generalized pedestrian simulation software for doing rail stations, and has subsequently had the process engineering component added. We use it for lots of different things now — urban environments and site planning and so forth — but it was initially oriented toward high-volume or highly complex station planning applications.

After it was developed for the Fulton Center, we took a commission here in Toronto on the redevelopment of Union Station, which in size and passenger volume is very comparable to New York’s Penn Station; it’s projected to be about 80 or 90 million passengers a year.

The real evolution of Mass Motion happened on Union Station. The initial feature richness, dealing with scaling issues, and so forth — that was all the result of Union Station work. I still don’t believe that there’s another pedestrian simulator out there that you could run Union Station simulations with. Due to the complexity of the environment and the volume of pedestrians in the space, you really do need a tool like MassMotion that will both predict where people will go and whether they’ll fit when they get there.

Are you still working on Union Station?

It’s been ongoing now for at least seven years. It’s been a fantastic project for us. We’ve done a lot of work in minimizing the risk of their project planning and the design of the overall revitalization of the station.

Because of that work we’ve become a trusted advisor to both the planning division and the real estate and facilities division for the City of Toronto. It’s also led to knock-on work with the regional rail operator, because Union Station is effectively the hub of regional transit in the Greater Toronto area.

Who uses MassMotion?

The development team is in Toronto. We write the software here, but it’s used around the world by Arup people. There are really strong centers of knowledge and excellence in New York, San Francisco, Melbourne, Dublin, Leeds, and Hong Kong.

It’s a commercially available tool as well. Municipal governments, universities and private consultancies around the world use it.

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