Exploring Crosswalks & Research Methodologies

Team Members: Katherine Bennett, Sammi Hudock

Skills: various research methods

Duration of Project: 6 weeks (Sept. 14, 2018 - Oct. 19, 2018)

Summary

The goal of this project was to investigate and explore a transition space utilizing various research methods in an effort to better understand how these research methods assist in the gathering of data and the formation of ideas, theories, conclusions, and artifacts.  The project was divided into two parts spanning six weeks.  The first part entailed research methods that were logistic in practice while the second part utilized methods that were more ethnographic in nature.  In carrying out these research methods, we attempted to extract valuable findings and construct conclusive statements regarding the transition space of interest.

Determining a Transition Space

 Prior to any form of research taking place, we first set out to determine the transition space of interest for our project.  This was completed using open brainstorming between team members where everyone was encouraged to share any ideas for interesting spaces where any sort of transition takes place.  Once we had compiled a list of 36 different transition spaces, we narrowed down our list to three ideas based on accessibility of the space and depth of interest based on the expected transitions that occur in the space.  From there, the team held an open discussion about the three ideas to come to a consensus on a single space to investigate as the subject of the project. 

Through this discussion, our team decided on the transition space of crosswalks, largely inspired by the crosswalk located at the intersection of Spring Street and 5th Street in Atlanta.  We decided on this subject because of the fact that the intersection was easily accessible to all team members and that the transition that occurred at the crosswalk was multi-directional and moderated by external factors such as the traffic lights and the legal framework regarding crosswalk activity. 

Part 1: Logistic Research Methods

We began our investigative activities on the crosswalk using three different research methods that fit within the logistic approach towards research.  The logistic approach is characterized by the deconstruction of the subject of research into its fundamental components and the subsequent construction of conclusions regarding the research subject based off of the identified components.  The research methods that we carried out in this part of the project all carry out this process of deconstruction and construction in some capacity both individually and in conjunction with one another.

AEIOU

In our initial data gathering efforts, we headed out to the intersection of Spring Street and 5th Street and conducted general observations of the environment, the users of the crosswalk, and the actions that occurred in the space.  We then placed our observations in the AEIOU framework to extract initial findings.  The AEIOU framework sorts observation data into categories of Activities, Environment, Interactions, Objects, and Users.

 

 Activites AEIOU Worksheet

Activites AEIOU Worksheet

Activities – Activities covers the actions that users take within the environment to complete their desired goals.  For the crosswalk, this included actions such as walking, running, watching the cars, reading the traffic lights, etc.  All of these actions were completed in service of the general goal of crossing the crosswalk.

 Environment AEIOU worksheet

Environment AEIOU worksheet

Environment – Environment encompasses any general notes about the atmosphere of the space where the observations took place.  When we observed the crosswalk, we made note of the time of day, the weather and temperature at that time, and the level of noise and traffic at the crosswalk.

 Interactions AEIOU worksheet

Interactions AEIOU worksheet

Interactions – Interactions includes all interactions within this environment (person-person and person-object) as activities occur.  Some interactions of note for us were how people focus their attention on different things when determining when to cross, and how their interactions also affected how they crossed (i.e. people looking at their phone slowing down while crossing, people who were talking with others before and after they were crossing, etc.)

 Objects AEIOU worksheet

Objects AEIOU worksheet

Objects – Objects lists out the items within the environment and observes how they’re used in relation to their activities.  Some objects of note for us at the crosswalk were the presence of a crossing button on some corners, the abundance of visual stimuli by traffic lights and signs, and how people kept their hands busy with bags or their phone or other objects. 

 Users AEIOU worksheet

Users AEIOU worksheet

Users - Finally, Users provides a list of people observed in this space going through these activities.  Here we looked at behaviors in relation to their actors and noted how that behavior might reflect on their roles or preferences or expectations.

 

Behavioral Mapping

 

 Behavioral map of activities at the intersection of Spring Street and 5th Street in Atlanta, GA.

Behavioral map of activities at the intersection of Spring Street and 5th Street in Atlanta, GA.

When we conducted our observations of the crosswalk, we also made special note of the placement and movement of participants within the transition space for use in place-based behavioral mapping.  This method illustrates the behaviors that occur within a location of interest using coded graphics such as symbols and numbers.  The map that we created from our observations show how pedestrians utilized the unique diagonal crossing that occurs at this intersection as well as the density of participants, both pedestrian and drivers, that accumulates at the intersection.

 

Personas

Our observations also captured the behaviors of various participants of the crosswalk which we then utilized in the formation of personas of the different archetypes of participants that we saw in the space.  Personas are typically used to estimate the goals, experiences, thoughts, and fears of users who fall within these identified archetypes.  From our observations, we formed the following personas:

 

The Casual Student

  • Wants to graduate and have fun

  • Trying to get the most out of college

  • Wears a casual t-shirt and shorts

  • Carries a water bottle

  • Walks through the crosswalk casually

The Academic

  • Fears unemployment, not getting tenure, and dealing with senior faculty bullies

  • Tends to be more patient at the crosswalk

  • Wears a nicer outfit

  • Wants to learn and accomplish great research 

The International

  •  Runs across the crosswalk in a rush

  • Wears an untucked polo

  • Wants to get a great degree and a solid job

  • Fears not getting sponsored and losing their visa

The Out-of-Towner

  •  Does not understand how the crosswalk works

  • Wears khakis and a polo shirt

  • Travels frequently for work

  • Wants to spend more time with his family

The Businessman

  •  Joined a friend’s startup company but worries that it won’t work out

  • Most often will wait to cross but occasionally jaywalks for no real reason

  • Goal is to earn enough money to retire early

  • Enjoys the casual dress code that his office culture allows

Part 1 Conclusions

 Our experience researching interactions using logistic research methods showed us that they were very useful in gathering reproducible, quantitative data but gathering qualitative data or data that spoke to the more subjective experiences within the crosswalk was much more difficult. In other words, through these methods we could know how long it took on average for people to cross the crosswalk but we could only hypothesize as to why someone was rushing through the crosswalk. Another way that this manifested was in our creation of personas. Through the personas, we attempted to use objective data of what had occurred in the crosswalk during our observations to understand who the users of the crosswalk are, but ultimately it resulted in the problematic categorization of people under harmful stereotypes.

Part 2: Operational/Ethnographic Research Methods

 

In part 2 of the project, we approached gathering data about the crosswalk as a space of transition utilizing ethnographic and operational research methods. Unlike the methods used in part 1 of the project, the purpose of these methods was not to gather objective and reproducible data about the crosswalk, but rather contextual and experiential information of how people interacted with the crosswalk.

  

Directed Storytelling

When they were first testing it, it didn’t have the diagonal signage here. So it was really weird when you’d get like into the intersection and you couldn’t see the signs and you didn’t know how much time you had left. And their timing wasn’t good when they initially set it up. They fixed it now but like there wasn’t really…like now it’s like 14 or 15 seconds, but back then it was like 8 and unless you started crossing immediately when it switched, you wouldn’t make it.

Using the method of directed storytelling, we gathered stories of peoples’ experiences interacting with the crosswalk at Spring Street and 5th Street. With directed storytelling, we reached out to people who had interacted with the crosswalk in some way and asked them to tell us a story of that interaction.  With this method, we are looking at how users craft a narrative around their experience as well as the emotions they convey through their storytelling.  As the participants would tell their stories, we would respond by asking probing questions to dig a little deeper and really get to the finer details of their experience.

 

Love Letter/Breakup Letter

 A set of letters shared by a participant

A set of letters shared by a participant

The Love Letter & Break-up Letter was another method we used to get at how people conceptualize their relationship with the subject of interest, in our case the crosswalk.  Here we asked participants to write a love letter conveying what they appreciated about the crosswalk as well as a break-up letter describing what they despised about the crosswalk.

Participant Observation

10/10/2018 2:33 PM – Crossed from B&N to Hotel on the way to the library to do work. Thinking about Hurricane Michael that’s supposed to cross through Macon. We’re supposed to get some thunderstorms here as well. I’m hoping I can get my work done before the storms blow in.

We used participant observation to build a personal frame of reference in comparison to the data we gathered through the storytelling and letters.  Participant observation entailed that we take detailed notes of our own experiences interacting with the crosswalk during the data collection period.  These notes included information such as what day and time we crossed, what direction we were headed, what we were thinking of while crossing, and any other environmental information that may have seemed relevant to the experience.

Part 2 Conclusions

Through the use of these three methods, we began to see some recurring themes in the experiences shared with us by participants as well as our own experiences with the crosswalk.  For example, many of the participants shared experiences where their desire to get through the crosswalk as a driver was put at odds against the desire of the pedestrians crossing the crosswalk.  One participant wrote about her experience with the crosswalk as a driver:

I love not having to wait on a stream of moron pedestrians to turn across you. Most crosswalks have pedestrians cross at the same time cars are moving in their direction, so they also block cars trying to turn. But pedestrians aren’t supposed to move at you when cars are moving, so I don’t have to wait for them.

With this conflict of desires between pedestrians and drivers occurring within the shared space of the intersection, we began to see new behaviors come to light such as jaywalking and police yelling at those not properly following orders. Another participant had this to share about the difference in how drivers and pedestrians experience the crosswalk:

So I see a lot more people running red lights [since the shift to a multi-direction intersection], because they think they won’t get another chance [to get through the light]. Walkers get timers. Drivers don’t. They don’t see that this is speeding up their commute. They think it’s not.

Within our data, we also saw how the crosswalk bred confidence and assurance in its participants.  Participants spoke about how there was little confusion as to who was able to move at any given time with the way that the traffic lights behaved at this crosswalk. For example, one pedestrian shared this quote:

As someone who goes through this crosswalk all the time, I love that I don’t have to prick up and be really intensely aware of what the cars will do. I see the walk and I just walk. And when the cars are driving, if they see the green they can just drive straight and if they get the turn they can just turn.

Given the rich amount of ethnographic data that we had gathered during this phase of the project, we wanted to create pieces that accurately captured and conveyed these themes within the experience of interacting with the crosswalk.

 Collage of quotes gathered through ethnographic research methods, created by Katherine Bennett

Collage of quotes gathered through ethnographic research methods, created by Katherine Bennett

15. I go because I’m told.
14. I move because I can.
13. I’m here until I’m not.
12. I know where I must be.
11. I feel the gaze of the lumbering beasts.
10. I sense their urgent hunger.
9. I know where I must be.
8. I’m here until I’m not.
7. I go because I’m told.
6. I move because I can.
5.
4.
3.
2.
1.
— Move, a poem by Jordan Chen
“Dear crosswalk, I really don’t like anything about you, even from a pedestrian point of view. You’re pointless! There was never any trouble without you.

Dear crosswalk, I love how I barely have to wait to cross you when I’m on foot. Everything moves so quickly. I get to you, glance at my phone for only a moment, and then suddenly I’m crossing you.

I tried to turn at like 4pm, which wasn’t allowed, but I didn’t know and a cop yelled at me. And I was very confusing, and I didn’t know. I missed the sign and I was just trying to get to work because I was late for work and I just needed to get to my parking deck.

If just miss the timing, I’ll wait longer. But like even then, it’s not that bad. And particularly for you, cuz like normally I’d have to wait like two cycles but now I can just cross diagonally.

You used to be a really difficult intersection, particularly during rush hour and turns. It would be really dangerous because I would be crossing but like if people were crossing, I’d like have to back up or I’d end up with weird dangerous turns.

“I noticed Sunday this sign is up, ‘Don’t get caught in the box.’ It wasn’t up Thursday.

Now if you’re green, I know I can just turn.

‘Get out of the box!’ cops yelled towards me. I was walking with three people, but I was alone. They were talking to my soul… My mother taught me never to be in trouble.”

But I find that you’re not the good idea I thought you were, you’re just a shoddy quick-fix for a whole lot of hidden stupid.

How will we know whether to cross the street, unless we’re told?

I just don’t understand why you were created in the first place.

They created a new behavior with you. Who feels like the winner? Walkers do. I do.
— Dear Crosswalk, a prose piece created by Sammi Hudock