UX Research: Pedestrian Safety in Toronto

Pedestrian Safety in Toronto
UX Collective’s Intro to UX Research Final Assignment

Problem Frame

Since the 2014 municipal election, one of the City of Toronto’s more prominent projects has been an initiative called Vision 0. Vision 0’s mission is to reduce the number of serious injuries and deaths from road accidents – specifically those involving pedestrians and bicyclists. The city is also putting an emphasis on how deaths from road accidents affect different types of folks in the city (for example: the elderly, newcomers etc.).

There’s been a fair amount of quantitative research on the use of roads, characteristics of accidents, etc, but not as much qualitative research has been done to this point. In an Intro to UX Research course by developed by the UX Collective, TAs and administrators believed there was an important question that wasn’t being asked that was critical to developing the right strategy for Vision 0. This became our research question for our final group assignment. In the context of road safety, when do pedestrians or bicyclists in Toronto feel at risk of injury, and what types of behavourial changes do they make to compensate?

Research Question:
In the context of road safety, when do pedestrians or bicyclists in Toronto feel at risk of injury, and what types of behavourial changes do they make to compensate?


Our team consisted of 4 people, each bringing different skills to the table varying from design, to research to customer experience. We began the process as a group creating our research plan, each held our own interviews, and then came together during data synthesis, summarizing and communicating the findings. Our objective was to create and execute a qualitative research project that provided actionable information to answering this question. It’s was critical that we looked at the question from the perspectives of a diverse range of residents of the city. Our team was focused on the subpopulation of pedestrian parents. Our research objectives were to understand the experience of a Parent Pedestrian in downtown Toronto, identify factors and times/situations where these pedestrians feel unsafe on Toronto streets, identify the safety needs/suggestions for pedestrians, and identify safety measures pedestrians take,
Our tasks included creating a user interview guide based off our chosen subpopulation, creating a recruitment plan and conducting the interviews, synthesizing the data and communicating the findings. Some Initial Assumptions and Hypothesis: these parents are not careful when walking around on the streets, areas they walk in are dense in drivers, lack of safe sidewalks, lack of pedestrian crosswalks for pedestrians, results in j-walking, intersections and blocks are poorly designed for pedestrians or are not accessible to all, lack of attention paid by drivers, unclear signage for drivers or too many distractions. Methodologies: We took a mixed methods approach that included some initial secondary research and light observation studies to understand the what and and in-depth user interviews to understand the why.
Our interviewees consisted of 8 parents with children between 4 and 7 years old, all living in the downtown area, who are primarily pedestrians that occasionally drive or cycle. In our in-depth interviews we explored the following themes: perception of safety, route selection, where they go, why they go there, what they do on the walk, safe and unsafe walking experiences. Some questions included: What does pedestrian safety mean to you? Tell me about some areas you frequent the most? How do you prepare for a walk with your child(ren)? Tell me about a recent time you felt you and your child were at risk walking in the city? What about a time you felt safe walking with your kid(s)?

Synthesis: Themes

1) Routes change. Parents take extra precautions to choose the safest route.

2) Parents create their own unique set of rules.

3) Walking is an educational opportunity.

Main Takeaway:
Everything changes when you become a parent. You become hyperaware.

A parent’s approach to walking through the city changes drastically once they have children. They become hyper engaged in pedestrian safety with their children in comparison to the average pedestrian because they are no longer concerned with just their own safety but the safety of their children.

Parents spend a lot more mental and physical energy thinking about the safety of their children while walking in the streets. Many feel like they have to overcompensate for the lack of awareness from drivers on the road by being extra vigilant (Better safe than sorry mentality).

Opportunities and Design Recommendations

Parents can be strong advocates for policy changes and safety measures implemented by Vision 0.

This population would be especially receptive to new educational tools and resources that would help improve pedestrian safety in Toronto. Some examples of improvements that would resonate with parents could be:

  • Spaces and routes that help educate children about road safety
  • Crowd-sourcing and documenting safe routes for parents.
  • More research around understanding the rules that parents set for their children