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A Successful Launch of the CityFlows Webinar Series — Crowd Management in Times of Corona

From:  Cornelia Dinca (AMS Institute) & Simone Hoskam (TU Delft)
Last edited: 28 September 2020

On Tuesday, 8 September, forty-five participants gathered for the first CityFlows webinar on the topic of crowd-management in response to corona. Speakers came from three partner cities: Eelco Thiellier, Project Manager Crowd Monitoring System Amsterdam (CMSA); Valentino Sevino, Mobility Planning Director at City of Milan’s Environmental Mobility and Territory Agency (AMAT); and Aina Pedret, Mobility & Tourism Specialist at the City of Barcelona.

The meeting represented a successful launch of the EIT-KIC CityFlows webinar series which will continue with additional webinars in October, November and December.

Did you miss the webinar? It is possible to watch the recording via

Brief summary

Following a brief introduction to the CityFlows project, Eelco Thieller shared how the City of Amsterdam has quickly adapted its crowd monitoring infrastructure to respond to the corona crisis. Eelco showed the techniques that are used and how they are instituted throughout the city in crowded locations, or “hot spots”, such as shopping districts and market areas, the Red Light District, and in parks and at event locations. The focus is always on managing crowds or flows of people in the most privacy-preserving way with infrared sensors being a good example of how this is done in Vondelpark. Eelco also described the predictive models that were developed using the data which are helpful with determining what crowd-management actions should be undertaken by the City to ensure the health and safety of the residents and visitors.

Valentino Sevino shared a broader perspective on how the City of Milan has used data and modelling to respond to the corona emergency. Valentino showed how the modal-share in the city had drastically changed since the end of February through June as a result of the corona crisis. This shed light on levels on congestion throughout the city and showed a large reduction in all modalities during the lock down. Following the lock-down, public transport began operating at 25% which then required the city to undertake a complete rethinking of the mobility system with the goal of focusing on more temporal distribution, promotion of remote working, and promotion of active transport through street space reallocation to non-motorized transport. The data collected enabled them to predict and plan for different scenarios, especially considering the goal of abiding by social distancing guidelines during rush hours.

Aina Pedret from the City of Barcelona responded to the first two presentations by reflecting on the global challenge of ensuring confidence and safety for people in response to corona. To ensure this confidence and safety for both locals and tourists, the City of Barcelona is developing an application showing real time data of busyness at “hot spots”. And similar to the City of Amsterdam, the City of Barcelona is using cameras to monitor and manage occupancy and crowds at busy locations such as markets.

The webinar ended with an open discussion facilitated by Dorine Duives, CityFlows Principle Investigator at TU Delft.

Questions & Answers

During the webinar, some interesting questions are asked by the attendees. The most relevant questions are further elaborated below

  • How did you manage to use the Wi-Fi tracking in the city of Amsterdam as regards to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)?
    Wi-Fi tracking is still sensitive. However we took a lot of precautions. First of all,  the data is encrypted at the sensor, so when the data leaves the sensor it is anonymized. And the unique anonymized code is rehashed at least every 24 hour at the server. Furthermore we inform the public that the might be tracked. More information about privacy can be found here.

  • Which stakeholders do you share the crowdmanagement-technology-data of Amsterdam with?
    Actually there is a lot of demand for the data on different levels because it is actual accurate data, and there is a lot of data about crowds and how busy it is. However, when your want to manage a city, you regularly do not have so much accurate data available, so it is very valuable. It is been shared with knowledge institutes, research departments within the municipality, various other departments of the municipality for safety, policy and operational reasons. Furthermore it is used by the ministry to get an indication for shopping streets in general. So it is used on operational, tactical and strategical level. We are looking for opportunities to share it as open data and with an higher aggregation level for commercial parties.

  • How did Barcelona engage the citizens in using/participating in the apps and do the people respect the notice of overcrowded stations per timeframe, or do they ignore the limit?
    Involving citizens to download new apps is always challenging. However we have more channels of communications: the website, social networks and public panels (the city is full of them). Till now we don’t had any problem on overcrowding on the public transport, but we will see next week after the schools start. Many cities have experimented from the lockdown and the recovery of mobility has been done in majority by private transport. This means there is a broken balance between public and private transport, which results in another challenge. We try to communicate that public transport is safe, and it is!

  • In Milan, you are looking at the OD estimation to make these forecasting’s, and to see how things are going on. What real time information would help you to figure out if it is currently safe?
    We analyse different sets of big data from different platforms: we are able to download the data from tom-tom for cars, the data from Strava for the bike users, big data from Telepass etc. We matched those big data with future intelligence in our company. It was very important for us to analyse at the end of the lockdown and at the start of the new phase, post lockdown. From next Monday when we are starting the school, it would be very important to analyse the situation hour by hour. In relation to the information online, the information for the users, we only have the situation for the public transport. We have information in hours from the public transport manager. This makes it able to provide information in relation to the situation of the public transport.

Reflection from the speakers

According to Aina, the take home is to be aware that COVID-19 added another dimension to the mobility planning. Before we were talking about respect of the daily life of the citizens and now we are adding another issue, which is an health issue. Valentino wants to add that we can learn a lot of each other by analysing how we work different for each city. For Eelco a striking point is the availability of data, as in Milan they are able to use public transport data and Barcelona is sharing the data as open data. By these means  you can also inspire the market and others to come up with new solutions where a municipality never thought of.