Psychologically validated digital twins of human decision making in traffic

Floor Bontje

In today’s cities a lot of different traffic types are present (e.g., walking, cycling, public transport, cars). In addition, different traffic participants also have different goals (e.g., commuter traffic, recreation). Cities have the challenging task to accommodate these different kinds of traffic flows while maintaining a high quality of life for all traffic participants and their individual goals. This ambition requires reassessment of the current infrastructure and innovation. In this PhD research we try to better understand human behaviour in traffic using digital twins.

Specifically, we are studying the area around the “Janskerkhof” in the city centre of Utrecht. Currently this area mostly functions as a transition space for commuters, locals, and professionals. However, could this space also become an area where it can increasingly (also) function as a recreation space in the historical centre of the city, by for example making it a shared space? Digital twins can help to address this question by exploring what the interaction is between human psychology, traffic flow, and infrastructure.

From a wider perspective, municipalities and companies use digital twins of urban mobility more and more frequently. They use for example agent- or activity-based modelling, as a tool to understand and predict traffic. Digital twins can for example predict the effects of infrastructural changes on the present traffic flows. However, the psychological validation which can explains the predicted (individual) human behaviour is missing.

My goal in this PhD research is to enlarge the understanding of the decision behaviour of traffic participants, and the underlying cognitive and spatial factors. For this I will investigate what the factors are that affect traffic behaviour and in what manner. Moreover, I will research how to model these insights in formal computer simulators such as drift diffusion models. Through collaboration with public partners, such fundamental knowledge can be directly used to contribute to the improvement of the design, livelihood, and safety of the public space.

This PhD research is an interdisciplinary research at the interaction of AI, Cognitive Science, Geosciences, and Computer Science. In addition, there is an active collaboration between the Utrecht University, the research institute TNO, crowd simulation company uCrowds and the municipality of Utrecht.


ir. Floor Bontje, PhD candidate

Academic supervisors

Dr. C.P. Janssen, dr. L. van Maanen, dr. R.J. Geraerts, dr. B. Spierings

(Co-)funding non-academic partners


Other external partners

uCrowds, Municipality of Utrecht