Street Mobility in São Paulo

Post by Dr. Paulo Rui Anciaes

This is the second post about the Street Mobility trip in South America to explore community severance and other links between transport and health in large urban areas.

São Paulo is big. Very big. With a population of around 12 million people, if it were a country, it would be bigger than Portugal, Belgium, or Greece. If we count the whole São Paulo metropolitan area, then its population (21 million) would be just a few million smaller than that of Australia. São Paulo also has 8 million motorised vehicles, competing for 17,000 km of road space.

But São Paulo is not a homogenous mass of residential areas; in many places, it is split by large infrastructure such as motorways, massive road junctions, industrial areas, and other major urban equipment.


Two good examples of infrastructure dividing the city are the Marginal Tietê and Marginal Pinheiros, two systems of roads running for 25km each on both sides of the rivers with the same names. The Pinheiros has a total of 15 vehicle lanes and the Tietê has 20 vehicle lanes. The Marginal Tietê was enlarged in 2010 because it did not have enough lanes.


Marginal Tietê. Fernando Stankuns, CC BY-SA 2.5

Another barrier is the “Minhocão” [the worm], an ugly elevated road which in some places is only 30cm away from residential buildings. Shortly after our trip, the Guardian ran a bilingual series of articles about São Paulo; one of them was about the “Minhocão” (and plans to get rid of it). Neighbours of the Minhocão are exposed to noise and to 70% more PM2.5 particles than the rest of the city. The only good thing about the Minhocão is that is not always open to car traffic; it’s closed at night and on Sundays, when it becomes a linear (concrete) park. But even at those times, the pollution is still there, because of the even busier road at ground level. The Minhocão has been subject of many documentaries (the most-well known is Elevado 3.5) and backdrop to several films in scenes where the director wants to show a bit of urban grit.


Still from Elevado 3.5 (M. Buhler, P. Pastorelo, and J Sodré, 2010)


Still from Terra Estrangeira (Walter Salles, 1995)

The barrier effect of large roads in São Paulo has been documented in some studies. For example, Marcos Sousa from Universidade Estadual Paulista looked at the Marginal Tietê as a barrier to access the central part of São Paulo and found a ratio of 66 motorised vehicles for each pedestrian/cyclist crossing one of the bridges over the road. Cláudia Machado and Jaime Wasman from University of São Paulo made a survey in areas near a section of the São Paulo ring road in Osasco municipality, in the extreme west of the city. Only 15% of the respondents said that the construction of the road had improved their mobility – but 60% said the road had decreased their quality of life.

Some roads are theoretically “crossable” but are still a barrier because of fast traffic speeds. But traffic speeds are a contentious political issue in São Paulo. The previous mayor reduced the speed limits in the Marginals Tietê and Pinheiros to 50/70km/h, reducing accidents from an average of 100 to 60 per month. But during the 2016 mayoral campaign, all the candidates (except the previous mayor) promised to reinstate the previous limits of 70/90km/h. The candidate  who ran under the slogan “Acelera São Paulo” (Speed up, São Paulo) won and quickly raised the speed limits. The number of accidents quickly went up again to more than 100 per month.

Even with lower speed limits, many roads would still be difficult to cross. In the São Paulo Street Mobility seminar, Etienne Duim presented the results of a study that shows that the time allocated to pedestrians on crossing lights in São Paulo assumes a walking speed of 1.2 m/s – which is higher than the walking speed of 97.8% of older adults.

There are also problems of urban design, as road space is disproportionately allocated to cars. This does not happen only in mega-roads like the Marginals Tietê and Pinheiros, but also in smaller roads in the suburbs. We visited São Miguel Paulista, one municipality in East São Paulo, where the roads have far more cars than they were originally designed for, squeezing pedestrians onto extremely narrow pavements. And as the second photo below shows, bus lanes are not always effective. However, the local government is planning an overall redesign of streets and public space, reclaiming space for pedestrians, and designating the whole neighbourhood as a (max) 40 km/h area.



There is also an initiative similar to Bogota’s Ciclovía, where 460km of road lanes are transformed into temporary “ciclofaixas de lazer” (leisure cycle lanes) on Sundays and public holidays. And it is becoming easier to cycle on weekdays (and not only for leisure), due to the expansion of the (permanent) cycle lane network. But like speed limits, cycle lanes are also a political issue and the current mayor is planning to remove many of the cycle lanes that were implemented before he arrived.

Air pollution is also an issue, especially for pedestrians. In the São Paulo Street Mobility seminar, Anne Dorothée Slovic presented results from the ASTRID project that suggest that walking is the situation that São Paulo residents most associate with exposure to air pollution, as shown below.


From: Perceptions about mobility and air pollution exposure: the ASTRID project [Link]

But the problem that remains at the heart of all discussions about walking and public transport in São Paulo is fear of crime. We were advised by our local colleagues not to walk a short distance (one underground station) because the only possible route passed an area known as Cracolândia (the name says it all). Fear of crime also prevents people from fully enjoying the benefits of public spaces green areas: even in the peaceful suburban square below there are concerns about crime.


All these problems are related to social inequality, as some areas in the city are more walkable, quieter, greener, and safer than others. The photo below shows the contrast between very dense low-income areas and leafy high-income areas.


Being too big and fragmented by large transport infrastructure, São Paulo also has a problem in providing good and fair accessibility to jobs and other opportunities. In another article in the São Paulo series, the Guardian reports a typical case of a woman living in the eastern suburbs of São Paulo who travels 40 km (each way) to go to work every day, taking over two hours, four modes of transport, and the constant fear of sexual assault.

One of the reasons for poor accessibility is that buses cannot reach some of the narrow unpaved streets in poor suburban areas. So, as in Bogotá, people in some neighbourhoods have to walk long distances to go to and from bus stops or stations or to local facilities – and this walking is often along polluted, noisy, unlighted, and/or dangerous areas. In these circumstances, walking more is not necessarily a good thing, as it is stressful, unpleasant, or it simply takes too much time of one’s time – time that could be used to do other things, such as working, spending time with one’s children, doing housework, or even doing physical activity in less polluted, noisy, and dangerous circumstances. So, as we also mentioned in our post about Bogotá, walking does not necessarily contribute to health and wellbeing. The question that researchers still need to answer is whether and how we can redefine what is “walkable” in the context of huge metropolises in the Global South: in which conditions is walking a good or a bad thing?


Street Mobility in Bogotá

Post by Dr. Paulo Rui Anciaes

This is the first of three posts with some reflections arising from the Street Mobility team visit to South America and from discussions we had with local researchers about the links between urban transport and health.

We started our trip in the capital of Colombia. Bogotá has changed a lot in the last two decades. In the 1990s, it was known worldwide mostly because of crime, terrorism, and drugs. But on top of that there were other problems that were not so well-known in other countries but that greaty affected the quality of life of the city residents, including poverty, pollution, road safety, congestion, and in general, all the problems that usually come with rapid and uncontrolled urban growth.


Bogotá in the 1990s

Nowadays, Bogotá is a better place to live. In fact, in his book Happy Cities, Charles Montgomery spends most of the first chapter talking about Bogotá, explaining how the city changed from a living hell to a city worth of an award at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. This change was mostly due to a radical shift in political priorities. As the former (and current) mayor put it: “We might not be able to make everyone as rich as [North] America, but we can design the city to give people dignity, to make them feel rich.” (p.2).

There are several other books about Bogotá as an example to follow. The city also sets the bar for other large South American cities. During our trip we often heard mentions of Bogotá from colleagues in São Paulo and Santiago. In the report of the Chile Street Mobility seminars that will soon be published by Cambiarnos (Laboratorio de Cambio Social, part of the Engineering Faculty of Pontificía Universidad Católica, Chile), Rodrigo Alvarez, from Transdev Chile said that “nos faltan kilómetros para llegar a ser como Bogotá, ellos lo primero que ponen en valor es el transporte público” [“we still need to travel many kilometres to be like Bogotá, they put public transport first”].

So what made Bogotá a case study in urban transport?

The Ciclovía is one of Bogota’s flagship projects. Main roads are closed to car traffic 72 days a year (Sundays and public holidays) and are taken over by cyclists, pedestrians, skaters, and other people moving about using non-motorised modes. This initiative has been going on since 1974, a time when in the rest of the world, city governments were busy building roads as large as possible. The success of the Ciclovía has led other cities to implement similar schemes, 92% of them in Latin America. Bogota’s Ciclovía is the oldest, biggest (119 km), and most popular (more than 1 million participants per day) (Sarmiento et al. 2017).

2015-01-25 Bogotá Ciclovía 13 - Copy

The Ciclovía

The other world-famous Bogotá innovation is Transmilenio, also one of the oldest, biggest, and most successful Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in the word. The system has contributed to the reduction in the number of crashes, commuting times, and air pollution, and increased land values in the areas surrounding the stations.



Bogotá also has the oldest and the largest “car-free day” in the world, an annual event limiting car use in the whole city, institutionalized by a referendum after a successful first event in 2001.

The amount of public spaces has also increased in the last two decades, including the Simon Bolivar network of parks, the Eje Ambiental (a long pedestrian area along a canal) and many small parks. Some of the streets and public squares in the city centre that were in poor condition were also improved.


Public space in Bogotá city centre

Other measures implemented in the last 20 years include fuel taxes; bans on using cars more than 3 times a week; and a network of cycle lanes (Ciclorutas).


Shared street, priority to cyclists

These initiatives have had positive impacts on people’s health. As shown below, for 40% of its users, the Ciclovía is the only occasion where they do physical activity. Also, adults who use the Transmilenio buses walk 12 minutes more every day that those who do not.


From Nos Movemos Hacia Ciudades Más Saludables?

There are still problems. We started our trip looking at urban fragmentation. There are indeed many cases of separation of neighbourhoods caused by large roads.


Even the Transmilenio can cause severance, as it runs on large segregated road infrastructure. But on the other hand, as shown in this article and in this one, the crossing facilities to access the Transmilenio stations also work as links connecting both sides of the road. As the spacing between stations is below 1000m in almost all cases, the system ensures one is never more than 500m away from a crossing. But the crossing facilities also work as places in their own right. As shown below, new footbridges have led to the production of new public spaces, such as small squares or just areas used by street vendors.


New public space around Transmilenio footbridges D. Barbosa, S. Rodríguez, in Arteaga et al. 2017

There are other unresolved issues. Even after all the improvements in the last two decades, only around 10% of the population walk or cycle as their main mode of transport. 72% are not satisfied with public spaces; 70% think that public transport is not safe because of crime; and 84% of cyclists feel unsafe at intersections because of car traffic. (All figures from ¿Nos Movemos Hacia Ciudades Más Saludables?). More than half of the cycle network (232km of the 433km) was built from 1998 to 2000 and some of it is now in a critical state. There is also air pollution. And the Transmilenio buses are overcrowded and, for many people, expensive, which led to riots in 2012.

But the main unresolved issue is inequality – of mobility, of environmental quality, and of other aspects of living in the city. As noted by the former/current mayor in the Happy Cities book, “one of the requirements for happiness is equality (…) maybe not equality of income, but equality of quality of life and, more than that, an environment where people don’t feel inferior, where people don’t feel excluded” (p.242).

This is not always the case in Bogotá, which is a city with strong spatial/social segregation. Low-income households tend to live is densely built hilly areas in the suburbs, with poor access to jobs and other opportunities. They face long commuting times to jobs, and long walking times to bus stops, through areas that are not always safe either because of floods or crime. Women are particularly affected by insecurity. In this case, more walking is not necessarily desirable (or healthy).


Left: by Pedro Felipe, CC BY-SA 3.0. Right: by Alison McKellar, CC BY 2.0

The sustainable transport initiatives mentioned above have contributed to social inclusion by increasing the accessibility of poorer households, although in the case of Transmilenio, there are issues of affordability, and in the case of Ciclovía and Ciclorutas there is still unequal geographic access (see Teunissen et al. 2015). The new TransMiCable, a cable car system similar to the one existing in Medellin, is designed to increase the accessibility of residents in some of the poorer, more isolated, southern suburbs of Bogotá. The project was fraught with several problems, as reported in Urban Mobility and Poverty (a collaboration between UCL and Colombian universities), but it will be operational this year.

Despite the world records, there is still work to do in Bogotá to provide accessibility and environmental quality to all, but the projects developed so far have undoubtly moved the city in the right direction.

Street Mobility in South America

Two members of the Street Mobility project (Prof. Jenny Mindell and Dr. Paulo Anciaes) received a UCL Santander Research Catalyst Award to visit three South American countries (Colombia, Brazil, and Chile) to present the results of the Street Mobility project; disseminate the findings of the project and the Street Mobility toolkit; and to meet with local researchers, with the aim of creating partnerships for future collaboration on transport and health topics.

We visited four cities (and six universities): Bogotá (Universidad Nacional de Colombia and Universidad de Los Andes), São Paulo (Universidade de São Paulo), Santiago (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Universidad San Sebastian) and Temuco (Universidad de La Frontera). In these cities, we met with researchers from a variety of fields, such as public health, physical activity, physiotherapy, transport engineering and planning, urban studies, and urban design.

The main event in each city was a half-day public seminar attended by practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and graduate students. In these seminars we presented the methods and results of the Street Mobility project. Prof. Jenny Mindell gave an overview of community severance as a transport and health issue and Dr. Paulo Anciaes presented the main output of our project, the Street Mobility toolkit. Local researchers also presented some of their work on transport and health. All the presentations can be downloaded from our website here.


Flyer of the Santiago seminar


  Media interest after the Temuco seminar

In each city, after the public seminar, we held workshops with a smaller group of local researchers, where they talked at length about the main transport and public health issues in their cities. We then identified common interests and explored possible ideas for future research and possibilities for funding this research.


Working lunch in Universidad de Los Andes, Bogotá                


Final group photo at Universidad de La Frontera, Temuco

We also made walking and cycling visits to see (and use) transport infrastructure that promotes active travel, health, and wellbeing. In Bogotá, we cycled in the Ciclovía, an initiative where 120 km of main roads are closed off to motorised traffic on Sunday mornings. We participated in a similar initiative in Santiago, the CicloRecreoVia. In Santiago we also joined local city officials on a walking tour of areas in the city centre where policies are being implemented to tame motorised traffic and improve the conditions for pedestrians. In Temuco, we cycled along the city’s extensive cycle lane network. In São Paulo, we joined local researchers and practitioners in a visit of São Miguel Paulista, an area where there are plans for a complete redesign of the street network to promote walking. We then met with the local mayor.


Joining the CicloRecreoVia in Santiago


Meeting the mayor of São Miguel Paulista, São Paulo 

At the invitation of the Dean of the Faculty of Health Science of Universidad San Sebastian, Prof. Jenny Mindell also delivered a public lecture at that university, talking about health examination surveys in England and the Americas plus a short overview of community severance.

We also held meetings with representatives of the British Consulate and the British Council in Bogotá to discuss possible opportunities for funding future projects.

Last but not least, we met with UCL alumni in Bogotá, São Paulo, and Santiago in lively social events, and we exchanged ideas with these members of the UCL community.

In the coming days, we will publish three further posts describing the main themes that came out from the activities in the three countries. The starting point of the activities was the issue of community severance but in all cities visited, our discussions with local researchers and other stakeholders evolved to cover related topics on transport and health, such as physical activity, exposure to noise and air pollution, trip quality, trip-related stress, fear of crime, public transport provision, urban sprawl, design of public places, and above all, social equity.

We hope that this trip becomes the starting point of a common understanding of the key objectives of future research on urban transport and health in South America, and of the possible means to secure funding to implement that research.


Chalkboard full of ideas after the São Paulo workshop

Exploring the urban landscape

Gail Seres-Woolfson is a London artist whose current work explores the urban landscape.  Using an interplay of observation and re-imagining, figuration and abstraction, her practice explores the architecture and spaces around us, communicating the experience of moving through around and into the city and also the juxtapositions and tensions that exist within it – concrete and shadows, permanence and flux, London grey disrupted by fluorescent debris and neon cyclists’ jackets.

Her drawing ‘Surveillance’ was made directly from observation from inside the glass fronted Crisis charity shop on Stroud Green Road N4.  She comments “There’s a lovely big communal table in there, great coffee and a fabulous view of the street to draw!  Surveillance cameras, traffic lights and signposts regularly appear in my work – they’re of course plentiful on London streets, but for me they become a rhythmical pattern of verticals across my picture plane, and provide opportunities to play with scale, perspective, flatness and the illusion of depth.”


Of her painting ‘Urban Noise’ she says: “I developed this piece from a photograph I took in Moorgate, where the dynamism of the city can be felt in full force. Bricks, glass and concrete tumble over each other in all directions, and bustling commuters and zigzagging traffic charge the space; ever moving and continually altering the patterns of shape and colour.  I love the layers of London architecture, and the contrasts of the natural and the man-made.  I also enjoy observing the characters that move through the city everyday around me.”

Urban Noiseforweb

Gail’s work is currently featured in the 2017 Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize exhibition (on display at Guildford House Gallery until 22 April) and she is working towards her Fine Art Diploma Graduation Show which will take place at The Art Academy, Borough, in July 2017.

For further information please visit and to join Gail on her artistic journey you can follow her on Instagram @gailsereswoolfson.

Street Mobility Conference – March 2017

Post by Dr. Jemima Stockton

Three of London’s busiest rail termini are on Euston Road (part of the A501) and, between them, they absorb and discharge over 100 million pedestrians each year. Hot on the heels of the enormous footfall generated across and along Euston Road through the use of these stations is motorised traffic. On the stretch of Euston Road by the Wellcome Collection building, the estimated annual average daily flow is around 82,000 motor vehicles – well above the average traffic volume for a British motorway – and the nitrogen dioxide concentration is around three times the European Union’s legal limit. Needless to say, crossing Euston Road as a pedestrian to reach the Wellcome Collection is a lengthy and, probably, health-damaging affair. It was fitting then, and possibly cruel, that on 8th March delegates of the world’s first (as far as I am aware) conference on community severance – the barrier effect of busy roads on people’s health and mobility – had to do just that.

Held in the Wellcome Collection Building, UCL’s Street Mobility and Network Accessibility Project conference marked the end of a three-year multi-faculty collaboration and the launch of the project’s main output, a toolkit to assess community severance. It drew a diverse sell-out audience of around one hundred and fifty, comprising people from all over the UK – and one from Sweden – from a range of backgrounds including health, transport, geography, engineering, politics and economics. About a third of participants were researchers from universities. There were also representatives from local, regional and national government; industry; charities; and community groups.

Overcoming the barrier effect of traffic on Euston Road was a pre-requisite for attendence at the world’s first conference on community severance. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


The conference began with a networking lunch which, true to the health theme, was eighty percent vegetarian. After an hour of dining and discussion, including perhaps reflections on recent experiences of community severance in reaching the venue, participants sat down in the Henry Wellcome auditorium for the first session, chaired by Henry Kelly of the Transport Appraisal and Strategic Modelling Division at the Department of Transport. First we heard from the project’s Principal Investigator, Dr Jenny Mindell, who gave an explanation of community severance and why it is important. This was followed by an excellent joint presentation by Dr Lou Foley and Dr Amy Nimegeer on their research into the effects of the construction of the M74 motorway in Scotland on communities living nearby. Next, one of the project’s Co-Investigators, Prof Peter Jones, introduced the toolkit and two of the researchers, Dr Ashley Dhanani and Dr Paulo Anciaes talked in some detail about the tools they had developed, a walkability model and a valuation and appraisal tool. Jenny gave the concluding talk of the first session, describing how, on the whole, the tools produced consistent findings and could be used together in a neighbourhood or area to develop a fuller picture of community severance. She also directed people to the team’s paper on this. The first session ended with questions for the speakers from the audience and a lively discussion.

After some light refreshments, including fruit and delicious biscuits produced by the Wellcome Collection’s friendly and helpful staff, the second session began, chaired by Prof Eugene Milne, Director of Public Health at Newcastle City Council. Carl Petrokofsky, a Public Health specialist from Public Health England, was the first speaker. He described the various health impacts of the built environment, with a focus on road transport. He highlighted how pedestrian-friendly environments had the potential to increase physical activity, reducing the risk of diseases such as diabetes and colon cancer. Project Co-Investigator Prof Muki Haklay gave the next talk on the use of participatory mapping, one of the tools in the toolkit, to learn about the impacts of community severance among older people. Dr John Miles, a Community Worker from Kilburn Older Voices Exchange, followed, showing three poignant short films (Crossings-George, Crossings-Nancy and Mrs Ekanem) made by his organisation to illustrate the challenges faced by older people in getting about on foot around Kilburn High Road. Dr Jemima Stockton, one of the project’s researchers, presented findings from the Health and Neighbourhood Mobility Survey. The final two presentations were from representatives of the Greater London Authority. Deputy Mayor for Transport, Valerie Shawcross, talked about the GLA’s commitment to prioritising walking, cycling and public transport to create more healthy and sustainable streets. Finally, Lucy Saunders, a Public Health Specialist and author of the multi-award winning TfL Health Action Plan, gave examples of how Transport for London is taking the “Healthy Streets Approach” wherein London’s transport network is designed and improved to promote walking and cycling. The conference drew to a close after questions from the audience.

Overall, there was much interest in the toolkit, particularly among community groups keen to use some of the tools to assess the effects of busy roads in their neighbourhoods. The presentations given at the conference are available on the Street Mobility project website.




Learning about transport and health in Brazil

Post by Dr. Jemima Stockton

In May I was one of about 15 UK-based researchers selected to attend a workshop in Brazil on the topic of transport, housing and urban health, funded by the British Council Newton Fund Researcher Link programme. The workshop was held in Belo Horizonte (BH), about 220 miles (360 kilometres) north east of San Paulo and about 200 miles north of Rio de Janiero. Flights to BH from the UK are not direct so some of us took the opportunity to have a stop-over in Rio. Although this little diversion was mainly for fun, I’m interested in transport and health anyway so I took some transport photos which I thought I’d share on this blog.

On the bus journey from the airport in Rio to our hotel, I noticed a lot of tarmac but the roads didn’t seem especially busy…

Around the airport there were lots of slums – or informal settlements – just a few metres from the busy motorway…


These settlements were clearly visible to us when we arrived in early May but, by July, they were hidden by 10 foot high barriers pasted with posters advertising the Olympics. The barriers cost about £45,000 to put up apparently. As we entered the city, we saw numerous wide pedestrian crossings…


Our hotel was in Copacabana, just a short stroll – across a dual carriageway – to the beach. Copacabana was very nice. Again, we saw a lot of tarmac but it was good that a fair proportion was designated for cyclists and pedestrians…


The town was not packed with foreign tourists, possibly because of the Zika outbreak. I saw only two mosquitoes during my stay in Brazil and neither bit me, fortunately. On the bus on the way back from our trip to see Christ the Redeemer…


we spotted a priority seating sign for the usual suspects plus the obese…


From Rio, we had a short plane journey to BH which is in the state of Minas Gerais and is Brazil’s sixth largest city. It’s about half the size of London but it has a similar population density…


Our workshop was held in a couple of lecture and seminar rooms in the Medical School of the Federal University of Minas Gerais. We stayed in a hotel about a 15-minute walk from where the workshop was held. Our daily commute involved trekking across a swimming pool or so’s-length of zebra crossings, first over the 8-lane road outside our hotel and then over the motorway running outside the hospital…


It probably wasn’t a motorway, actually, given the presence of traffic lights and zebra crossings. But it certainly felt like one, especially as stepping on to a designated crossing point with no traffic lights did not seem to be taken by motorists as a sign that you were intent on crossing, as it would in the UK. I did try using these crossings a few times but gave up when I realised I was provoking a hostile response: drivers accelerated towards me, beeping their horns and forcing me back onto the pavement or into the gutter.

For me, the highlight of the workshop was visiting an informal settlement. We took a minibus from the medical school to an area in the northern outskirts of the city and were greeted by a local project officer from Programa Vila Viva. He gave a presentation – translated from Portuguese to English by Cesar (one of the workshop organisers who is Brazilian but works at UCL) – on work done to improve living conditions for residents. These improvements included the building of better roads and structurally sound apartments, and more frequent bus services, enabling people to get to work in the city. We were worried about the effect of the main road through the settlement in creating community severance.

We were then driven further into the slum and went on a short walk. The roads were incredibly steep. Informal settlements are often built on steep land because planning restrictions prevent formal housing being built there…

After our short walk, we visited a housing development where a few hundred residents had been rehomed into safer housing. We were accompanied by some field project staff who had arranged with the residents to show us their homes. It felt a bit awkward and intrusive but the residents seemed quite happy. There wasn’t always someone on hand to translate so I’m not entirely sure what the residents thought about their new homes. I think they may have received some financial compensation for allowing us to visit.

Another fun activity was a coach trip to the Pampulha region, north east of BH. We visited the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi which was designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and completed in 1943. The architect intended it to represent God’s hangar on Earth but the Archbishop of BH at the time saw it more as the devil’s bomb shelter. It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site…

The trip to Brazil gave me an insight into the challenges and exciting opportunities for development of healthy, sustainable transport in a rapidly urbanising country. And a travel carbon footprint to rival that of Major Tim Peak. Well, not quite.

Exploring Case Study Four: Stratford Road, Birmingham

Post by Dr. Jemima Stockton

In a geographical departure from the previous case studies of the Street Mobility project, the fourth is in Warwickshire, the West Midlands (see Map 1). The chosen area (shown in the Map 2) is around 3km south east of Birmingham city centre and covers approximately 1.5 square kilometres. It has a high concentration of homes, a good mix of destinations – greenspace, schools, healthcare facilities, businesses, shops and other services – and the streets are well-connected. These attributes make it very walkable – in theory. However, it is also bisected by a 1.5km-stretch of a busy road – Stratford Road (also known as the A41, see Photo 1) – which carries an average of almost 30,000 vehicles per day. This potentially detracts from the ease with which people can get around on foot or by other non-motorised means. Therefore, we have identified the area as one in which we’d expect to find community severance – the separation of people from goods, services and by transport infrastructure and motorised traffic – and one which makes an ideal case to study for the project.

Map 1 Locations of the four case studies: (1) Woodberry Down, London borough of Hackney; (2) Finchley Road, London borough of Camden; (3) Queensway, Southend-on-Sea, ; and (4) Stratford Road, near Birmingham, West Midlands.


Map 2 Stratford Road study area and route walked by team.


By selecting our fourth case study in a different region of the UK, we can investigate community severance in a new context. Housing in our Birmingham case study area comprises predominately nineteenth century, two-storey terraces on long residential streets which branch off main feeder roads for the city (see Photo 1). In contrast, we have found housing in our other case study areas is more mixed: modern apartments and social housing in addition to older, terraced homes located on both minor and major roads. Given the differences in the types of housing and residential layouts, we may find a different pattern in social contact between neighbours in Case Study Four, and in the ways this is affected by traffic.

Photo 1 Stratford Road


As shown in Map 2, Case Study Four encompasses three suburban regions: Sparkhill to the east, Sparkbrook to the north and Mosely to the west. The area is delineated to the west by a railway line and, to the east, by the River Cole. The most northerly point of Stratford Road included in the area is the junction with the A41 (Warwick Road), and the most southerly is where it crosses the River Cole. Stratford Road and Stoney Lane/ Yardley Wood Road, to the west, are both bus routes into the city, with several bus stops. However, there are no rail stations within our case study area; the nearest is Small Health, around 800m to the north.

All the members of the Street Mobility team work and live in or near London and none of us know Birmingham well. But it’s useful for researchers to have first-hand experience of the places they study. So, on a mercifully dry and non-dreary Friday in April, several members of the team hopped on the train to visit the area. From Small Heath, the aforementioned station, we had a short trek to our case study area, passing a ski slope (not real; although the West Midlands is hilly and chilly, it is only moderately so) on the site of the former Birmingham Small Arms Company, and wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere and thinking about how it felt to be a pedestrian. As shown on the map, our “first-hand experience” as pedestrians was largely confined to the busy Stratford Road. During our three-hour field trip (11am to 2pm), we spotted a lot of cars, quite a few lorries and vans, and about six cyclists. We were surprised that we did not see more pedestrians. Given the day, the time and the large Muslim population of the area – around 70% of the Sparkbrook population is Muslim – it may have been that many people were at school, work or Friday prayer.

We observed that motorised traffic was moving fairly steadily, with no signs of congestion. No doubt at rush hour it would have looked a little different. It was also moving pretty rapidly; the professor of transport on the trip agreed with my perception that a number of drivers were speeding above the 20 miles per hour limit on certain stretches of Stratford Road. This was worrying, as we also noted that many pedestrians were crossing the road at informal points, often emerging from between parked cars, following ‘desire lines’.

By happy accident, our case study area is home to Birmingham’s famous Balti triangle, a hotbed for Balti houses thanks to the local Pakistani and Kashmiri communities. But unfortunately, when our tummies rumbled towards the end of our stroll, we couldn’t silence (or at least fill) them with curries as none of the restaurants we passed were open. Nor, indeed could we fill them with anything at all. One pub we tried was shut for lunch. Another, strangely, was not serving lunch until after 2pm. The super-friendly Brummie barmaid suggested that we try the nearest restaurant which she knew would be open. Unfortunately, it was twelve minutes away. By car…..

Photo 2 A long residential road branching off Stratford Road


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