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