All posts by uclstreetmobility

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


Smiling pedestrians: the other side of the coin

Post by Dr. Paulo Rui Anciaes

In the previous post my colleague Jemima talked about a research experiment that showed that drivers are more likely to stop at crossings when pedestrians smile at them. Some days later I came across another paper showing that drivers are also more likely to stop for a smiling hitch-hiker. There are significant gender issues reported in both of these studies, but the common result is that if the person at the side of the road is friendly, drivers will also be friendly.

But there is another side of the coin: do pedestrians feel like smiling at all when they are waiting by the side of the road? How many people are smiling in the picture below?


Pedestrian crossing in Akihabara, Tokyo. Source: Scion Cho CC BY-NC 2.0

A recent experiment in Japan (no relation with the picture above) has shown that people are more likely to smile when they are in streets with better pedestrian environment. The meaning of good pedestrian environment in this study is simple: no cars.

The experiment is described in a recent paper (Kojima 2015) and was presented as a poster in the meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington DC in January this year. The main author is Aya Kojima from Saitama University.

The authors set up a video survey to record pedestrians on a busy road on a normal day and on one of the days of the year when the road is car-free. They then used a program called Smile Scan to evaluate the facial expressions of 100 pedestrians in each of the days. The images for each pedestrian were processed for 10 seconds and the average and the maximum “smile level” during those 10 seconds was recorded.


Pedestrians’ smiling levels. Source: Kojima et al. (2015), p.497.

The average of each person’s maximum smile level was 19.6% in the normal day and 35% in the car-free day. The average of the average smile levels was 7.6% in the normal day and 19.8% in the car-free day. So pedestrians seem to be happier when there are no cars around them.

But that’s not all. The authors also looked at differences in pedestrian behaviour on the normal day and on the car-free day, and found that on car-free days:

  • there is a much higher proportion of 2, 3 and 4-person groups in which all members walked abreast
  • 56% of adults neither held their child’s in their arms or by the hand – but only 30% in the normal day
  • 17% brought a baby buggy but their children walked – but only 9% on a normal day
  • 67% stopped and took a picture – but 0% on a normal day
  • 28% of couples held hands – but only 21% on a normal day.

Surely these results also depend on differences in the sample of people observed on each day. So to isolate from this factor, the authors made another experiment, comparing the behaviour of the same individuals in the same busy road on the normal day and on another nearby road with much lower traffic levels. The sample is small but it is still revealing that 4 of the 14 couples that didn’t hold hands in the busy road then held hands in the quiet road.

And there’s more. The authors also assessed stress levels of five pedestrians walking on the busy road taking the same route and using the same pedestrian crossing on the normal day and the car-free day. The stress level was measured by the “skin potential level” (SPL), an indicator of emotion-related sweating. The SPL was lower for 4 of the 5 pedestrians on the car-free day. In one case, the SPL was 60% on the normal day and 35% on the car-free day. The analysis of the time-series SPL data for each individual also shows that stress increases every time a truck passed the subject.

This is a fascinating study, and it is no wonder that it won a prize for the best conference paper in one of the latest EAST (Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies) conferences.

This study adds to the large amount of evidence that large motorised traffic levels have a negative impact on people’s wellbeing and quality of life.

Just a detail: the road analysed in this study has an average hourly traffic level of “only” 721 vehicles per hour – but pedestrians are still much less happy than when there are no vehicles at all. So how sad must pedestrians feel in London’s Euston Road, with its 3,000 vehicles per hour.


Euston Road, London. Source: David Holt CC BY-SA 2.0

The methods used in the Saitama study are also promising. The study showed that smiling levels, and stress levels can be used as indicators of the quality of the pedestrian environment, as felt by the people experiencing that environment.

This is also an interesting application of the Smile Scan software, which until now had been mostly used in the transport industry to make sure railway employees wear the “correct” smile every morning.


Kojima, A., Fudamoto, T., Okuma, M., Kubota, H. (2015) Smile and behavior: new evaluation method for pedestrian environment. Asian Transport Studies 3 (4), 487-499. Available open access from


Stop traffic with your smile!

Post by Dr. Jemima Stockton

Stop. Look. Listen…Say cheese! Recent research has shown that a smile can slow down and even stop traffic.

Since the 1970s, basic skills for staying alive as a pedestrian have been drilled into generations of British school children. Hot on the heels of Tufty Fluffytail – a pioneering red squirrel born in 1953 whose road safety club boasted a membership of over two million in the early seventies – the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents produced the Green Cross Code. The code is a set of very simple and very sensible instructions on how to cross streets safely. Number 3: use your eyes and ears to look and listen for traffic…Number 4: wait for the traffic to pass…


Ken Langstaff © RoSPA circa 1960

But why wait for traffic when it can wait for you? Indeed, the new study suggests the code needs updating. Number 3 should include using your mouth to smile at oncoming motorists, making them stop and thereby eliminating the need for Number 4 (and 5 and 6).

The research was conducted by a team of social psychologists led by Nicolas Guéguen at the University of Southern Brittany in France. In Europe a quarter of all road traffic-related pedestrian fatalities occur at crossings; in urban areas of France the proportion rises to half. Previous research has shown that people who smile are regarded as more attractive and more intelligent, and generally perceived more favourably with regard to a range of attributes than non-smilers. Also, several studies suggest that being smiled at – the target of a smile – induces a better mood leading to acts of kindness, such as leaving a big tip for a waitress. Stopping at a pedestrian crossing cannot really be considered an act of kindness – even in France where 60% of motorists do not – since it is the law. Nevertheless, and in the face of shocking pedestrian fatality statistics, Guéguen and his team were interested in the influence of smiling on driver behaviour. They were spurred on by their earlier experiments, showing that more drivers stopped for a pedestrian at a crossing when the pedestrian stared at the oncoming motorist than when they did not look at them. Non-verbal communication between pedestrian and motorist evidently had a good effect on driver behaviour. If a blank stare could elicit better road “manners”, harnessing the mood-lifting power of smile could be a game-changer.

To test the effect of smiling on driver behaviour, Guéguen et al conducted three experiments, employing undergraduate students as research assistants to unleash their smiles on unwitting motorists. All tests were conducted during daylight hours on sunny days in urban areas in the west coast region of France. Experiment Number One was on zebra crossings. The research assistant waited at a zebra crossing and delivered either a smile or a neutral facial expression to the oncoming motorist. He (or she) recorded the driver’s sex and whether or not the motorist stopped and let him (or her) cross the road. Overall, drivers were significantly more likely to allow a crossing when smiled at by the research assistant than when faced with a blank stare: almost two thirds stopped for a smile but only half stopped for a stare. The sex of the research assistant and the sex of the driver also affected the likelihood the driver would stop (female drivers were more likely to stop; female pedestrians were more likely to be stopped for; and male drivers were more likely to stop for female than male pedestrians) but didn’t impact on the effect of a smile on the driver’s stopping behaviour.

In a nutshell, Experiment Number One suggests you’ll probably get across the road sooner at a zebra crossing by smiling at an oncoming motorist than by staring. But what if you want to cross elsewhere? What if, like most pedestrians, you want the most direct route to your destination, which does not include that zebra up the road? Any driver stopping to let you cross at an undesignated point would be doing so out of compassion rather than legal obligation. Roll on Experiment Number Two: does smiling induce kind behaviour? This was like Number One but conducted at points on the road that were not designated crossings. The research assistant stood on the kerb and put one foot into the road, signalling intent to cross. Unsurprisingly, fewer drivers stopped and let the research assistants cross the road than at the marked crossings in the first experiment. But, again, smiling increased the research assistants’ chances of getting across.

While Experiment Number Two provided evidence that smiling elicited “kind” behaviour, it didn’t explain how. Were the motorists stopping for smilers because they found them more attractive (and therefore more worthy of reaching the other side of the road)? Or did the kindness stem from a smile-induced good mood? The researchers designed their final experiment, Number Three, to find out. A female research assistant was deployed to wait at a zebra crossing on a road with a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour (20mph). She stood there until a car stopped and then crossed, glancing at the motorist with either a smile or a neutral expression. The subsequent speed of the motorist, over the next 200 or so metres along the road, was calculated by another researcher. All 86 drivers who stopped broke the speed limit (men and women, with equal abandon) on the stretch of road immediately after the crossing. However, motorists who had been treated to a smile by the research assistant did so significantly – albeit slightly – less blatantly than those she blanked: average speeds following a smile and a neutral expression were 42.5 and 46.1 kilometres per hour (26.6mph and 28.8mph), respectively. This finding supports the idea that a smile induces a good mood because kindness is seen, in the form of a lower speed, after “smile exposure”.

So, in summary, you don’t have to be a flashing green man to calm traffic; you just need to flaunt your pearly whites.


During January, the Street Mobility team presented some updated results from the project at national and international conferences and national meetings.

Street Mobility @ UTSG 2016, Bristol

In the first week of January four Street Mobility team members presented their work at the 48th Annual Universities’ Transport Study Group (UTSG) conference in Bristol.


Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol. Source: Harshil Shah (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Jemima Stockton presented our work developing a simple tool to measure individuals’ perceptions of their own and local busy roads at the. She also examined the various measures we have devised of community severance and looked at how these vary by how far away people live from the busiest road in their area. She also looked at whether it is associated with people’s well-being. The abstract of Jemima’s presentation can be found here.

Paulo Anciaes presented the results of a stated preference survey in our Finchley Road case study area to understand how long people are willing to walk to use the type of pedestrian crossing facility they prefer (or to avoid the type of crossing they dislike). The abstract is also online.

Ashley Dhanani presented his work developing a walkability model for London. His analysis found significant relationships between pedestrian density and components of walkability such as transport accessibility, street network configuration, land-use diversity and residential density.

In the same conference, Jemima also presented the main results of her PhD thesis, which developed a walkability model for London and its association with the amount and frequency of walking.

Finally, Shaun Scholes presented his work estimating changes in third-party fatality risk by sex, age, and travel mode in road accidents in the period 2005-2010.

Street Mobility @ TRB 2016, Washington

The following week, Jenny Mindell and Paulo Anciaes went to Washington for the annual Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference where they presented two papers related to the Street Mobility project.


Washington Monument. Source: Bill Couch (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Jenny Mindell presented the work developing a pen-and-paper self-completion questionnaire to assess the impact of community severance on health and wellbeing. This has been designed so that it can be used by local communities, by local government, or by health or transport researchers to assess the extent (if any) of problems caused by busy roads.

In the same conference, Paulo Anciaes presented a paper simulating the effects of two types of intervention to reduce barriers to walking: changing the layout of the street network (by increasing the density and connectivity of the links available to pedestrians) and redesigning a busy road (by adding crossing facilities, reducing speed limit, or reallocating road space to pedestrians). The analysis focused on our Woodberry Down case study area.