Category Archives: General

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.


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.


Post by Dr. Jennifer Mindell

In Bogotá, Colombia, one of the main roads is closed to traffic for miles on one side of the dual carriageway every Sunday morning and lunchtime for ‘Ciclovía’. Think of Euston Road or Princess Road or your local main road with motor vehicles restricted to one side of the central reservation and thousands of people walking, jogging, cycling, skateboarding, and rollerblading in a two-way stream on the other side of the road. People of all ages take part, including babies being pushed in buggies and young children learning to ride a bike.

2015-01-25 Bogotá Ciclovía 12_2015-01-25 Bogotá Ciclovía 11_It is not only an excellent, and safe, way to be physically active. There is also a sense of fun and of community that is hard to explain. I started out by walking on the pavement, where I was an observer. It felt quite different as a participant, when I walked in the road along with the cyclists and other pedestrians.

Concern is often expressed in the UK about unsegregated, shared use paths. Some pedestrians say they feel threatened by cyclists; some cyclists express frustration about people in their way. Participants in Ciclovía travelled at a wide range of speeds. I saw none of that – no friction, no conflicts. People went at the speed they wanted to, when they could, steering a careful path around people who went more slowly (which might include pedestrians and joggers navigating past slow cyclists). The only problem is that for those not participating who tried to cross the road, the speed and volume of non-motorised traffic could be a problem! There were plenty of signalised junctions but people’s preferred route is often directly across the road, wherever they happen to be.

What would happen if Seven Sisters Road in Woodberry Down, or the Finchley Road, were closed to motor vehicles on one side of the dual carriageway for a few hours every Sunday?

What are we talking about when we talk about severance?

Post by Dr Sadie Boniface

On our travels to potential case study sites we have seen the different ways in which busy roads have the potential to sever communities and neighbourhoods.

We have talked a lot amongst ourselves about which types of barriers cause severance (roads, railways, rivers/bodies of water), and also the characteristics of infrastructure that are relevant for severance (see Jenny’s previous blog post). While we discussed at length what these barriers might look like, I’ve been thinking that we haven’t talked about what this might mean for the resultant severance.

This is important for Street Mobility because it will affect the kinds of questions we ask participants when we are trying to measure severance. Participants might not describe their community as being ‘cut off’ as a result of infrastructure, but it might be ‘split in two’ by a busy road . The effects of severance will also not be felt in the same way if there is a different community on the other side of the barrier.

I can think of three kinds of severance that we might see in our case studies.

The first of these is that we might see a community bisected by infrastructure. An existing community could be split by the widening of a road, a new road building built, or other transport changes resulting in more and/or faster traffic. Residents might avoid crossing the busy road, meaning that they do not walk around their neighbourhood as much or see as many people in their community. This could be made worse if most of the shops or facilities are concentrated on the other side of the road. Travelling by bus could also be a problem, as the bus stop is likely to be the opposite side of the road for either the journey there or back.

How a community could be bisected by infrastructure
How a community could be bisected by infrastructure

The second type of severance we may come across is a barrier bordering two distinct communities on either side, inhibiting interaction between people from the two communities. As in the previous example, residents might not be willing to cross the road to access goods, services and people. The barrier could actually emphasise differences between the communities, meaning people are even less inclined to cross the busy road. This also describes what might happen in the first example long-term.

How severance may define the boundaries of two adjacent communities
How severance may define the boundaries of two adjacent communities

The third and final type of severance is a community that is isolated by a combination of infrastructure barriers. A less extreme example would be to imagine a community that can only be accessed by a single route or entrance. The barriers could be different types of infrastructure (as in the picture below), or all the same. In this example, the community itself is not split or divided, it is separated from the wider area, which may hinder access to facilities such as schools, hospitals, or places of work.

How severance might lead to a community becoming isolated
How severance might lead to a community becoming isolated

While I think the first example is unequivocal, there are definitely good arguments for not calling the other two community severance. We’d like to know your views – which of these would you call community severance, and why?

Three elements to identify community severance

Post by Dr Paulo Rui Anciaes
An example of a dual carriageway as a barrier.
An example of a dual carriageway as a barrier.

The previous post talked about strategies for identifying suitable cases for studying the problem of community severance.

There is no consensus among practitioners and researchers about suitable indicators to assess the effects of transport on inter-community mobility. This is because the concept of community severance is hard to define. This differs from the case of other local impacts of transport, such as air pollution and noise, which can be assessed with objective measures.

This post suggests three elements for a tentative definition of community severance. As our project develops, other elements will be introduced, in order to arrive at a formal definition of the problem, which can be used as a foundation for future work to assess severance impacts and to test interventions.

These elements are:

1. Existence of barriers to the mobility of pedestrians

2. Mobility needs of the population living nearby

3. Characteristics of the population affected

The concept of community severance usually refers to the barrier effect of linear transport infrastructure such as roads and railways on the mobility of pedestrians. Bicycle or bus traffic may also be affected by this infrastructure and can be included in an extended definition of severance. The concept can also be used to describe the effects of other transport and non-transport infrastructure, such as airports, ports and industrial areas.

Motorways and railways are an absolute barrier to the movement of people, as they limit the number of points where pedestrians can cross.  However, busy roads can also be a barrier, although less severe. In this case, pedestrians can cross in a relatively large number of locations, but the characteristics of the road may have a negative impact on pedestrian safety or be perceived as intimidating or unpleasant.

The magnitude of this barrier effect can be assessed by traffic data, such as total number of vehicles, percentage of heavy goods vehicles (HGV) and average speeds. It can also be assessed by the characteristics of the road (such as number of lanes and lane width) and by the number and type of pedestrian crossings. The change in the infrastructure and in traffic levels over time is also important.

To assess the barrier effect on pedestrian flows, we also need to consider the mobility needs of the population affected, that is, people living on both sides of the road. People working living in the affected area, but working or studying there may also be considered. The unfulfilled mobility needs due to the presence of barriers are the potential trips to certain destinations, such as workplaces, shops, other amenities, stations and bus stops. An assessment of the severance effect must then consider the location of these places in relation to residential area. Additional information, such as school catchment areas, may also be required.

The characteristics of the population living (or working) on both sides of the road or railway are also relevant. This is because some groups are especially vulnerable to losses in local mobility. This is the case of the elderly, children, and car-less households. The analysis of the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the population living (or working) in a neighbourhood is therefore an important step to identify cases of community severance.

These three elements provide only an initial, partial, view of the severance problem. They were selected because they can be easily measured and mapped, using readily available data, from traffic counts, observation of aerial images or “street view” websites, and demographic and land use maps.

What kind of severance to measure?

Post by Dr Jennifer Mindell

One of our first tricky decisions is what level of severance to study in this first project.  Should we study the obvious, major severance that can be seen easily where a railway line or a busy A road or motorway cuts through an urban or suburban area? This may be so bad that people don’t even try to get across; are resigned to the noise and the dirt from the road; and live their lives on ‘their’ side of the obstruction. It affects their quality of life and maybe their mental wellbeing and even their physical and mental health, but could anything realistically be done to change it?  Are options, such as diversions for pedestrians, underpasses, or bridges no better than not crossing the roads?

Should we look at the more subtle effects on residential streets (what Appleyard calls ‘neighbourhood streets’), where people might expect to live in relative peace, with easy access to their neighbours across the road as well as next door, and where the streets used to be used as social spaces until rat runs and general increases in traffic levels discouraged them?  Appleyard and Lintell also found that people on heavily trafficked streets reporting their ‘home territory’ as only their own home, or even just the rear part of their home.  In lightly trafficked streets, residents often described their whole streets as their ‘home territory’.

There are effects of community severance for people of all ages.  For example, playing and traveling independently outside improves children’s physical and psychological development.  However, because we cannot do everything at once, we are focussing on people aged 50 and above for this first study.  Once we have chosen our case study areas, we will be asking groups of local residents what they think the important issues are, to ensure we develop a tool that measures what they think matters.

What is community severance?

Post by Dr Jennifer Mindell

Community severance happens when a railway line or major road splits a community, so people cannot get to the goods, services, or people they want to.  It can also happen where the speed and/or volume of traffic stop people being able to cross the road easily.  This is probably more common. It can make it difficult to get to workplaces or to schools and colleges. It reduces the number of people that local residents meet in their everyday lives.

These social networks, of friends and family but also of acquaintances and neighbours, are important for health.  Appleyard and Lintell in San Francisco in the 1970s showed that the number of friends and acquaintances local residents had was lower the higher the amount of traffic on their street.1  This is explained very well in this video:

More recently, Joshua Hart showed the same in Bristol.

People with fewer social contacts are more likely to have poor health, to be admitted to hospital, and to die younger. Obviously, people who are ill may be less able to go out and therefore see other people.  But this effect on health is found even if you allow for age (because older people are at higher risk of poor health and also may go out less) and consider only people who are healthy at the start of the study.  In fact, the effect on health is of a similar size to the effect of stopping smoking, which is one of the most effective things to improve health.

In our Street Mobility project, we will be developing tools to measure community severance.  Until we can measure it, it is very difficult to say how widespread a problem it is; what makes it better or worse; what the effects of a local road ‘improvement’ will be; and how community severance affects health.2


   1.   Appleyard D, Lintell M. The environmental quality of city streets: The residents’ viewpoint. American Institute of Planners Journal 1972; 38: 84-101.

   2.   Mindell JS, Karlsen S. A review of the evidence on community severance and its impacts on health. J Urban Health 2012; 89: 232-46.