Category Archives: Research

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.

Second advisory group meeting

We held the second meeting of the Street Mobility advisory group at the UK Health Forum on 24th November. The meeting was an opportunity to share the progress we’ve made since the first time the advisory group met back in March.

Jenny Mindell summarised the outputs of the project over the previous 10 months, and then the advisors heard progress reports from the different aspects of the research:

  • Results of community mapping in Woodberry Down (Barbara Brayshay)
  • Development of the My neighbourhood, my streets questionnaire (Sadie Boniface)
  • Traffic and pedestrian video survey in Woodberry Down (Paulo Anciaes)
  • Walkability index development and neighbourhood mapping pilot (Ashley Dhanani)
  • Valuing community severance using a stated preference survey (Paulo Anciaes)

Next Jenny Mindell described the selection criteria we have agreed are important for the two community severance case studies outside London we hope to select soon. Potential sites were presented by Jo Cleary – a sustainable travel consultant – who used her contacts to identify sites which match our criteria. These included Norwich (the A147), Tividale in Sandwell (the A4123), Stoke on Trent (the A50), Newark (the B326), Wolverhampton, and Huntingdon/Godmanchester (the A14).

These potential sites were discussed and it was agreed that the research team needs to look into some of these in more detail before we choose our non-London case studies. We will post details of the case studies once they have been chosen.

Thank you to the UK Health Forum for hosting the meeting, and we look forward to sharing more of our findings and details of our next case studies next time.

Living with the Seven Sisters Road

Post by Dr Barbara Brayshay, originally posted on the Mapping for Change blog

Word Cloud from Woodberry Down Perception Mapping
Word Cloud from Woodberry Down Perception Mapping

Community mapping from the first pilot for the Street Mobility Project has provided interesting insights into how the people of Woodberry Down have adapted to the presence of a major busy road cutting through their estate. They told us how communities and movement networks evolved round connected neighbourhoods on different sides of the road, most often made up of the friends and neighbours in their housing block.

There was a real community – We all knew each other, our children grew up together and you knew who your neighbours were, we all looked out for each other and the children. We never really went over Seven Sisters Road, there was no real need to – Woodberry Down resident (80).

Residents have created individual movement patterns and preferred route ways in order to accommodate and avoid the heavy traffic flows and perceived dangers of the road. However they report a major barrier to mobility is the experience of attempting to cross the road, even in places where there are effective facilities in place:

Crossing that road (Seven Sisters) makes me feel like “A fairy on a rock cake” all of a dither – Woodberry Down resident (86).

Seven Sisters Road is like a drag strip. Motorbikes race each other I have seen so many accidents – Woodberry Down Resident (50).

Personal mobility and barrier mapping
Personal mobility and barrier mapping

The unfortunate experience of one elderly resident highlighted the dangers and the impact that having to cross the road can have on mobility and independence. A previously independent 97 year old now feels unable to go out as a result of falling in the central reservation. Harry, aged 97, recently fell on the central reservation when crossing Seven Sisters Road and had to go to hospital, he says he has “aged twenty years since the fall” before he fell he used to go to Stamford Hill, South Tottenham “everywhere” but now he is afraid to go out and says he has lost his confidence.

Older residents participate in both formal and informal recreational and leisure activities locally and in some cases ventured further afield. They enjoy walking on the pathways round the West Reservoir and to Finsbury Park and Clisshold Park to make use of nearby green space. However fear of crime and feelings of insecurity were major barriers to participation in evening or night time activities. Especially single residents said that being “home alone” in the evenings, particularly in winter limited their sense of well-being and social connectedness.

I get fed up of an evening staring at the four walls, I end up talking to them like Shirley Valentine “hello wall” – Woodberry Down Resident (50).

New families moving into the area are beginning to create their own social networks, re-negotiating the space and making their own personal geographies around the Seven Sisters Road, using alternative routes to avoid having to cross or walk alongside the main road with children. The location benefits from excellent public transport links and to a large extent this allows residents to avoid the traffic.


Initial findings from this first pilot study have shown that participatory mapping is a useful tool for exploring community severance and that the processes at work, both culturally and physically appear to be more complex and subtle than those identified in the original Appleyard and Lintell’s (1972) seminal study. Work is now underway on the second pilot area in Finchley Road which will no doubt throw up more interesting perspectives on the strategies that people adopt, as they age, in order to go about their daily lives when living alongside busy roads.

  1. Appleyard, D. , & Lintel, M. (1972). The environmental quality of city streets: The residents’ viewpoint. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 38(2),84-101.

Community severance glossary now online

Post by Dr Sadie Boniface

We have put together a glossary to explain some of the terms from our respective disciplines that we use to talk about community severance, and also included definitions of relevant organisations and policy instruments. Hopefully this will be useful as a jargon and acronym buster for people working in transport or public health. Here’s the link:

Community severance glossary (pdf)

We consider this a work in progress, so if there are things you think we should add, please do get in touch by email or Twitter.

Our second case study: Finchley Road

Post by Dr Sadie Boniface

Another site we have visited is Finchley Road in the London Borough of Camden. Many of us on the Street Mobility team agree that the part of the road close to Finchley Road underground station is an obvious barrier to pedestrians due to the speed and volume of traffic, with physical barriers reinforcing this – a textbook example of community severance.

The section of Finchley Road we are interested in is roughly from Finchley Road & Frognal station in the north to Swiss Cottage in the south (boundaries TBC). At the moment, we are undecided as to how to define the edges of our case study area to the east and west. Our challenge here is how do we define ‘the community’ of pedestrians who may be experiencing severance in the absence of a specific population or clear geographic area (as there was in Woodberry Down) to study?

Google map showing approximate boundaries of Finchley Road case study area (boundaries TBC). Click the image for the full map
Google map showing approximate boundaries of Finchley Road case study area (boundaries TBC). Click the image for the full map

In this case study we would be mainly looking at the effects of the road, although there are some railway lines that may also be of relevance to Street Mobility. Finchley Road, like Seven Sisters Road (in Woodberry Down) is six lanes wide and very busy, with around 37,000 vehicles a day (based on 2012 data, though using the same data for 2011 there were 54,000 vehicles).

Public transport provision is good, with the underground and several bus routes. There are many shops and restaurants on both sides of the road, and a number of these have signs, seating, or items for sale out on the street. However, in terms of other features along the street, there are few trees or benches. Along Finchley Road barriers have been put in place as a safety measure to prevent pedestrians crossing the road away from designated crossings (‘informal crossing’).

Finchley Road looking North. Note the barrier at the side of the road.
Finchley Road looking North. Note the barriers at the side of the road.

According to the 2011 Census, some parts of the area have a high proportion of older people, while other parts have a lower proportion. The Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010 data suggest that – as in many parts of London – there are relatively deprived and relatively affluent parts of this area coexisting side by side (maps here).

Members of the Street Mobility team hope to meet the borough’s public health team soon to discuss the area as a case study. This area is a very different case to Woodberry Down which as we saw in an earlier post is undergoing extensive redevelopment. This presents us with different opportunities to speak to an established community about whether severance issues affect them, and new challenges in making contact with this community which will be led by Mapping for Change. We are looking forward to investigating whether and how community severance affects this area, and will post updates about our workshops soon. Please come back soon or follow us on Twitter @StreetMobility.

Announcing our first case study: Woodberry Down

Post by Dr Sadie Boniface

We have been busy visiting potential case study areas and feeding back on the suitability of the different areas to the wider Street Mobility team. I am pleased to say that this has been very productive and we now have our first case study confirmed: Woodberry Down, in the London borough of Hackney. The approximate boundaries of the area we plan to study are shown below:

Google map showing approximate boundaries of Woodberry Down  case study area (click for full map)
Google map showing approximate boundaries of Woodberry Down case study area (click the image for the full map)

The area is bounded by reservoirs to the South, a river to the North, and Green Lanes to the West. Seven Sisters Road, a six-lane road which carries around 40,000 vehicles a day (based on 2012 data), runs through the middle of the area. This road is the most apparent feature that might be causing community severance.

Public transport provision is good, with Manor House underground station close by and a number of bus routes running along Seven Sisters Road. However there are a number of features of the existing pedestrian environment that could be contributing to community severance. When we visited the area we identified that there are few benches along Seven Sisters Road, and while there is a lot of green space in the surrounding area (e.g. Finsbury Park), there is little along the road itself. We also noticed that the locations of pedestrian crossings were not always consistent with the locations of bus stops, which can encourage people to cross the road at other places (known as informal crossing).

Seven Sisters Road running through the Woodberry Down area
Seven Sisters Road running through the Woodberry Down area

According to the 2011 census, the population of Woodberry Down was 3,733 (counting the neighbourhoods inside the triangle formed by the New River and Green Lanes). Hackney in general, the population in Woodberry Down is relatively young, with less than 25% of the population over 50 years of age in most parts of the neighbourhood. In Street Mobility we are primarily interested in barriers to walking among older people, so we might have to make extra effort to make contact with this group.

The area is undergoing enormous redevelopment by Berkeley Homes and Genesis Housing Association. According to Hackney Council, the phased demolition of 1,981 homes has begun (mainly post-war social housing) and more than 4,600 social rented, private and shared ownership new homes are being built. There will be many new residents in Woodberry Down and the demographic composition is likely to change. In addition, the redevelopment will bring changes to the commercial and leisure facilities in the area and there have also been talks of narrowing the Seven Sisters Road to four lanes (from six). We are optimistic about making contact with community groups and networks formed in response to consultations on the redevelopment in our upcoming workshops that will be led by Mapping for Change. Members of the Street Mobility team hope to meet the borough’s public health team soon as well.

In a time of such change, the Street Mobility team is really excited to come to Woodberry Down to investigate community severance. We will post updates about our community workshops very soon – watch this space!