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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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

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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…

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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…

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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.

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

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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

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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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