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 https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/eastsats/3/4/3_487/_article


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.


Street Mobility update: first outputs

During July, the Street Mobility team presented some of the outputs of the project in international conferences.

In early July, Ashley Dhanani participated in the International Making Cities Liveable Conference in Bristol and presented his new walkability index for London, which is based on input gathered from our community engagement activities. The results of workshops with local residents in our study areas suggested, for example that public transport accessibility should be added as a variable that contributes to walkability. The model also uses space syntax methods to examine the spatial relationships of streets at a range of scales, which provides a better representation of pedestrian wayfinding behaviour than the standard approach of measuring intersection density.

Also in early July, Jennifer Mindell co-organised, with Karyn Warsow (from Transportation Public Health Link), the 1st International Conference on Transport and Health, an event to set up a structure for discussion and bring people of diverse disciplines working on the link between transport and health. The conference was held at UCL from 6-8 July. Several members of the project attended this conference.

THSource: TPH Link

On the first day of the conference, Paulo Anciaes presented the results of our video surveys in Woodberry Down and Finchley Road to assess how pedestrians react to busy roads. The surveys showed for example, that pedestrian flows along Seven Sisters Road are relatively low comparing with parallel streets, if we take into account that all the main destinations for pedestrians in Woodberry Down (i.e. tube and bus stops) are located on that road. The surveys have also identified several types of risky crossing behaviours in both case study areas, such as crossing away from signalised crossing facilities.

On the last day of the conference, Sadie Boniface presented preliminary results from our survey to assess the effects of severance on health and wellbeing in our case study areas. The majority of respondents reported experiencing problems getting around their local area due to the danger from traffic, noise, and air pollution. They also knew more neighbours on their side of the road than on the opposite side.

In the end of July, Jennifer Mindell and Paulo Anciaes participated in the 14th International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons (TRANSED 2015), which was held at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.

8119051990_ccbbda7abe_oLisbon. CC BY 2.0 portobay

4745515680_14a49095b3_oCC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Art Library Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian

Paulo presented an overview of the Street Mobility project, explaining how the different activities of the project (community engagement, video surveys, street audits, health and wellbeing survey, stated preference survey, and spatial analysis) relate to each other and lead to a holistic understanding of the effects of busy roads on local communities.

In another session, Paulo presented the results of our literature review of the methods used by governments to measure the effects of busy roads on local accessibility, and the proposals that researchers have been making since the 1970s to improve those methods.

The literature review has just been published in the Transport Reviews journal.

As we wrote our literature review, we noticed that researchers have proposed many different definitions of “community severance” and have used different concepts (such as “barrier effect”) to describe what is assumed to be the same phenomenon. So we collected and analysed all these different definitions (we found 60 of them) and proposed a new definition, which we hope it will synthesize all past efforts. This is documented in a new working paper, which is now available in our website.

During the TRANSED conference, the team also met Pedro Gouveia who is working on the Lisbon Pedestrian Accessibility Plan, which includes a chapter on severance caused by motorways and railways. This will be the topic of a future blog post.


Post by Dr. Paulo Rui Anciaes

We have now chosen our third case study area: Southend-on-Sea. The town is well-known for being located at the mouth of the Thames estuary, and for being the nearest seaside resort from London. Southend is also one the largest urban areas in the East of England, with 174,300 residents.

We are especially interested in Queensway, a road connecting Southend Central Station with the waterfront. The road was built in the 1970s, carving through an existing residential area. Some of this area had been redeveloped in the 1960s, but most of the housing was constructed before the 1920s. The map below shows the dramatic changes this area experienced during the 1970s.

Southend1© Crown Copyright database right 2014. Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service. All rights reserved

Queensway is a dual carriageway. The amount of traffic is not very high (comparing with most roads in London). However, the road infrastructure itself is a barrier to the movement of pedestrians, because there are guard railings preventing pedestrians from crossing the road along most of the length of the road.

Southend2Base layer: © Crown Copyright database right 2014. Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service. All rights reserved. Information on pedestrian crossings added by the Street Mobility team.

Some of us went to Southend for a first field trip some weeks ago. We would like to thank Sue Goss and Neil Hoskins from Southend Borough Council for showing us around.

The photo below shows the main roundabout in this area. Roads and car traffic are clearly the dominant element of the landscape, although this place is just 5-10 minutes walking from major destinations, such as the two Southend train stations, the town centre, a large shopping centre, and educational institutions such as South Essex College, and the Southend campus of the University of Essex.

CIMG6933Our visit was on a particularly cold day in January. Unfortunately, our camera decided to freeze and stopped working, so we could not get any more photographs. However, the following images from Google Street View are a good illustration of the options pedestrians have for crossing Queensway. The footbridge is not very convenient for people with mobility restrictions. In the big roundabout, the only option for crossing is a pedestrian subway. Many pedestrians seem to avoid using this subway and cross on the surface, despite the danger. In the section of the road between this and another roundabout, 500m to the South, there is another pedestrian subway and a (very) staggered pelican crossing.



We are now starting to look at this case study in more detail. Mapping For Change will start exploring the area soon and engage with local residents. The rest of the Street Mobility team will do the data collection later this year, after we test our tools in the two London case studies (Woodberry Down and Finchley Road).


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?

Project blog