No Friends? Blame the Traffic

Issue date: 19 September 2008

University of the West of England New research shows that friendships on busy streets are cut by more than 75 percent

People living on streets with heavy motor vehicle traffic are experiencing a considerable deterioration of their local social lives according to Joshua Hart, a researcher from the University of the West of England. Results suggest that residents on busy streets have less than one quarter the number of local friends compared to those living on similar streets with little traffic.

The study looked at three streets in north Bristol with light, medium and heavy traffic respectively. It found that motor traffic, which has grown more than tenfold in the UK since 19501, has a considerable negative impact on quality of life, particularly for residents living beside heavy motor traffic flows. “Traffic is like a mountain range, cutting you off” said one man on the heavy traffic street, Muller Road, where over 20,000 cars drive by his house every day.

Interviews with residents indicate that growing motor traffic has forced people to make major adjustments in their lives, to shield against the nearly constant noise, pollution, dust and danger outside their front doors. Many residents revealed that they experience sleep disturbances, no longer spend time in the front of their homes, and curtail the independence of their children in response to motor traffic. “Our 4-year-old girl has a constant cough and we limit the amount of time she spends outside…we're constantly breathing in pollution,” said one father.

This research, carried out as part of a Transport Planning MSc, confirms for the first time in the UK the results of a 1969 San Francisco study by Professor Donald Appleyard2, who also found deterioration of community on busy streets.

With an additional 5.7 million cars expected on the UK's roads by 2031 (a growth of 21%)3, these findings point to an urgent need for the Government to provide healthy residential environments and stem traffic growth by investing in public transport, walking and cycling in order to avoid many more local communities being impacted. Joshua Hart concludes, “This study shows that the deterioration of neighbouring in this country may well be down to our own travel habits. We created this problem, and now we have a responsibility to solve it.”

1) GOODWIN, P., CAIRNS, S., DARGAY, J., HANLY, M., PARKHURST, G., STOKES, G., VYTHOULKAS, P., 2004. Changing Travel Behaviour: Script of a Presentation given at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, 20.9.2004. London, ESRC Transport Studies Unit, University College London.

2) APPLEYARD, D., 1981. Livable Streets. Berkeley: University of California Press.




Available upon request: Full report in PDF
Also photos of streets and interviewed residents, study summary, street diagrams, contact info for residents available for interview, statistics on traffic growth and quality of life/ environmental impacts.

Joshua Hart, the author of the study, travelled to Bristol from his home in San Francisco (where the original study took place) two years ago by cargo ship, train, and bicycle to start an MSc degree at UWE. Inspired and intrigued by Donald Appleyard's original research on the effects of motor traffic on community, Joshua decided to replicate the study for his Masters dissertation in Bristol, which has some of the highest levels of car dependence and congestion in the UK.

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