Tag Archives: social aspects

Rescuing interesting research from obscurity

Some of the most interesting work on the effects of busy roads on local communities is found in very old studies that now lay forgotten in the archives of national libraries and are not available online.

The report of A. Lassière (1976) for the UK Department of the Environment is a good example. A shorter version appears in Lee and Tagg (1976).


The hypothesis is that people adapt their perceptions about their neighbourhood and change their walking behaviour and social life as a response to the presence of motorways. This process is influenced by characteristics like age and length of residence in the affected area.

960 residents in five sites in London near motorways and in two control sites (near quiet roads) were asked to map their walking trips and social contacts, to identify the area they considered to be their neighbourhood, and to sort pack of cards with the name of local landmarks into three groups: those within their “personal neighbourhood”, those outside it, and those they did not know.

The author then calculated these variables:

1) Size adjustment: area of the “personal neighbourhood”; number of points inside the neighbourhood; and number of points known.

2) Shifting: displacement of the neighbourhood centre away from the motorway

3) “Bridging”: proportion of neighbourhood lines, points in the neighbourhood, and points known, that are located on the other side of the motorway

4) Behaviour: proportion of walking trips and social contacts across the motorway

The analysis of these variables was disaggregated by distance from the main road, age of motorway, existence and distance to pedestrian crossings, and individual characteristics.

In comparison, the famous study by Appleyard and Lintell in San Francisco looked only at some of variables in groups #3 and #4 and disaggregated results only by traffic levels.

I will show only a small sample of the study’s 59 figures. As expected, the presence of motorways leads to “bridging”, as evident in the figure below, which compares “personal neighbourhoods” near a motorway and in a control site.

Figs 6.51 and 6.54

The “bridging” effect decreases with distance from the motorway and with the age of this motorway. The difference between sites near very old motorways and other sites is evidence even in locations 800m away from the road.

Fig 6.5

There is also more “bridging” behaviour in locations near a pedestrian crossing:

Fig. 6.26

Other results reject the hypothesis that motorways disrupt local communities. For example, the charts below show no evidence of neighbourhood size adjustment (measured here by the number of points included in “personal neighbourhoods”) or displacement away from the motorway.

Fig 6.3

Fig. 6.10

Despite the mixed results, the study proposes a set of interesting indicators to assess the local effects of large roads.


Lassière, A. (1976) The Environmental Evaluation of Transport Plans. Report to the UK Department of Environment.

Lee, T., and Tagg, S. (1976) The social severance effects of major urban roads., in P. Stringer and H. Wenzel (Eds.) Transportation Planning for a Better Environment. Plenum Press, New York., pp. 267-281.

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Tirana #4: The spatial and social dimensions of walking

Some cities have most of the spatial and social pre-conditions to be walkable. Tirana is one of them.

Tirana’s centre is densely populated and socio-economically diverse. The middle-cases have not moved to the suburbs due to the lack of infrastructure, and the poor have not been pushed out (yet), because they bought their former state-owned homes at a nominal cost (Pojani 2011, p.100). There is also a high density of businesses of all types (the most common of which seem to be betting shops…).

The boulevards radiating from the central square have recently been lined with trees and had their pavements widened (sometimes at the expense of the demolition of homes). The main transversal boulevard will be extended and occupy the area of the dismantled railway line.


[Open Street Map]



Social aspects are important. A popular past time in Albania is the xhiro, an untranslatable word describing the activity of “walking around town to wind up the day, usually in the company of others”.

The city is also becoming more inclusive. The improvement in pavements, lighting, and street landscaping allowed women, children, and older people to reclaim the space that once belonged mostly to “men in leather jackets smoking slim cigarettes.”

The existence of many outdoor cafés facilitates the social role of the streets and promotes walking, because people vary their destinations every day, as the cafés are all unique, unlike the soul-destroying uniformity of those chain shops belonging to tax-dodging corporations.




Small parks and courtyards were renovated and became places where people spend time.


But all these factors are now under threat:

There are signs of increased segregation. The Bllok area, once exclusive to the political elite, is becoming off-limits to some people again, but now for economic reasons, given the prices of properties and services there (Kusiak 2011).

Big multinationals are also coming in force and pushing for suburban retail development. Shopping centres now dot the road linking Tirana with Durres (the second city of Albania), in areas with no walking access. The free shuttle buses to these shopping centres are more frequent, more comfortable, and depart from a more convenient location in the centre than the normal buses serving residential areas…


Finally, walking is losing popularity. Pojani (2011, p.101-102) says that Tirana is becoming status-conscious and a sentiment is surfacing that “walking (other than recreational walking), cycling, and public transportation are lower-image modes.” In another paper she says that shopping centres are a lure for the public because of the “status associated with car-borne shopping in high-end stores” (Pojani 2010, p.842). Things are changing.


Kusiak, J. (2011) Tyranny in Tirana: Political utopia and its urban afterlife., in J L Pollock and M Schwegmann (eds.) Espacios Ambivalentes. Ediciones Callejón, Viejo San Juan., pp.76-93.

Pojani, D. (2010) Urban and suburban retail development in Albania’s capital after socialism. Land Use Policy 28(4), 836-845.

Pojani, D. (2011) Mobility, equality and sustainability today in Tirana. Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment. 4(2), 99-109.

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