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Revisiting Donald Appleyard’s Livable Streets

You may have wondered, while watching a Streetfilm or reading a post on Streetsblog, where we got the term "livable streets."FTGMlogo4web

The answer can be found in the work of Donald Appleyard, a scholar who studied the neighborhood environment and the ways planning and design can make life better for city residents. In 1981, Appleyard published "Livable Streets" based on his research into how people experience streets with different traffic volumes.  The Second Edition of Livable Streets will be published by Routledge Press in 2011.

Today we're revisiting Appleyard's work in the second installment of our series, "Fixing the Great Mistake." This video explores three studies in "Livable Streets" that measured, for the first time, the effect of traffic on our social interactions and how we perceive our own homes and neighborhoods.

"Fixing the Great Mistake" is a new Streetfilms series that examines what went wrong in the early part of the 20th Century, when our cities began catering to the automobile, and how those decisions continue to affect our lives today.

<br> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Bruce Appleyard:</i>  [00:06] Livable Streets provided the first evidence based research of the problem of traffic on neighbourhood streets.  It provided the foundational arguments for traffic calming.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i>  [00:19] Donald Appleyard, who was a professor, conducted a series of studies on three different streets in San Francisco chosen to be as identical as possible in every dimension except for one – the amount of traffic on each street.  And what Donald Appleyard was able to show that just the mere presence of cars with the envelope of danger that they project around them, and the noise and the pollution, crushes the quality of life in our neighbourhoods.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Bruce Appleyard:</i>  [00:48] What’s really interesting about the graphics in Livable Streets and what they really provided was it removed us from just looking at specific numbers of people being hit or killed on streets, but actually showing that there was this other way that we could measure the environmental impacts of traffic on neighbourhood streets.  Things such as a light traffic street helped knit a community together, and in contrast, a heavily traffic street would actually rip it apart and fewer social ties were able to be created.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i>  [01:18] This chart here shows the social interaction on these three different streets.  So each line shows a connection between one person on the street and another.  There are just a lot fewer lines on the heavily traffic street as opposed to the moderate or the light traffic street, which clearly has a lot more interconnection.  So what these charts are showing is that people on the light traffic street know more people, have more friends than on the heavily traffic street.  On the light traffic street people have on average three friends per person, and on the heavily traffic street 0.9 friends per person.  The fact that the amount of traffic on the street on which you live can impact the number of friends you have in the world is of enormous significance.  The other thing that Donald Appleyard plotted on these charts are these little dots that indicate where people gather.  So it shows on the heavily traffic street there are a much smaller number of dots and there are only a handful of places where people would gather on their street.  The fact that they were able to measure and quantify the reduction in number of friends, in number of acquaintances that’s caused by traffic is enormously important and helps to illuminate the invisible harm that’s done by traffic everyday.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Bruce Appleyard:</i>  [02:44] Also these graphics showing the extent of one’s home territory were incredibly important in helping people understand that the nuisance of traffic, the threat to our safety, the noise, the pollution, that really had a diminishing effect on what we felt was part of our neighbourhood or our home territory.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i>  [03:06] And what we have plotted here are peoples’ responses on the three different streets, the heavily traffic street, the moderately traffic street and the lightly traffic street.  And so it’s probably easiest to understand these charts on the heavily traffic street cos people basically drew red rectangles which shows their apartment, or in some case, their whole building, as being their home territory.  So people defined their home territory as just the individual space in which they lived or maybe the building.  If you look on the lightly traffic street you start to see that most of the people are defining their entire street as their home territory, with some people saying their building or a slightly larger area.  When you get to the moderately traffic street some people still said it was just their apartment.  You had more people saying it was their whole building, and then you had a few people who defined territories as being their whole street.  These invisible harms are things that people need to be aware of, they need to be conscious of when they drive so they’re aware of how their driving affects the people around them.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Bruce Appleyard:</i>  [04:19] At the basic level, a livable street is one that feels comfortable to you, it’s one that gives you energy.  So an unliveable street is one that you want to escape from, and the important part of the research was that it actually shows the senses that we do have about our street environment.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i>  [04:35] Another part of the survey that Donald Appleyard conducted with residents on these streets was he gave them a blank map of their street and asked them to draw their street.  And what he’s produced here are composite pictures indicating how many times each feature was drawn.  What this shows is that on the heavily traffic street they just drew the entirety of the street with very little in the way of details.  As you start getting into the moderately traffic street, people start drawing more details about the specific buildings.  And when you get to the lightly traffic street, people start including details of buildings, plantings, things like that, that people just know their street a lot better.  When they picture it in their head they can picture lots of details, lots of nuances.  These studies were the first piece of academic research in the United States to document the social harm that is done by traffic.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Bruce Appleyard:</i>  [05:38] Auto ownership in this country has grown threefold since livable streets was first published.  So traffic conflicting an incursion on neighbourhoods is still a major issue we need to deal with.  </font> <br> </p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <a href="http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/">Transcript Divas Transcription Canada </a>
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  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    There are alot of videos on Streetfilms, and the animations and graphics in this film are amongst my favorite. Incredible.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Komanoff Komanoff

    I'm one of those who has indeed wondered about the etiology of the term "livable streets." Thanks for providing the answer.

    I don't think one can overestimate the value of the term. It provides the rubric under which the many interlinked yet disparate campaigns we advocates have fought for -- cycling, walking, transit, fewer cars, traffic-calming, traffic-pricing, etc. -- have finally been joined as one. Instead of being stuck in parallel silos, we're now campaigning together and synergisticly.

    As a veteran and sometime-leader of these campaigns for a quarter-century, I sometimes feel regret for not having seized upon the term "livable streets" earlier. But I'm thrilled and grateful that Streetsblog and others found the term and ran with it. Bravo!

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Todd Edelman

    Wow... and I thought that Jan Gehl did those studied. Imagine what it'd be like on a no (car) traffic street.

    I wonder if the original study talked about speed, one-way vs. two-way, and also how parked automobiles blocks sight lines (completely for young children and perhaps wheelchair users).

    So then the new program of NYC DOT is getting people on opposite sides of Manhattan avenues etc. to become friends via the Appleyard method?

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Todd Edelman

    I think it's also important to distinguish between "livable streets" - which is, in the end, subjective - and "Complete Streets", a perhaps Orwellian marketing term invented by appeasers of private automobilism.

  • http://www.carfreeamerican.com Bill Poindexter

    That makes total sense, even living in the suburbs of Kansas City it is the same, heavy car traffic, people just live in their car, less traffic people walk and bike more and are in less of a rush.
    Love the graphics.

  • taomom

    Wow, this is very powerful stuff. It has always been my perception that a street with heavy car traffic is less hospitable to neighborly interaction than one with light traffic, but I had no idea there was such solid research to prove it. Sadly not everyone will agree that having friends, knowing one's neighbors, and being connected to one's community is of greater value than shaving two minutes off one's transit time...

  • Fran Taylor

    Give the son credit, too. From an article in the Mission Dispatch 2007:

    Appleyard’s son Bruce returned to this issue in 2005 with a paper that focused on how traffic affects child development. He compared cognitive maps drawn by children who either traveled around their neighborhoods on their own steam or were driven everywhere. He found that kids who see life only through the windshield drew maps that lacked connections between destinations. On the maps, one route leads from home to school, another from home to the store or a friend’s house. But links between school, store, and friend’s house are blank. Children who walked or bicycled understood their environment and could fill in connections between various locations.

    “These examples show how neighborhood design . . . can affect children’s sense of place. As parents are forced to chauffeur their children throughout their childhood, children can become cognitively disconnected from their community,” Appleyard concluded. He added that children’s independence and ability to engage in spontaneous play are also harmed.

  • http://www.liveheartfelt.com San Francisco Boutiques

    This scares me on the daily when I am @ work in the city. I think someone is going to be hit each and everyday 

  • http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/ Kaid Benfield

    This is all true, important, and well presented. But it's also double-edged: this is precisely why many people prefer cul-de-sacs in suburban sprawl.

  • Appleyard Love

    Love this presentation. The graphics are bountiful and beautiful.

  • Ruth Smith

    Great video and very compelling with
    Appleyard's vision interpreted with the graphics, video and commentary! Kudos to Streetfilms nd Elizabeth!

    Ruth Smith

  • http://flyinginpigeon-la.com ubrayj02

    Kaid, this is precisely why people prefer streets with less through traffic over those with more through traffic. You are confounding the issue.

  • ZA

    Very nice visualization! Thanks!

    Kaid - IMHE, the typical suburban cul-de-sac is still massively alienating & monotonous, because of other variables such as: poor diversity of visual stimuli (avoided somewhat by individualized tree plantings), and the physical distance between possible destinations. That's before you take into account fences and gates.

    The great exception is when suburban neighborhoods cut vehicle traffic for a Block Party or a shared fireworks display.

  • Jeremy Trieloff

    Good research design. Also inspiring for a guy like myself living in the second most densely populated neighborhood in Chicago and who was once honked at for making a complete stop at a stop sign on his own block.

    It's always good to point out problems of past urban planning such as this to improve our communities. Carry on my "friends".

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.


    Please see some great feedback we got regarding our video below. If you would like to contact Josh, please do so at: joshuanoahhart@googlemail.com


    Thank you for covering Donald Appleyard's groundbreaking 1969 study. My 2008 thesis, 'Driven to Excess' at the University of the West of England replicated his study for the first time in Donald's native UK. I found the same erosive effect of motor traffic was still very much alive nearly forty years later. The new research is scheduled to be published in the Winter edition of the international World Transport Policy and Practice Journal.

    People everywhere are frustrated and impacted by their poor residential environments, often brought about or exacerbated by heavy motor traffic flows.

    Is it any surprise that people don't want to spend time meeting their neighbors in the street if its noisy, the air is polluted, and you run the risk of being killed? Activities like street car washing and gardening that can provide an opportunity for interaction and bring people together- we saw significant reductions on the medium and heavy motor traffic streets in Bristol.

    When's the last time you saw these activities on Fell St. (in SF) or any high capacity urban street?

    Cars demonstrably damage neighborhood social capital. It's time our transportation policies took that into account.

    Also, the point about cul-de-sacs is well taken. The 'light' street in my Bristol study was a cul-de-sac. My personal opinion is that New Urbanism has unfairly criticized cul de sacs, and promoted free flowing auto traffic dispersed through an open gridiron street network. Placing barriers to motor traffic- as Berkeley has done- results in a more livable street and provides greater transport options. The solution is 'filtered permeability' where non motorized traffic is allowed total flexibility while motor traffic is limited. You don't have to have suburban sprawl to have high quality streets- you just have to protect them from high car volumes and high speeds.

    There is more info and you can download a copy of the Bristol study here: http://www.livingstreets.org.uk/news/uk/-/driven-to-excess

    Also, links to press coverage of the study can be found here: http://onthelevelblog.com/driven-to-excess-press-coverage/

  • http://offthemall.org Bryant Turnage

    What a great video. It's always fascinating to see actual studies and evidence backing up what seems so obvious to us now: Whatever their convenience, cars impact and often damage our lives in ways we don't even consider. Thanks for sharing!

  • Transity Cyclist

    I understand that this video is showing the detrimental effects heavy traffic has on neighbourhoods, but I want some clarification:

    -Harmful heavy traffic is car traffic?

    -Is heavy traffic harmful if it's predominantly transit traffic? What's the difference in effect if the heavy transit traffic is: fossil fuel buses, electric buses, or trams?

    -Is heavy traffic harmful if it's bicycle traffic? How about pedestrian traffic?

  • Clarence

    Transity Cyclist:  I think the best answer to your question is you need to pick up a copy of Livable Streets.  I think the answer to your first question can be assumed to be car traffic, but Appleyard's work has all the deets published in it.

    If you can't find a copy, know that in 2011 the Second Edition will be published next year.

  • Nick Grossman

    Beautiful video, guys.

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

    This post is from Bruce Appleyard appleyard1@gmail.com

    First, I want to thank you all for your interest in my father's research and in the need to continue working to recapture and complete our streets for all!

    Second, as I am being asked for related articles I wanted to direct you to the following website where you can gain immediate access to them (just click on my name/picture) http://www.activeliving.org/profiles/toptenprofilesOf particular interest may be an article presenting a study looking specifically at the street livability needs of schoolchildren, using related but original methods to those used in Livable Streets.Finally, as I am in the midst of finishing the Second Edition of Livable Streets, I am interested in your thoughts. (For more information, here is the link to the relevant  Routledge Press website:  http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415610643) 

    Livable Streets was a powerful, paradigm shifting work, which lives on in spite of the fact my father was killed by a speeding drunk driver in 1982, a year after it was last published. 

    And while Livable Streets provided the foundational arguments for recapturing and completing our streets for pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, as well as residents, much work still needs to be done. Here are some questions to consider: What can the 2nd edition of Livable Street help you with?What are the major barriers to our creating livable streets (institutional, financial, legal, etc.)?Please share with me a story outlining how these or other barriers stopped a project that would have improved street livability, please outline the issues that got in the way.Or, alternatively,  please share with me a story about how you or others overcame barriers like these to improve street livability.What do you see as the newly emerging threats to street livability?For example, many are touting driver-less cars for their ability to dramatically increase capacity on freeways (3-4 times, by some estimates) , but few seem to be thinking about what happens when you pour all that extra traffic onto community streets. 

    I look forward to hearing from you and to being in touch!

    Best regards,Bruceappleyard1@gmail.com

  • antibozo

    This video seems to be corrupted. There are two jumps at 0:02 and 0:14, and it won't play past 4:04.

  • http://www.carfreebaltimore.com Mark

    It's great to have this study and these videos to back up my complete streets arguments.

  • Mark T

    I really like this video, and I think goes to show the importance of creating livable streets. There is one aspect to this video, however, that I do not like, and it is the speech bubble commentary. At 5:25, for instance, the speech bubble says, "Charming houses, nice people," in regards to residents' environmental awareness of the light-traffic street, while at 5:03, the speech bubble says, "Traffic comes to mind, just traffic," regarding high-traffic streets. It is meant to appeal to the viewer's pathos by portraying light- and heavy-traffic streets in a simplistic good vs. bad framework, and it is not based in reality. A high-traffic street could have charming houses and nice people, while a light-traffic street could have derelict buildings and the worst people imaginable living in them. If we want people to understand the social benefits of livable streets, I feel that we need to simply stick to the facts since they speak for themselves, or use alternative speech bubble commentary that is truly reflective of reality. Other than that, go Donald Appleyard!

  • Chris

    ubrayj02, Kaid is not "confounding" the issue, cul-de-sacs are preferable to high speed roadways when raising a family. I dare you to ask anyone who answers in the contrary. The point being the reduction in speed, cars and traffic in general is preferable to families with children and we all know families with children move to the burbs en masse every year from more dense environments. what does that tell you?

    Kaid is not saying that he (she?) supports such situations, simply that such situations are held to be safer than others.

  • Chi-Bus

    Mark T: I would say that the response to your concern is that these are actual comments from the residents. It does not preclude what you are saying from being reality.

    Whether or not the bubble is true reality, it is one of the quotes that Mr. Appleyard meant to convey in his research in the book.

  • Tom Norris

    This video  brings back many memories.  First, in 1965, I heard Donald Appleyard speak at Clark University in Massachusetts where he participated in an urban planning seminar at a colloquium generally entitled, "The New Conservation."  Later, while in graduate school at the University of Oregon School of Architecture, I read a paper in the then AIP journal based on his work on traffic and streets, as shown here.  I even recall some of the quotes  from people who participated in the survey shown in the video. At the time, it struck me that his work was a standard to which the planning profession should aspire.  It's a joy to see his work live on here. 

  • Tom Norris

    I can identify with your post.  I've been honked at for stopping at stop signs and for pedestrians in cross-walks.  I once lived in a neighborhood where people ran a particular stop sign so frequently that those on the crossing street who had the right of way would routinely stop because they knew fewer than half approaching the stop sign would bring their cars to a halt.   As you observe, despite it all, we must carry on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cullen-Carter/1012508565 Cullen Carter

    When you take the cost paid by mental health and general well-being into consideration, the cost of an automobile is expensive beyond comprehension.

    Bike's are a great panacea.

  • Carljluc