When asked is London accessible many would think of things like…
How easy is it for me to get on the tube?
Are there disabled facilities at venues I’ve been too?
Is my place of work accessible?
But how about this question: Are my streets and neighbourhoods accessible?
This part of accessibility is what contributes to a so-called severance effect. Researchers at UCL have spent the last three years developing tools to and measure and reduce this effect.
The mayor has recently called for Londoners to become more active. Could this help reduce the severance effect?
When I spoke to Dr Jemima Stockton from the Street Mobility and Network Accessibility Project, she gave me a typical example of community severance in London, which she says limits accessibility for locals.
‘30,000 cars go down Finchley Road every day. That’s a lot of cars and a lot of pollution.’
The sound of the traffic combined with the smell of the high levels of pollution means that walking along this road in her view ‘is not a pleasant experience for people.’
This leads to people not walking along this road for leisure or exercise. They do it because they have to for commuting purposes.
She argues that this leads to people not choosing to walk for leisure, and this avoidance of walking can lead to poorer health, as physical activity levels will be reduced. Lower physical activity increases the risk of becoming overweight or obese. Obesity has social and economic consequences for the London economy, namely lower productivity and obesity-related costs for the NHS.
In England for example, the NHS spends over £5 billion a year on treating obesity related health problems.
Busy roads like Finchley Road are therefore a barrier to the physical movement of people. This is the community severance effect.
This example demonstrates the health effect of community severance. But there is also a social effect. An example to illustrate this would be residents living on either side of a busy road. If there are few designated pedestrian crossings, this again may discourage people from wanting to walk around their area and hence social contact will be limited. People with fewer social contacts ‘can have worse mental health,’ Dr Stockton explained to me.
‘It might be that there’s a nice park on the other side of the road or your potential friends live on the side of the road. But because it’s [the road] there you are severed from that part of the community. It’s a physical thing and a psychological thing.’
It’s clear from examples such as these that busy roads can impact accessibility in London through this severance effect. The difficulty at the moment is that there is no model/formula which can be used to measure community severance. This is the work Dr Stockton and her team are trying to do.
‘If you can’t measure it you can’t tackle it,’ she told me.
So how do you measure it?
The work she’s been involved has developed tools for this to be measured. These are available for anyone to access. She believes these will be useful for campaigners wanting to improve accessibility of roads, as they will allow campaigners to easily show what the effects will be of introducing a new road junction on people’s accessibility and the economy.
The tools have now been published and can be found here.
Let us know your views on this topic. Has this opened your eyes to a new area of accessibility? Or perhaps you experience this form of accessibility because of the road you live on? What do you think of the tools?