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The use of streets: A reassessment and tribute to Donald Appleyard

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The way people use streets has been analysed by traditional traffic engineering techniques, conveying the idea that such technical treatment is neutral. This way of thinking underestimates or disregards completely the social and political aspects of urban circulation, especially in developing countries, where traffic environments are much more complex than those of the developed world. The main objective of this paper is to summarize how the use of streets has been treated in the literature and to enhance the essential role of Donald Appleyard's work in challenging traditional views; the latter objective is related to the remembrance of the 20th anniversary of his tragic death in a traffic accident in 1982, and represents a tribute to his work. Among those working in developed countries, Appleyard seems to be the first to use, in a systematic way, a role‐conflict approach when analysing the use of streets, replacing a strictly technical and economic view with a social and political view. This leads us to see that people, with different and conflicting interests and needs, will be the object of the analysis of the distribution of road space, implying equity considerations. Although his ideas and proposals sometimes seem ambiguous and his work ended up unfinished in the face of his untimely death, for someone who had just started thinking about a complex issue they represent a remarkable contribution for those working in the field.
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Journal of Urban Design, Vol. 9, No. 1, 3–22, February 2004
The Use of Streets: A Reassessment and Tribute to
Donald Appleyard
EDUARDO ALCA
ˆNTARA DE VASCONCELLOS
Associac¸a˜o Nacional de Transportes Pu´blicos (ANTP),Sa˜o Paulo, Brazil
ABSTRACT The way people use streets has been analysed by traditional traffic engineer-
ing techniques, conveying the idea that such technical treatment is neutral. This way of
thinking underestimates or disregards completely the social and political aspects of urban
circulation, especially in developing countries, where traffic environments are much
more complex than those of the developed world. The main objective of this paper is to
summarize how the use of streets has been treated in the literature and to enhance the
essential role of Donald Appleyard’s work in challenging traditional views; the latter
objective is related to the remembrance of the 20th anniversary of his tragic death in a
traffic accident in 1982, and represents a tribute to his work. Among those working in
developed countries, Appleyard seems to be the first to use, in a systematic way, a
role-conflict approach when analysing the use of streets, replacing a strictly technical
and economic view with a social and political view. This leads us to see that people, with
different and conflicting interests and needs, will be the object of the analysis of the
distribution of road space, implying equity considerations. Although his ideas and
proposals sometimes seem ambiguous and his work ended up unfinished in the face of his
untimely death, for someone who had just started thinking about a complex issue they
represent a remarkable contribution for those working in the field.
Introduction
The way people use streets has been analysed by traditional traffic engineering
techniques and their practical, operational branch: traffic management. A large
body of knowledge has been developed, used by traffic engineers all over the
world, that utilizes quantitative techniques based on street capacity, vehicle
dimensions and human physical characteristics to decide how street space will
be distributed among the users. Implicit is the idea that this technical division
is neutral and allocates equal benefits to everybody. Also implicit is the assump-
tion that political analysis of the conflicts related to the use of streets does not
pertain to traffic management and should be treated elsewhere. It follows that
the analysis of the use of streets has to be the exclusive domain of traffic
engineers and their technical procedures.
Correspondence Address: Eduardo Alcaˆntara de Vasconcellos, Associac¸a˜o Nacional de
Transportes Pu´ blicos (ANTP), Al. Santos 1000, 7o. andar, 01418–100 Sa˜o Paulo, Brazil.
Email: eduardo@antp.org.br
1357-4809 Print/1469-9664 Online/04/010003-20 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1357480042000187686
4E. A. de Vasconcellos
This way of thinking stresses quantitative approaches and underestimates
or disregards completely the social and political aspects of urban circulation. It
becomes especially problematic in developing countries where the political and
social conditions differ widely from those in the developed world and where
traffic environments are much more complex.
The main objective of this paper is to summarize how the use of streets and
the social and political aspects of circulation have been treated in the traditional
literature and to enhance the essential role of Donald Appleyard’s work in
challenging and changing traditional views.1The latter objective is related to the
remembrance of the 20th anniversary of his death in a traffic accident in 1982,
and represents a tribute to his work.
The main contribution that must be emphasized is the replacement of a
strictly technical and economic view—of roads as physical assets with a limited
capacity, to be distributed among different sorts of vehicles—with a social and
political view, where different people, with different and conflicting interests
and needs, are instead the objects of such distribution, implying equity consider-
ations. A key concept here is that of ‘role’, meaning the transitory position of
people using different transport modes while travelling and the relationship
between particular roles, needs and interests. This change in approach may
appear as secondary at first sight; however, it is crucial in determining policy
outcomes. When traditional approaches are taken, traffic is seen as a ‘given’ and
mobility and fluidity are sacred objectives; the single task of planners is that of
dividing space according to the number of vehicles, therefore placing car drivers
as the main beneficiaries. If alternative approaches are taken, people have to be
considered instead and equity and environmental objectives become crucial. It
follows that pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users are naturally placed
at the centre of all analyses and proposals. If such a change is relevant for
developed countries, in developing countries it is simply essential, in the face of
its potential to better understand the complexities of the traffic environment and
to avoid the unequal traffic policies that tend to be generated by traditional
approaches.
The attempt to identify who first challenged the traditional views and when
they did so is a tricky one and may lead to injustice. The lack of opportunity for
people in developing countries to have their writings published precludes a
definitive conclusion about the initial steps in overcoming the strictly technical
approaches. Among those working in developed countries, Appleyard seems to
be the first to use, in a systematic way, a role-conflict approach when analysing
the use of streets by people. However, his contribution to the role-conflict
approach is seldom quoted in the technical literature. This is not surprising,
taking into account that traditional approaches remain very strong within the
discipline.
Appleyard had his initial training in architecture in London, and then
studied and conducted environmental design research at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT). He finally went to the University of California at Berkeley
(UC Berkeley) to teach and research, where he wrote extensively on the quality
of the urban environment and especially on the way streets are built and used
by people. His earliest works date back to 1963 while at MIT;2the complete list
of papers and technical documents adds up to 74 items.3He had two main
intellectual interests: first, the application of social science methods to address
environmental issues, especially by taking the psychological approach in the
The Use of Streets 5
beginning of his work; second, the study of streets themselves as places for
living. As discussed below, in his intellectual path, streets then became the focus
for the application of the psychological approach. This path was interrupted by
his untimely death in 1982.
Among his writings I have selected six that are essential to my purposes.
The first is The View from the Road (Appleyard et al., 1963). The second is the
working paper Environmental Criteria for Ideal Transportation Systems (Appleyard
& Okamoto, 1968). The third is the pilot research on traffic conditions on three
streets in San Francisco, carried out in 1969 and published as a paper in the
Journal of the American Planning Association (Appleyard, 1972). The fourth is the
working paper Environmental Quality of City Streets (Appleyard & Lintel, 1970).
The fifth is the book Livable Streets (Appleyard, 1981) and the sixth is the article
‘Streets can kill cities: Third World beware’, published right after his death
(Appleyard, 1983). The second, third and fourth documents make up the ‘raw
material’ that would give rise to his general theory summarized in Livable Streets.
This is his most important work, containing the main body of his theory on
streets as places for living. It is a mature study, one of those remarkable
intellectual undertakings that comes out only when a long, well-worked path
has been traversed. It is indispensable reading. The last article is the single
published work on his views on the way streets should be organized in the case
of developing countries, at that time called ‘Third World’ countries. It is
important as an attempt to transpose a theory that originated in a wealthy
society such as the USA to less developed areas. Appleyard mentions his
personal experiences in Venezuela and Mexico, and cites other cities (Jakarta,
Lagos, Brasilia and Bombay/Mumbai). Although in this case his ideas and
proposals sometimes seem ambiguous or confusing, for someone who has just
started thinking about a complex issue, they represent a remarkable contribution
for those working in developing countries.
Criticisms of Traditional Approaches
The most representative definitions of traffic engineering emphasize that it has
to work with technical tools—mostly mathematical and physical ones—in order
to better organize the circulation of people and goods given the available
structure of streets and means of transport. The political characteristics of users,
as well as the political dimension of space utilization (conflicts in using space),
are believed to pertain to fields other than traffic management itself, posing a
clear distinction between the ‘technical’ and the ‘non-technical’, with the latter
clearly devalued as a legitimate tool. Accordingly, traditional traffic manage-
ment considers the urban circulation problem as a given, ‘natural’ result of
human activity, without analysing its nature and its social and political determi-
nants.
Such a framework was developed in the USA in the 1920s and experienced
a rapid expansion throughout the world. This expansion was related to the
growth of the automotive industry and the congestion-related problems associ-
ated with the increasing use of the car. To date, the framework has been used
all over the developing world, as traffic-related problems have become universal
in the face of the increasing use of motorized transport, especially cars and
motorcycles.
6E. A. de Vasconcellos
Despite this overwhelming dominance, the traditional approach was criti-
cized on many grounds. For the purposes of this paper, the author will limit the
description of critical writings to authors who lived before or in the same period
as Donald Appleyard and who consequently could have influenced him. Critics
will be divided with respect to their main focus: the methodology of traffic
analysis or policy proposals. With respect to methodology, some authors worked
at the macro level, discussing the relationship between urban structure, people’s
mobility, transport and the environment, while others worked at the micro level,
analysing the roles people play in traffic and the related conflicts. Concerning
traffic management proposals, some critics discussed the scope and limitations
of traffic management, while others emphasized the political nature of traffic
policy or proposed different conceptions for the distribution of the circulation
space. One important conclusion about such criticisms is that none dealt in a
combined way with both the macro (environment and space) and the micro (role
conflicts) levels. Appleyard was the only person in his time to contribute in this
direction, although one may feel that he did not have time to finish the venture.
The first essential criticism on the environmental side came with the
Buchanan (1963) report, referred to by Appleyard and many other researchers at
that time. Buchanan (1963) proposed a broader view for the urban transport
problem by attributing vital importance to the relationship between land use,
traffic and the car. He questioned the actual benefits of the increasing quantity
of private cars in modern towns and proposed an analysis of the causes of urban
movement. The report also identified accessibility and the environment as the
basic conflicting objectives related to traffic management: sacrificing accessibility
would interfere with the function of the city while sacrificing the environment
has already been done “without solving the accessibility problem” (Buchanan,
1963, p. 40). It is very important to note that this new conflict replaces the
traditional one—around safety and fluidity—with a much broader perspective,
which in fact creates a linkage between traffic management and both urban
planning and transport engineering. It is also important to note that the concept
of role conflict is implicit in his analysis, an essential factor lying behind the
accessibility–environment conflict, even if Buchanan (1963) did not mention it
explicitly.
Whol & Martin (1967) incorporate the values and interests of the social
groups connected with the problem, as well as those of planners and politicians,
by asking two vital questions: whose objectives are being considered, and what
is the planner’s point of view? They caution us about the very limited capability
of traffic engineers: “the traffic engineer may be qualified to assess the various
physical designs but it is doubtful that he is sufficiently knowledgeable to
ascertain and properly weigh or balance the economic and social objectives”
(Whol & Martin, 1967, p. 15).
Plowden (1972, p. 24) also addresses the political issue and the impossibility
of a policy which pleases everybody, emphasizing that “the most important
misunderstanding is the idea that we have a choice between a policy which
involves some restriction and a policy which does not. There is no such choice”.
Thomson (1977) and Whol & Martin (1967) also criticized the priority placed on
fluidity and, implicitly, on car traffic. They questioned the pragmatic focus on
eliminating congestion and proposed a broader view which would shape a
circulation system responsible to overall community goals and expectations. As
discussed below, Appleyard followed the environmental critique more than the
The Use of Streets 7
political one. These authors were concerned with broader, environmentally
related approaches and did not work at the micro level, through a role-conflict
analysis.
In the case of traffic conflicts and the role approach, it is difficult to find
earlier references. Traditional traffic engineering literature ignored them and
insisted on the dual ‘vehicle–pedestrian’ scheme. A good choice may be Mitchel
& Rapkin’s (1954) book on urban traffic, where they state that “it seems apparent
that some individuals travel about a city in highly specialized capac-
ities physicians make their rounds of calls, salesmen call on cus-
tomers … housewives do the family shopping...conceivably, the conflicting roles
of individuals may become apparent also in their travel patterns, and may have
considerable influence in determining them” (Mitchel & Rapkin, 1954, p. 57).
This statement seems to be the first attempt in the literature to relate transport
studies to the analysis of roles, although in a more generalized and indirect way.
Surprisingly, it was not included as an assumption in any of the usual
definitions of traffic management that dominated in practice. Even Appleyard
did not quote this book. Later, some authors started to apply the role concept to
the practice of traffic engineering. Plowden (1972) comments on the conflicts
involved in the use of space by drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and bus and lorry
drivers, comparing the relative benefits and costs of certain traffic management
schemes. Falcocchio & Cantilli (1974) show that different segments in society
have different attitudes towards transportation and discuss the behaviour,
interests and related conflicts between car, taxi and lorry drivers.
Appleyard’s Contribution
His General Theory
When we think about Appleyard’s intellectual contribution, a very important
point relates to how his writings dealt with the aforementioned criticisms and
whether his proposals may generate real changes to current conditions of
building and using streets. If we take only the broader political and environmen-
tal criticisms, we are able to understand global effects and to advance proposals
for change. Nevertheless, we are not able to overcome the obstacles for changing
current conditions without addressing the intrinsic conflicting nature of traffic
relations among different roles, and its relationship with the unequal distri-
bution of power.
Appleyard was the first to devise and develop such an approach, which
appeared as mature thinking in Livable Streets (Appleyard, 1981). In the earlier
writings, he appears to be looking for the fundamentals of a new approach. In
The View from the Road (Appleyard et al., 1963), he is mostly interested in the
psychological approach, and conducts (along with Lynch and Myer) a very
elegant analysis of the relationship between the driver, the natural landscape
and the built environment. It is clearly a different analysis in relation to the later
studies, since the focus is on the car (and its driver); the book could also be titled
The View of the Driver. A few years later, he really starts to dive into the street
as a subject. In Environmental Criteria for Ideal Transportation Systems (Appleyard
& Okamoto, 1968) he develops an extensive set of variables to evaluate trans-
portation systems. Considering different user groups and splitting the criteria
into ‘on-system’ (internal to people in traffic) and ‘off-system’ (caused by people
8E. A. de Vasconcellos
in traffic to others) criteria, he then suggest items such as safety, comfort,
convenience, awareness, privacy, control, services, responsiveness and many
more. Here it is possible to see the real beginning of his intellectual path towards
a general theory, although still too lengthy and difficult to systematize. Two
years later, in Environmental Quality of City Streets (Appleyard & Lintel, 1970),he
manages to better summarize principles and variables, to define environmental
standards of livability for residential streets and to classify them as ‘heavy’,
‘moderate’ and ‘light’ with respect to traffic hazards. Finally, in Livable Streets
(Appleyard, 1981), the theory becomes mature.
In this book he first discusses some theories on urban environments, such
as the Buchanan (1963) report and Jacobs’s (1961) book on US cities, and then
complains about the absence of traffic issues in the environmental studies that
were being published at that time. He then develops his own views, linking
both issues and trying to fill the gaps he identified. He proposed tackling the
traffic conflict problem through research into the quality of life in residential
environments and the impacts of traffic and transport on them, and then
developed the first combined analysis linking role conflicts and environmental
consequences.
Appleyard (1981) adopted the words ‘ecology of the street’ to embrace his
environmental, social approach to the use of roads. He wrote: “to examine the
impact of traffic on street life, we needed a theoretical model to relate in some
structured way all the variables that might take part in the complicated interac-
tion between traffic and residents” (Appleyard, 1981, p. 29). He then proposed
a conceptual model of such interrelations (Figure 1).
The first point to emphasize is his focus on the impact of traffic on ‘street
life’, therefore limiting his spatial object to just a part of what people use when
travelling. Appleyard (1981) saw streets as the most essential space for life. He
envisioned several positive roles: the street as a sanctuary (‘pedestrian territory’),
a livable environment, a community, a neighbourly territory, a place for play
and learning, a green and pleasant land and a ‘unique historic place’.
The second point is that he moves the focus from the driver–pedestrian
conflict of traditional approaches to the driver–resident conflict. Consequently,
he does not place too much attention on conflicts among the users themselves,
in their different roles while using space. There is a clear opposition between the
‘external’—those who come from the exterior—and the ‘internal’, those who live
on the street and are harmed by intrusive traffic. A particular point that seemed
to galvanize Appleyard’s attention was the change in residents’ social interaction
as affected by the level of traffic. In Livable Streets (Appleyard, 1981) he shows
what is perhaps the finding that is most cited in the literature and on the internet
(Figure 2), revealing that social interaction decreases from the ‘light traffic street’
to the ‘heavy traffic street’, in a proportion of 1:3 for having friends and 1:2 for
having acquaintances.
The third point is that the central conflict is that between mobility and
livability, similar to that of the Buchanan (1963) report. Appleyard (1981, p. 1)
states: “the street has always been the scene of this conflict, between resident
and traveler, between street life and the threat of traffic”, suggesting an inherent
conflict between accessibility and environment. This conflict is related to the
increased and indiscriminate use of the car.
The fourth point is that of ecology as a process of “impact, conflict and
adjustment” (Appleyard, 1981, p. 30), where residents tend to adapt to traffic or
to fight for changes.
The Use of Streets 9
Figure 1. Appleyard’s (1981) model of the ecology of the street.
10 E. A. de Vasconcellos
The Use of Streets 11
Figure 2. Appleyard’s (1981) main study: level of traffic and social interaction.
12 E. A. de Vasconcellos
Appleyard (1981) also reminds us that particular conflicts are present. For
example, traffic control devices on residential streets, while yielding immediate
positive results, “can generate strong opposition from residents, parallel streets,
business, [and] public service vehicles” (p. 10). Furthermore, the report stresses
that needs, values and expectations of residents differ from one another and
depend on social, economic and cultural characteristics, as well as access to
power. While discussing the need for public meetings, Appleyard (1981) clearly
states his opposition to Buchanan’s (1963) concept of environmental areas, seen
as ‘asocial’, in the sense of disregarding “the social and political dimensions of
traffic management”. This emphasis on social factors challenges the idea of a
‘community of equal people’ so important to traditional traffic engineering and
introduces the disruptive notion, for traditional approaches, that some people
may have more power to influence traffic planners and drive policy outcomes to
protect their interests.
Finally, the book introduces some preliminary notions about the roles
played in traffic. In explaining the process of residential adaptation to the impact
of traffic on neighbourhood life, Appleyard (1981) stresses that the suggested
explanatory model is interactive but simplified, because ‘travellers’ and ‘resi-
dents’ are not always separable: residents also drive, and travellers reside. These
are in fact the roles that people play. In residential neighbourhoods people can
think as drivers or residents, and can value either mobility or livability; this can
lead to personal as well as social conflicts.
It is interesting to note that the political and social environment where
Donald Appleyard developed his work was in California in the 1970s. For the
purposes of this paper, it is important to emphasize that the conflicts inherent in
his analysis are those between formally equal people—the prosperous Califor-
nian middle class—playing different roles, especially those of residents and
drivers. Political conflicts lying behind such roles—between poor and rich,
physically able and disabled, blacks and whites, men and women—although
mentioned are not treated clearly in his analysis. Even the use of public
transport is absent from the study, which is focused on the impact of the car.
Public transport appears to be just a negative intrusion on streets, as seen by
residents who were interviewed about their opinions of street life.
From Psychology to Ecology and Then to Sociology
Appleyard followed an interesting intellectual path. Initially emphasizing the
psychological, individualistic approach—as in The View from the Road (Apple-
yard et al., 1963)—he then developed the theory of the ecology of the street,
which required the analysis of conflicts among different people using the street.
Finally, although not labelling his work as sociological, he contributed to the
development of a sociological approach to the study of traffic relationships. His
reference to sociology was limited to the acknowledgement, in Livable Streets
(Appleyard, 1981, p. 4), of how “empirical sociology” has analysed the role
played by “face-to-face neighboring in the social networks”, and of the related
discussion of Jacobs’s (1961) positive view of lively street life and of Gans’s
(1968) criticism of the “fallacy of environmental determinism” implicit in Ja-
cobs’s (1961) approach. Appleyard (1981, p. 245) appears to be attracted to the
working class streets, which “are filled with the gossip, humor, dependence, and
community solidarity that middle-class suburbanities have lost”. He appears
The Use of Streets 13
rather reluctant on this issue and criticizes Jacobs’s (1961) “idealistic view” of an
anachronistic type of street, observing that some people might not like social
interaction. At this time he was interested in the sociology of street life,
understood as individual relationships among people, with no concern for their
relationships while travelling.
His sociological contribution comes from the fact that his approach, al-
though not labelled sociological, included for the first time in practice the
systematic analysis of the roles, conflicts and interests emerging from people’s
use of circulation space. Such inclusion changes completely the way traffic
analysis and consequent policies are seen. This inclusion was performed on two
levels: the micro level (roles in traffic) already discussed; and the macro level,
represented by the interests of actors, seen in a broader perspective. Here,
Appleyard (1981) analyses what he calls ‘the politics of the street’, examining
several cases of who participated in creating livable street environments. Actors
are divided into ‘initiators’, ‘beneficiaries’, ‘opponents’, ‘losers’ and ‘arbiters’.
The analysis mixes groups such as public officials, merchants, speculators and
residents on one side, and traffic roles such as drivers, cyclists and pedestrians
on the other side.
Another way of seeing his sociological contribution is by paying attention to
some concepts that he proposed, although not explicitly discussing ‘sociology’.
One clear example is made up of three words in Livable Streets: “traffic is people”
(Appleyard, 1981, p. 32). Implicit here is a view different from traditional
approaches, which see traffic mostly as ‘vehicles’. Here, even if he does not put
it into sociological terms, Appleyard (1981) is fighting against the fetishism of
the car that transforms inert physical matter into something ‘human’, as if
vehicles were not just people inside metal cases. Another example comes from
his definition of the street as a ‘sanctuary’, when he emphasizes that drivers of
vehicles should “understand that they are in pedestrian territory...as guests, not
as owners” (Appleyard, 1981, p. 243), reinforcing his role-conflict approach.
His Views on Developing Countries
When writing about developing countries, he developed his approach further,
although this was interrupted by his early death. In ‘Streets can kill cities’
(Appleyard, 1983, p. 111) he first cautions against adopting the US style of street
layout in developing countries, emphasizing that “our streets from a social point
of view are dead places, killed by the automobile for which they were built”. He
then attempted to go deeper into political analysis, by mentioning that one of the
three dominant forces behind the support for the car is the fact that:
…the vehicle used by the country’s leaders, officials and middle classes,
whether the country is capitalist or socialist, is the automobile, and it
receives priority consideration on the streets, in order to ease their
travel around the city...since these groups also frequently live outside
the city, they want to travel long distances fast. (p. 113; italics in
original)
Here, Appleyard (1983) was just one step from jumping over the limited
technical approach to develop a more defined sociological approach, showing
the relationship between the lifestyle (and reproduction needs) of the middle
classes, the corresponding relevance of a particular technology, the car, and its
14 E. A. de Vasconcellos
consequences for policy decisions, in the face of the role played by the middle
classes in influencing public policy. He limited himself to acknowledging that
the “elite automobile-using class is the group in power” (Appleyard, 1983,
p. 116).
In another part, he says that “This (pedestrian) public life ...is an urban
value that we in our privatized consumer society have neglected for too long”
(Appleyard, 1983, p. 116). Here, Appleyard (1983) asserts, perhaps without
realizing its political content, the privatization of the road space, which is
inherent to a market-oriented society deeply dependent on the car, such as the
USA. It is interesting to note that such ‘privatization’ is extensively treated in his
writings, although with technical words, rather than those extracted from the
tradition of sociology or political science.
He wrote extensively on how to organize street traffic and put a lot of
emphasis on protecting residents from undue hazards and environmental distur-
bances, and on severely restraining vehicular traffic on streets where children
are numerous.
When thinking about how to divide road space in developing countries,
Appleyard (1983) suggested a scale of modal priorities, placing pedestrians at
the top, followed by bicycles and rickshaws, public transport, lorrries, jitneys
and taxis, and finally cars. He emphasized that “this reorientation of priority
travel modes would encourage the most energy-conserving travel modes and
support the needs of the majority of the population” (Appleyard, 1983, p. 115).
Although too schematic and rigid—revealing an understandable lack of knowl-
edge about the variety of conditions in the Third World—the proposal was very
close to what we discuss now in developing countries, revealing a high level of
awareness.
An Appraisal
A Sociological Approach to the Use of Road Space
Considering the contributions mentioned before and especially those of Apple-
yard, it is possible to go further towards the development of a sociology of
transport, taking the use of the street as a prime focus. Such development is
performed by going deeper into the analysis of roles, interests, needs and
conflicts, characterizing what the author calls ‘the microphysics of traffic’ (Vas-
concellos, 2001).
In order to continue to live and participate in society’s production activities,
people have to reproduce themselves and to provide for the reproduction of
other people who, for biological, social or physical reasons, rely on others. The
process requires several activities, such as work, education, health care, shop-
ping, recreation, socializing and ‘neighbouring’ (to use Appleyard’s term, 1981,
p. 35), which vary according to social, economic, cultural and political character-
istics. The level of activities and hence trip patterns and the selection of a
transport mode are not fixed by biological factors. They are determined by
social, political, religious, cultural and economic factors, which vary in time and
space across social classes and groups, regions and countries. The use of a
particular transport mode—the car or the motorcycle—can never be seen as a
‘natural’ desire, but must be seen instead as a decision constrained by actual
conditions faced by people to fulfil their reproduction (and mobility) needs. In
The Use of Streets 15
addition, although constrained by individuals’ actions, the trips are also highly
dependent on general household and individual characteristics (income, age, life
cycle and gender), which limit an individual’s mobility choices; they are also
constrained by external factors, such as the availability of time windows (open-
ing hours) of desired destinations and the available transport means (Hager-
strand, 1987). Finally, transport demand captured through actual trips made by
people represents those trips which were possible given existing restraints (the
‘feasible’ trips); if other conditions were present, other trips would be made.
Within the actual San Francisco streets analysed by Appleyard and in the ‘ideal’
street pictured in Livable Streets (Appleyard, 1981) several such combinations
may be visualized.
The use of the street therefore implies a much greater diversity of roles than
is acknowledged by traditional traffic engineering approaches (Figures 3–7).
While movement on foot is equally distributed among humans—with the
exceptions of very young children, very old people or disabled persons—the use
of any sort of mechanized tool introduces a sharp difference in capability that
can be identified as a dividing boundary. This difference is larger when the
mechanized tool is also motorized. Such diversity is also related to the particular
characteristics of each role with respect to traffic. While active roles are charac-
terized by movement and hence the need to use road space—such as cyclist,
driver and passenger—passive roles are stationary and, although not traversing
space, are affected by active use of space by others: examples are residents,
visitors and employees. Also, different roles imply different needs and interests,
expressed more clearly when one examines typical traffic situations: pedestrians
and drivers conflict in safety and fluidity needs; residents and passing car
drivers conflict in environmental quality, fluidity and parking needs; shopkeep-
ers, customers and passing cars or buses conflict in their accessibility, environ-
mental quality and fluidity needs; public transport passengers and car owners
conflict in their needs for fluidity, parking and accessibility.
The author proposes the combination of all these characteristics into a set of
roles and implicit conflicts, as part of a sociological approach to the use of streets
(Table 1).
Some examples of the complexity of negotiating conflicts while using streets
in developing countries may be seen in Figures 4–7.
There are several consequences for policy analysis that can be derived from
the above discussion.
When changing roles and needs, the user demands different conditions
regarding fluidity, accessibility, safety, comfort and environmental quality. At
the same time, other users have other needs and place other demands. They
are inherently conflicting and it is not possible to attend to all simultaneously
in the same space. They have to be negotiated.
The higher the number of activities, the higher the number of roles and the
higher the frequency of need changes. Therefore, as the number of activities
is directly related to income level, middle and upper class people have much
greater interaction in traffic, placing more variable demands.
The potential to have needs attended to is much more pronounced in the case
of active roles, such as those of the car, motorcycle and taxi driver; they are
much more influential than the pedestrian and cyclist roles. Some stationary
roles are also politically important. The resident’s role is related to the quality
16 E. A. de Vasconcellos
Figure 3. Expressway dividing residential areas and cutting off social interaction in Sa˜o Paulo.
of family life, to children’s safety and to the sense of territoriality that was
stressed by Appleyard (1981). The shopkeeper is also important politically
because profitability is directly related to the customer’s access conditions.
Figure 4. Several traffic roles conflict in a mixed residential and commercial street in Sa˜o Paulo.
The Use of Streets 17
Figure 5. Cars detouring to escape congestion through a former pedestrian and bicycle street in
Beijing.
All roles can be played in any city, on general grounds. Nevertheless, some
roles are played more efficiently, safely or conveniently than others. However,
the organization of aggressive built environments did not prevent the weakest
roles from finding their space. No role is totally rejected or limited on a
city-wide scale, but the weakest roles have to submit themselves to the needs
of the strongest.
As the support of all needs is impossible, and as traffic management decisions
are not neutral, every circulation space is physically marked by past policies,
which reveal the dominant interests that have shaped them. The spatial
Figure 6. Large vehicles conflict with pedestrians and cyclists in a street with no pavements in India.
18 E. A. de Vasconcellos
Figure 7. A car-dominated environment in a middle class residential street in Sa˜o Paulo.
arrangement of US streets, as pictured by Appleyard (1981), reveals the
indisputable primacy of the role of the car driver.
Hence, the political nature of human activities along with the conflicting nature
of space use make traffic management not only a technical, but also a political
intervention.Traffic management uses technical tools to distribute a limited
space among political players with conflicting needs and interests. Therefore, it
Table 1. Traffic roles according to specific condition
Role condition Role enacted
Non-mechanized and active Pedestrian
Escorted pedestrian
Non-mechanized and passive (stationary) Resident
Visitor/guest
Owner/employee
Customer
Public facility user
Waiting public transport user (bus stop)
Mechanized and active
Non-motorized Cyclist
Motorized Motorcyclist
Car driver
Taxi driver
Lorry driver
Bus driver
Car passenger
Bus passenger
Taxi passenger
Lorry worker
Special role (enforcement) Policeman/woman
Indirect role planning and regulating Traffic planner/regulator
Urban and transport planners
Indirect interests Real estate agents and land developers
Construction sector
Automotive and related industries
Source: Vasconcellos (2001).
The Use of Streets 19
cannot be viewed as a ‘neutral’ activity but, conversely, must be viewed as an
intervention technique that directs its action according to the planner’s point of
view and the users’ possibilities of influencing decisions.
Appleyard’s Writings
Appleyard had a high level of sensibility to the social and political aspects of
urban traffic. However, by limiting his analysis to the street scene, he did not
explore the opportunity to apply his methodology to traffic as a whole, embrac-
ing the entire urban environment and all traffic situations; his role-conflict
analysis could yield other conclusions related to the limits of traffic management
to support all needs.
For example, he emphasizes the need to consider all social groups and
especially the less educated and minorities, therefore embracing all conflicting
interests. However, he does not treat such interests with respect to their
conflicting roles. His detailed diagrammatic schemes of ‘before’ and ‘after’
analysis do not work with the concept of roles, but with fixed needs (for
example, social interaction and parking) or fixed consequences (for example,
traffic volumes and accidents). Therefore, he does not weight the different
interests and needs in time and space, to get to a better understanding of the
possibilities and limitations of traffic management.
Also, by limiting the analysis to conflicts between the ‘external’ (drivers)
and the ‘internal’ (residents), he does not explore other complex conflicts among
the several roles people play on the street itself—pedestrian, cyclist, visitor,
customer and public transport passenger—and also income, age, gender and
race-related differences.
The focus on a single, general conflict—mobility and livability—allows a
comprehensive analysis; however, it has two main drawbacks. First, it represents
a reduction in scope, once both mobility and livability are constrained by
characteristics such as safety, fluidity, comfort, environmental quality and acces-
sibility, which are experienced and valued differently by people, according to
their individual characteristics and the roles they play. He acknowledged the
interests attached to residents as passive roles such as “security, peace and quiet,
comfort, [and] cleanliness” (1981, p. 34). However, he does not explore them in
detail, nor contrast them with respect to the various interests of active roles
(drivers and pedestrians), apparently because he is magnetized by the attempt
to recover an ideal street. Secondly, the focus on a dual, straightforward conflict
avoids asking equity-related questions such as mobility and livability for whom?
Even considering that he acknowledges the varied history, expectations and
needs of people and roles (husbands, wives, elderly people and children), the
rigid opposition between the ‘internal’ and the ‘external’ ends up limiting the
viability of his proposals. One motive for such a limitation appears to be that
Appleyard does not analyse in detail the US citizens who use public transport,
something that he would do later when writing about developing countries.
Finally, the relation of his writings to traffic management utopias must be
acknowledged. On one side there is the ideological utopia related to the
supposed neutrality in traffic management already mentioned. If we think about
the ideological environment prevailing in a car-oriented society such as the USA,
the first important point to emphasize is that Appleyard (1983, p. 112) was one
of the first scholars to point out how the ideology of the car “penetrates every
20 E. A. de Vasconcellos
manual, textbook ...[and] has become such a deeply rooted, coherent and
routinised system that its effects are often unconscious and invisible to the
public eye” where mobility, flow and cost are the real values; slow and narrow
are “bad words”; and congestion, pedestrians, bicycles, jitneys, amenities and
community impacts are ignored. He was very clear in condemning the careless
export to developing countries of such traditional, car-supporting techniques
that originated in the USA, showing how unrealistic and inadequate this would
be.
On the other side, there is the spatially based utopia. It assumes the
possibility of eliminating conflicts by constructing a conflict-free physical circu-
lation space. Buchanan (1963), Thompson (1977) and Plowden (1980) seem
trapped within it. Buchanan (1963) imagines a conflict-free space, made of
connected environmental areas. For Thompson (1977) the problem is economic
and all aspects of the problem can be solved, or ‘almost solved’, given enough
money. Finally, Plowden (1980) imagines that the conflicts are just car-related
and that a public-transport-oriented policy would be able to avoid them. These
views neglect the changeable character of traffic roles and the ultimate impossi-
bility of constraining them in fixed structures. Physical, let alone political,
conflicts cannot be overcome completely. The physical elimination of circulation
conflicts can be accomplished in only a limited number of places, not only
because of the costs involved but also because of the changeable character of
human activities in traffic. Any separated-type space can manage only a limited
number of roles, for a limited time.
Appleyard seems somehow also trapped in such utopias. First, in his path
to devise solutions, Appleyard (1981) recalls the temporal sequence linking
three concepts: the neighbourhood unit concept; the traffic precincts (environ-
mental areas) of Buchanan’s (1963) Traffic in Towns report; and the Dutch
woonerf areas. After pointing out the two criticisms of the neighbourhood
concept—its social exclusiveness on the one side and its ineffectiveness in a
mobile society on the other—Appleyard (1981) criticizes the environmental area
concept as just a design concept and praises the woonerf project as a real change,
once infrastructure is redesigned and traffic rules in the area are redefined,
ensuring legal and practical priority to pedestrians and children. Secondly,
when criticizing Hillman’s (1983) radical statement that “no one should lose
from a planning decision” (he claimed that traffic concentration on major routes
would harm those already harmed), Appleyard emphasizes that such a state-
ment would “thwart any improvement in residential areas for a long time”
(1981, p. 243) and ignores the benefits to a large number of people. Here, there
is a definite proposal for action. However, Appleyard (1981) acknowledged in
Livable Streets the limits to such action, recalling that if all residential areas are
protected, major streets will be congested, leading to the need for an implausi-
ble shift to public transport. Further, when devising solutions, Appleyard (1981,
p. 10) expresses his support for traffic signs in face of their “easiness to solve
problems”, although he then cautions against the side effects of a traffic change
as being more complex than expected, as in the case of parallel streets suffering
negative consequences. Here, he envisions a technical solution—although ac-
knowledging its limitations—and does not point out the ultimate impossibility
of solving conflicts without harming the interests of some users. He therefore
seems confident of the search for actual, generalized solutions and remains a
prisoner of such utopias.
The Use of Streets 21
Conclusion
Appleyard had a very profound sense of the broader conflicts such as those
between mobility and environment; however, his untimely death robbed him of
the opportunity to see the richness embedded in this role-conflict analysis. Had
he lived to explore it, he might have been able to identify the limitations of the
traffic management solutions he proposed. His main proposals were limited to
the street scene and were highly dependent on the US view of what a street
should be. They did not escape from being naı¨ve, in the sense of disregarding
the political limits to traffic management, raised by the political conflicts among
roles and their attached interests. The author’s feeling is that, had he survived
the accident in 1982, he would have been confronted with social and political
writings from other people and would have filled the gap between his ecological
approach and the sociological approach that he unwittingly helped to develop.
Regardless of such limitations, he made a crucial contribution to our field
and to the development of a sociology of transport. Few people working in
developing countries know his work, probably because he did not have time to
write more extensively on our case. Knowledge is produced through a perma-
nent chain of contributions that connect to each other and open an increasing
number of possible combinations. In the author’s specific case, his writings
triggered a major change and illuminated the possible ways to proceed. Al-
though different approaches remain in specific areas, the author’s intellectual
development in this issue was deeply influenced by the rings he added to the
chain. This is the author’s tribute to him.
Acknowledgement
The author would like to thank Professor Michael Southworth, from UC Berke-
ley, for his comments and support.
Notes
1. The paper also has a personal motive. The author started developing a theory of role conflict and
the social aspects of urban traffic in 1979, while working as a traffic engineer for the Sa˜o Paulo
Traffic Department. This effort eventually resulted in a final paper for the urban sociology class
at the University of Sa˜o Paulo in 1980. At that time the author did not know Appleyard’s work.
When the author first read Livable Streets in 1983, he realized how close he and Appleyard were
on their approaches, although working within completely different traffic environments and
thinking about different practical solutions. Later, while reading contributions from other people
from developed countries, the author realized how similar might be some individual undertak-
ings produced by people living in different environments and who do not know or meet each
other. In this aspect, the paper is a sort of a tribute to someone who is very close to the author
and whom he did not know personally.
2. The UC Berkeley Melvyl catalogue mentions a working paper written at MIT, when he was
assistant professor, entitled ‘Signs in the city: a study by graduate students of urban design in
the Department of City and Regional Planning’, 1963; according to UC Berkeley professor
Michael Southworth (at that time Appleyard’s student at MIT), this paper is a report on a studio
project, undertaken by several people, and perhaps it would be more appropriate to classify his
first published material as The View from the Road, from MIT Press, published in 1964 (written
along with Kevin Lynch and John Meyer).
3. As seen in the Melvyl catalogue of the UC Berkeley library (www.library.berkeley.edu).
4. See, for example, the definition of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, as quoted by
McShane & Roess (1990, p. 3): “traffic engineering is that phase of engineering which deals with
22 E. A. de Vasconcellos
the planning, geometric design and traffic operations of roads, streets and highways, their
networks, terminals, abutting lands, and relationships with other modes of transport”.
5. The Institute of Transportation Engineers, formerly Institute of Traffic Engineers, is the largest
traffic engineering organization of its kind in the world, founded in the USA in 1930. It has been
the main source of technical procedures. The most representative and detailed document of the
highly developed technical approach is Institute of Transportation Engineers (1976).
References
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