The Legacy of Livable Streets

Josh Hart

Josh Hart in San Jose wearing Rivendell MUSA rain pants.

Four decades ago, professor Donald Appleyard’s research showed the social and recreational functions of streets can be severely impaired by high-speed car traffic. His research and book Livable Streets is considered a springboard for the modern livable streets movement. In 1982, Appleyard’s life and work was tragically cut short at the apex of his career in an auto accident. A motorist travelling over 100 MPH careened out of control, crossing the median into the car Appleyard was riding in.

Josh Hart replicated Appleyard’s research while studying for his MSc in Briston, UK and found dramatic differences in neighborhood social interactions with different street traffic levels. He looked at three streets in north Bristol with light, medium and heavy traffic, and discovered that those who lived on busy streets have only a quarter of the local friends that those on light traffic streets have.

Interviews with residents show 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 interviewed for the study.

Car Free fans will also know Josh Hart for his flight free transatlantic crossing. He took Amtrak from California to Montreal, then a cargo ship to Europe, and finally rail into the UK. In Bristol, he met Louise Rouse, who would eventually travel to Japan via the Trans-Siberian Railroad!

After Josh completed his MSc in Transport Planning at the University of West England, he returned to the United States by hopping on a “repositioning” cruise ship. The cruise ship lines ferry their ships between Europe and America depending on seasonal demand, and it’s possible to book passage on those trips.

I ran into Josh on Highway 17 (of all places) and he’s a very friendly and open guy. You can meet him yourself in San Francisco this Friday, January 22 at SPUR for a lunchtime talk on his transatlantic adventures and Appleyard’s Livable Streets legacy. Donald Appleyard’s son, Bruce, will also participate in the talk. Bruce is a planner in Portland, OR and is working on a second edition of his father’s book.

SPUR is the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, and they’re located on Mission about midway between 2nd & 3rd Streets. Admission is $5 for non-members. There are no bike racks at SPUR (as of the last time I was there; it might be fixed now), but there are parking meters and bike racks located on the block.

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