Seminal research by Donald Appleyard in the 1970s found the volume of traffic on a street affects quality of life for residents in profound and unexpected ways. For example, the amount of social contact people had with their neighbors was curtailed for those who lived on high traffic streets compared with those living on quieter streets. People even defined their “home area” much more narrowly if they lived on a busy road.
A new study from the University of Colorado Denver [PDF], sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, builds on Appleyard’s research — finding that high traffic on your street isn’t the only type of traffic affecting what you think of where you live. Researchers Wesley Marshall and Carolyn McAndrews found that living near, but not on, a wide, high-traffic arterial can also reduce residential satisfaction.
The research is a repudiation of the suburban style of traffic calming that dominated the U.S. for decades, where cul-de-sacs and lack of through streets limits traffic on residential streets by diverting cars to major arterials. It turns out, pouring traffic onto inhospitable arterial roads is negatively impacting nearby residential areas, too.
The research team interviewed more than 700 people in Denver living within a half-mile of 30 major arterial roads. The survey, controlled for income, explored residents’ concerns about noise, pollution and safety. Like Appleyard’s research, this survey also asked residents to define their “neighborhood.”
Across the board, people who lived on lower-traffic streets reported better outcomes — no surprise there. But the presence of a nearby high-traffic arterial was also an important factor.