There Goes My Social Life: Heavy Traffic Leads to Fewer Friends

Traffic in Bristol
Photo by ~diP from Flickr.

If you’re feeling like a loner, consider where you live.

Residents on busy streets tend to have 75% fewer friends than those living on similar streets with less traffic, according to research published in September by the University of the West of England, Bristol.

Joshua Hart, who conducted the study for his Master’s dissertation in transport planning, found that “high levels of motor traffic on residential streets are associated with poor health and weakened social cohesion among residents.”

His findings, which confirmed the results of a 1969 study by Prof. Donald Appleyard examining traffic’s impact on a neighborhood in San Francisco, were based on door-to-door interviews with 60 households on three different streets in Bristol, UK. Each street was labeled “heavy”, “medium” and “light,” depending on levels of daily motor vehicle traffic.

Highlights include the following (download the full report here):

  • An average resident of a “heavy” street had fewer local friends and acquaintances compared with their neighbors on “light” streets.
  • The residents of “light” streets felt they had a broader “home territory,” or area where felt a sense of personal responsibility or stewardship.
  • Residents in “light” streets reported almost three times the number of gathering spots, compared to “medium” and “heavy” streets.
  • Residents on “medium” and “heavy” streets had fewer cross-street friendships than their “light” street counterparts.


First-hand quotes from Bristol residents show the dramatic differences in the quality of their social life depending on their neighborhood traffic patterns. For example, a resident on “heavy” street says, “people don’t communicate unless they have to,” whereas someone on “light” street proclaims, “there really is a sense of community – we look after each other.” Other than a lack of friendships, heavy traffic also severely impacts air pollution and creates sleep disturbances.

On his blog, “On the Level,” Hart writes, “it’s really true that cars are wrecking people’s health, quality of life, and social lives, not to mention the atmosphere of our entire planet.”

For a full press release, click here.

To read related articles and a list of media coverage, click here.

Print Friendly