This Sunday’s New York Times Book Review

There’s a fantastic review of Traffic, by Mary Roach, in the Book Review that I usually get tomorrow morning. If you check out the review, you’ll understand my elation (she asks — asks! — for more traffic history). That it’s on the cover adds to the delight, of course. The graphic by Joon Mo Kang is absolute brilliance.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 8th, 2008 at 5:53 pm and is filed under Book News, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “This Sunday’s New York Times Book Review”

  1. George Cornell Says:

    Among the many fine ideas and efforts individuals and organizations are pouring through trying to provide solutions to the worldwide energy issue one is so painfully obvious, the benefits so large and returns so immediate I find it amazing there is not the slightest mention of it anywhere. Of course I’m talking about the dismal system we have for regulating traffic. So much raw energy is wasted, so much unnecessary wear and tear is put on our vehicles, or schedules and our physical beings that even a partial repair would have gains in more than just the economy but in the very quality of our existence.

    Here are a few numbers derived from the web, bibliographies available, that point up the issue and what role intelligent traffic control may make in alleviating part of the mess.

    • The amount of power to accelerate a 3750 pound car from 0 to 45 mph = 2 kilowatt hours.
    • The number of traffic signals across the USA = 330,000 (this figure seems low to me but it’s all I can verify at this time)
    • If signals operate 14 hours a day with a 4 minute cycle directing 10 cars per cycle (some are a lot more, some a lot less so I’m calling this an average) the cars controlled per light, per day = 2100.
    • If a 30% increase in efficiency were obtainable, meaning 1/3rd the number of cars would be required to stop, then 700 cars, per intersection, per day would not have to burn that 2 kWh to get back up to speed for a savings of 1400 kWh per light, per day.
    • This crunches down to total energy saved per day across the nation of 462,000,000 kWh.

    Now how does this translate into dollars?

    • A 42 gallon barrel of crude light can have 19.5 gallons of gasoline extracted from it.
    • A gallon of gasoline contains 36.6 kilowatt hours of energy.
    • This means a $120- barrel contains 713.7 kWh of gasoline energy.
    • Divide 462 million kWh by 713.7 and the number of barrels saved daily nationally would be 647,330.

    I’ll be the first one admit this simple formula doesn’t take into account motor efficiencies, cost of converting oil to gas and many other things but it also doesn’t account for buses, trucks and gas guzzlers.

    The huge thing that it does account for is the $77,679,697- that could be saved every single day.

    How do we get this 30% decrease in unnecessary traffic stops? I’ve been a mechanical and manufacturing engineer my whole life and I know there are methods. Perhaps not unlike work in process controls used by technically savvy industries around the world whose established systems would be a good investigative starting point. Traffic control systems using advanced algorithms covering entire communities and linking to adjacent communities could easily out perform our current antiquated signal lights with their first come, first served or worse, timed sequence mentalities. In my opinion 30% would just be a start.
    Some new technologies would have to be developed. If you go to the largest traffic signal manufacturers websites the biggest advances in signal technology over the past ten years have been solid state controls and using LEDs instead of incandescent lights. Truly marginal advances that do nothing to enhance the state of regional traffic in any real terms.
    We as a nation need a new way of conducting our commuting business for these gains to be realized.

    George Cornell

  2. katerw Says:

    The review was the first thing I read this morning in the Times after Cynthia Gorney piqued my interest last week. Congratulations on the fantastic review. If you go on a book tour, I hope you make it to San Francisco.

  3. Martin Cassini Says:

    PS I just read George Cornell’s positive contribution. As you know, Tom, some of us do write along similar lines, but George is right to complain that the material is not widely circulated or known. If you read this, George, see No Idle Matter at for my take on the stop-start drive cycle occasioned by lights. But I take issue with George in his apparent dismissal of first-come, first-served. In my view – and I’m hoping to get a green light for an extended monitored trial – the key to safe, efficient flow lies in what I see as our greatest resource: the human brain. Like bats in a cave or teens in a skateboard park, if we were free of interventionist controls and free to use our own judgement, we might exceed those economic savings he lists!

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Transport column to me at:

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage:

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency:

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau:

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



August 2008
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