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Archive for August 12th, 2008

The Reverse Countdown Signal

Reader Seth pointed me to this excellent article from the Boston Globe in response to my query about the “Shared Streets” signage in Boston. Seems like Beantown is trying to get its woonerven on, at least as much as an American city can.

There’s much of interest, but one bit that struck me was when queuing theorist Richard Larson, at MIT (who appears in the book), discussed his idea for a sort of reverse countdown signal, in theory to reduce dangerous jaywalking. Rather than telling pedestrians how much time they have to cross, tell them when they cancross.

“Drivers expect to have their needs served in due time. The pedestrian? Unsure. Do I have to push the button, or will it just give me the walk signal? And when? So what we do, Larson says, is serve ourselves. “Most of the time, it’s safe if you’re a rational person. That’s when people jaywalk. But a car can come out of a driveway, and that’s when trouble happens.” Larson has a suggestion to counter this self-service risk-taking: “We have these clocks that show you how much time you have to cross the street until you’re in grave danger.” Why not do the opposite – tell pedestrians how long until they get to cross the street? This sort of information, Larson says, has been shown to keep people from taking risks.”

The only catch?

“But the problem, many say, is that pedestrians would not be happy if they found out how long they had to wait. Many of Boston’s intersections with traffic lights have cycle lengths of 90 to 100 seconds. Off -peak, they may go down to 80 seconds or less. The catch, according to Ann Hershfang, one of the founders of WalkBoston, is that studies have shown that pedestrians will wait just 30 seconds before they get restless and cross.”

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Posted on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008 at 9:50 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Shut Up and Drive

Flickr/Scarequotes

Often when I’m driving, I find myself entering a difficult situation — a tricky lane-change, an unfamiliar turn — and I’ll actually ask my passenger (typically my wife) to essentially stop talking for a moment (or they will voluntarily do so) as the situation resolves itself. This, of course, is one of the major problems with talking on a cell phone versus talking with a passenger: Not only are they providing another set of helping eyes, but they can sense when would be good for them to modulate their conversation in some way, whereas the person on the other end of the cell-phone will seemingly keep droning on, taking away from the driver’s workload.

This point, fairly well established by now, is made again in a new study (PDF here) by Samuel G. Charlton, University of Waikato, Hamilton, for Land Transport New Zealand. The study, as others have, found that drivers on cell phones had slower reaction times — yet drove at higher average speeds — than drivers with passengers as they went through a number of hazards in a driving simulator. Interestingly, this study also featured a person on a cell-phone who was not present in the car yet had access to the driver’s view, so they have a passenger-like view of the road.

The key to performance seemed to be what the paper calls “conversation suppression,” i.e., knowing when to shut up: “Passengers talking to drivers made shorter utterances, had more frequent pauses and were more likely to be talking about the upcoming hazard than cellphone conversors. Drivers and their cellphone conversors tended to make longer utterances than the other participants, were less likely to mention the hazards, had the poorest recall of the hazards, and had the highest crash rate.” Even when the remote cell phone conversor had access to the driving scene, they didn’t tend to adjust their conversation as much as the passenger did — maybe there’s just something ineluctable in actually being there.

The study includes one other interesting, but to my mind a bit strange, finding. Drivers did a bit better on the cell phone when an automated hazard alert message “beeped through” their call, alerting them to some upcoming traffic hazard. This gave the driver the necessary cue to break off the conversation a bit. These alerts would presumably be triggered by some sort of beacons in the road infrastructure, particularly at hazardous points. But, of course, the thing about driving is one never knows when it’s going to become hazardous, and it certainly isn’t always at the accident “black spots” (which are often just statistical aberrations in any case). There are innumerable issues here, from a driver’s over-reliance on the hazard warning system, to the idea that they may be brought back “into the loop” with not enough time to react and not enough knowledge of the situation.

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Posted on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008 at 9:34 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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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 Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau: rhspeakers@randomhouse.com.

Order Traffic from:

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

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

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
Toronto

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
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

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

 

 

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