CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

Archive for August 16th, 2008

Crash

More regular posting will return now that the U.S. portion of the book tour has ended. It was a dizzying week, with loads of entertaining radio appearances, and some talks before Microsoft, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and Google. The last was particularly fascinating as it was my first visit to the campus at Mountain View, an otherworldly place of lunch-time volleyball games, “Expecting Mother” parking spaces, Chinese language study groups, free smoothie bars and gyms, and, brushing right past me, a pair of cleats in hand, Sergey Brin. The Google audience was very friendly but with challenging questions, and my favorite moment came when one person asked me to sign his speeding ticket — acquired while he was listening to me on NPR’s Fresh Air! I can only imagine the interview was so engrossing he lost sight of the speedometer, or perhaps he was racing to his nearest good book store to snap it up.

In Los Angeles, I had a strange moment as I was out on a shoot with Val Zevala and a crew from KCET. Well, there were a number of strange moments. As we stood chatting on a overpass on the Ventura freeway, I saw a man come along, riding a bike in the breakdown lane, even as cars whizzed past at 60 mph. He maneuvered his way past on-ramps with some difficulty. I’m all for vehicular cycling, but this was a touch extreme. Soon enough a CHP officer came along to ask us what we were doing — someone had apparently called in a report that some people were partaking in strange activities on the overpass (though is there anything less strange in L.A. than filming?)

In the book I quote a line from the film Crash (the one moment in the film that recalls the earlier film Crash, based on the J.G. Ballard novel) when the character played by Don Cheadle notes: “We’re always behind metal and glass… It’s the sense of touch. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something.” In any case, I was in a minivan driving through Beverly Hills with the crew, and as we stopped to enter a parking lot, waiting for a vehicle to exit, the trailing vehicle behind us (also from KCET) was struck by a car that itself was struck by another car. There was a loud, almost familiar sound, and the camera guys bundled out to see what had happened (NB: It’s the second crash I’ve witnessed while out on shoots for the book).

It was a classic urban crash. It’s said that close to half of all crashes occur within or near intersections, and in this case it seemed the last car, perhaps rushing to “beat the yellow” didn’t notice the queue of unexpectedly stopped vehicles, and so struck the car (a Scion) behind the second KCET van. The crash raised two issues in my mind: The first, as noted by my colleague Kenneth Todd, being the inherent danger of traffic lights as a design solution. The amber phase tends to encourage people to accelerate to “beat the light,” and they tend to look up at the lights the very moment they should really be scanning the intersection for turning vehicles, etc. Unfortunately, like all signals in traffic, drivers tend not to rigidly obey their command but use them as only another stage in the decision making process: Should I stay or should I go?

The drivers were a bit shaken up, but it was their cars that took the brunt of damage. The Scion driver, commenting on the other driver’s decision at the light, noted how she never accelerates immediately through the green, as so many people are still going through, often at high speed. And she’s right. Engineers in many places have had to lengthen the “clearance phase,” or that all-red moment when no one is supposed to go through, precisely because so many people are choosing to violate the red light.

But the strange Crash style moment came right when the Scion driver emerged and saw the news crew. She looked at Val and immediately smiled. “I love your show! I watch it all the time.” When I thought about it later, the crash was the first actual encounter with another human we had had in all the afternoon’s driving.

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Posted on Saturday, August 16th, 2008 at 2:10 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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