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Archive for September 11th, 2008

Le Vice Anglais

We’ve gotten used to stories of British youth behaving badly while abroad on stag-dos and the like — and I sometimes think Europe will meet its end not due to the conflagration of wars but through the endemic cultural and physical damage wrought by the exchange of marauding bands of drunken tourist-ambassadors on EasyJet-fueled “city escapes” — but from the Times (hat tip to Steve Hymon) comes this story of Brits behaving badly on French motorways:

“In a four-hour period last weekend, on the A26 motorway near Saint-Omer, a Franco-British patrol stopped 30 cars for breaking the 130km/h (80mph) limit. All but two were from Britain. British drivers have committed half of the most serious speeding offences – over 125mph – in the region this year.”

The story goes on to note:

“The British, who used to be seen in France as cautious and courteous drivers, have overtaken the Germans as speed fiends since 2002, when President Chirac installed thousands of speed cameras. French drivers have begun obeying the limits, but many foreigners have not, because Europe has not applied an accord reached last spring on the cross-border enforcement of fines.”

This is a bit curious, as some studies have shown Brits have the most positive attitude in all of Europe toward speed cameras. Maybe they just think driving fast is the thing to do on the Continent — even if the idea of the French driving like maniacs has now become as recherche as berets on the Left Bank. Maybe it’s the lack of punishment. Maybe they need to be Locked Up Abroad (the only TV I see on a regular basis).

Reading the story reminded me a bit I had recently come across in Julio Cortazar’s curious travelogue of the French motorway system, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, in which he and his partner visit all the rest areas from Paris to Marseilles, a book that was really more about metaphysical inquiries than a rigorous investigation of the traffic details as I would have liked (and that’s him, above, in “Fafner,” his VW camper-van). In any case, at one point (this is 1982), Cortazar notes:

“By the third day, it has become increasingly evident: Out of every ten tourists driving toward the Midi, seven are British. It becomes almost boring to look at the plate, GB dominates by a long shot. (Of course, there are lots of French, but we tend to think of tourists as foreigners, and we pretend that here the French are the only traveling salesmen or salesmen traveling, it doesn’t matter.

Carol admits that on our previous trips down the autoroute, the Belgians ruled in the rest areas almost offensively, while now their solitary B peeks out from time to time. We think about rhythms of vacations, staggered migrations, which undoubtedly account for this British invasion, otherwise simultaneous to the one in the Malvinas Islands, the vagaries of which we follow every three or four hours by short-wave radio. I am not going to concern myself here with the Malvinas, as the Bible says somewhere, everything has its time and its place; I’ll limit myself to wondering whether so many English cars on the autoroute might not be a perfectly British way for many of them to give Maggie Thatcher the finger and trade the penguins of Port Stanley for the roulette wheel of Monte Carlo.”

No word on how fast they were driving.

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Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2008 at 2:29 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
2 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Left-lane Nudge?

Road Grooves, Groovy Road. Photo by ..::w::../Flickr

I’m always interested in unconventional solutions to traffic issues, and reader Paul up in Ontario sent along the following: “I observed recently that on a road under re-construction, the process involved grinding a rough surface on a lane prior to re-surfacing. On a multi-lane road, the lanes were not all surfaced at the same time. As a result, whenever a motorist encountered this “noisy” surface, they shifted to a lane with a smoother surface. As a result, the noisy lane became open!”

His idea would be to pave the left, or “passing” lane in such a way that a driver would presumably only stay in it for a bit before the ensuring vibration became annoying. This would solve the problem of “left-lane” bandits, people who camp out in the lane that is designated, by law or by norm, for passing slower traffic. People would make their passing maneuver, then move back into a lane to the right.

One issue, of course, is that for some people, the fastest drivers, the left-lane becomes their de facto lane, and they may force out dozens of drivers (necessitating all kinds of disruptive lane changes) for their own benefit. This raises another possibility. The road could be grooved in such a way, as in Japan’s Melody Road (that’s an engineer inspecting the road pictured above) to produce a certain sound at a certain speed. Grooving could presumably be laid so that drivers going over a certain speed produced a really grating, revulsive sound (music might be tricky as one person’s annoyance would be another’s delight). In a sort of Nudge-like way, drivers could choose to stay in the unpleasant lane if they wished, but they would be subtly steered toward the more harmonic travel lanes.

The grooves of the Melody Road, it has been suggested, can be rather powerful (and certainly more so than signage): “You need to keep the car windows closed to hear well,” wrote one Japanese blogger. “Driving too fast will sound like playing fast forward, while driving around 12mph has a slow-motion effect, making you almost car sick.” There you have it: Nausea, the new traffic calming device!

The concept has been demonstrated in Denmark as well, much earlier in fact, in the so-called “Asphaltotone,” the creation of artists Steen Krarup Jensen and Jakob Freud-Magnus, shown below (in Danish):

Grooves have already made their mark on road safety, of course. The so-called “Sonic Nap Alert Pattern,” or SNAP, was first tested on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1987 (after numerous instances of “drift off road” crashes due to fatigue and other causes). SNAP had the advantages of not being raised (the Turnpike had to be bare for snow-plowing), and being narrow, so repair and maintenance vehicles could traverse the roadside without obstruction. In time, the Turnpike saw a 70% reduction in DOR crashes after the shoulder rumble strips were installed. They too have a sound quality, of course: They get louder as you’re going faster, and engineers had to strive to adjust the pattern to make sure it was loud enough to be heard over the ambient sound of the car/truck interior.

Pretty groovy.

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Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2008 at 1:47 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
4 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.
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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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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