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Archive for December 1st, 2008

Quieting the Ring Road: Shared Space Hits it Big in Ashford

That's a two-way street, mind you

One of the most ambitious “shared space” projects to date, and one that bears careful study, has been unveiled in the English city of Ashford. In a striking departure from what we normally associate with the concept of “road improvements,” the county council has spent some 13 million pounds to “break up” the old one-way, high-speed ring road circling (and strangling, some say) the city and convert it into a series of two-way, narrower, slower (20 mph) “quality streets” — largely free of aesthetically displeasing and typically ignored traffic signage.

As the after (above) and before (below) photos show, the changes are meant to improve pedestrian access to the town center, which had been curtailed by the old “concrete collar,” as one politician dubbed the ring road. New road treatments have been put in, the sidewalks (or pavements, as the English say) have been widened (they are now wider than the actual roads), and typical traffic infrastructure, from the humblest sign to the brightest traffic signals have been removed. As the county’s website puts it, the “shared space” project (whose consultants include Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who appears in Traffic), “seeks to change the ‘mental maps’ that drivers create and alert them to a different environment in which pedestrians and cyclists have equal priority. The keys to this are low speeds, a narrow carriageway and the removal of the typical visual clues for drivers, such as information signs and pedestrian guard railing.”

The press, rather than talk about, say, how the project might make the town a more livable place, has focused on one aspect: The provocative stance towards traffic interactions on the new road. The Times wrote: “Drivers no longer have the right of way on the ring road in Ashford, Kent, and have to negotiate their way across junctions, with no signs or lines to guide them. All road users, whether travelling on foot, by bicycle, car or bus, have equal priority and must use eye contact to decide who goes first.” This is the same sort of thing that has been successfully deployed everywhere from London to Sweden, and happens in more informal environments like parking lots, but still elicits an inherent suspicion, as we seem to treat drivers as a group as a class beyond behavioral change, beyond the capability of reacting to shifting hazards, beyond the ability to act civilized. The paper quotes Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA: “Those streets will be reverting to the law of the jungle. There will be road rage, collisions and chaos because no one knows who has priority.”

To which I might only say that road rage, collisions, and chaos, in my experience, occur as much, if not more, on the roads in which the priority — and everything else, including the majority of space — quite clearly belong to cars (my nearby Brooklyn example is Atlantic Avenue, a perennially promising street calling out for a renaissance but which reminds chronically hampered by a vast gulf of routinely speeding traffic down its six lanes; crashes, involving both vehicles and pedestrians, are frequent). The high incidence of pedestrians struck (with the right of way) by cars turning on “their” green light is proof enough that signals themselves only go so far and may in fact heighten danger. Of course, the issue goes far beyond design: Beginning with more thorough education for drivers and ending with much stiffer penalties for violating fundamental traffic laws.

I hope to make it to Ashford to see some of this first-hand, but in the meantime, there’s loads of information at the Kent County Council’s site. Also work a look is the “Lost O” website, after the vanished ring road, which details a set of public artworks (including Montreal’s excellent Roadsworth) that were unveiled on the build-up to the project — to the typical alarm, scorn, and consternation of shrill outlets like the Daily Mail.

Urban street or race course?
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Posted on Monday, December 1st, 2008 at 2:09 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Sir Alex Gives Thumb Up to Congestion Charging

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

It’s the rare day when two major interests in my life, traffic and English football (“soccer”), coincide.

That’s why I was delighted to note that Manchester United’s coach, Sir Alex Ferguson, has come out in favor of the congestion charge scheme that Mancunians are about to start voting on by mail (the result will be announced December 12). According to the Guardian, Ferguson, in a letter to the Manchester Evening News, wrote that congestion charging offers a “once in a lifetime opportunity to put Greater Manchester in the premier league for public transport — so don’t score an own goal.” If the scheme is approved, nearly $3 billion in funds (or, roughly, the cost of Man U’s current player contracts) will be put into public transport in Manchester.

The Guardian comes down in favor of the scheme here.

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Posted on Monday, December 1st, 2008 at 12:48 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Yet Another Post on the Anthropomorphizing of Cars

This makes me wonder why more car ads (wait, do any?) don’t use animated figures:

“In the study’s first experiment, participants were asked to evaluate a car’s newly redesigned look. The cars were presented to them in one of two ways: as a spokesperson speaking in the first person or as an object described in the third person. The participants were then shown a picture of a car that had been manipulated so that its front grill either pointed up in the shape of a smile, or pointed down to resemble a frown…

…Participants who were presented the car as a spokesperson were more likely to rate the car as human and to evaluate it more favorably if the car had a smile rather than a frown. “Interestingly, smiles were seen as more human than frowns, which is consistent with prior research,” McGill says. By contrast, those that were presented the car as an object were indifferent between the smiling and the frowning cars. Aggarwal and McGill found that participants were more likely to give the car a good review if it seemed more human to them, which emphasizes the importance of effectively anthropomorphizing a product.”

That’s from “Is That Car Smiling at Me? Schema Congruity as a Basis for Evaluating Anthropomorphized Products.” Pankaj Aggarwal and Ann L. McGill. Journal of Consumer Research, 2007.

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Posted on Monday, December 1st, 2008 at 11:59 am 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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