CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

Archive for February 13th, 2009

Human Factors

Just for dark humor — it’s Friday, after all (and appropriately, it’s Friday the 13th).

(Horn honk to Roadguy)

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Posted on Friday, February 13th, 2009 at 9:35 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Culture and Corruption: A Few More Thoughts

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Why does traffic behave differently in different places? Why does driving in Cairo set the nerves on edge, while in Munich people stoically wait for crossing signals, even at minor intersections?

One’s first impulse may be to reach for cultural explanations. In Chinese cities, where queuing can seem rampantly disorderly (something the government endeavored to correct ahead of the Olympics), perhaps it’s only natural that negotiating an intersection can seem so trying. Go to Denmark, with its famously self-effacing and polite residents, and the highways are largely marked by scrupulous lane discipline and a lack of horn honking.

Or maybe it’s urban density, and the vehicle mix. Delhi is more crowded than New York or London, packing some 48 different modes of transport onto its streets. In sprawling Los Angeles, there is essentially one mode — the car — and plenty of wide (if congested) streets to drive on. How could the former not seem more “chaotic,” at least to the uninitiated?

Perhaps economics has an answer. The American economist George McDowell, using as an opener John F.A. Taylor’s comment that the “market is… a traffic in claims, not in things” — i.e., it’s not only commodities per se but relationships between people and things — goes on to postulate a theory that a country’s traffic behavior has something to do with its market structure.

China, McDowell argues, has historically had a mixed economic structure — some state-owned enterprises, but also a “long entrepreneurial tradition.” In the latter system the advertised price on a product is often just a suggestion; the real price is whatever is agreed upon. If you pay too much, the “advantage” goes to the shopkeeper. And so it is with Chinese traffic: Turning, merging, yielding and the like are opportunities to be gained or lost. If one is cut off, one accepts that they have been bested in this one-time transaction.

Contrast that to the U.S., where being cut off might bring on a voluble burst of “road rage” by the offended party. Fairness and justice are prized (if also violated). As with traffic, McDowell notes, Americans view markets not as “free” but as “open,” governed by formal and informal rules, where “opportunistic behavior is expected and even encouraged but within a strict set of parameters.”

As a rough rule of thumb, then, one might say if you’re driving in a place where bargaining over transactions is expected, there will be a good deal of bargaining on the road. If you’re in a place where the set price is always paid, you might expect traffic behavior to also follow these implicit top-down rules.

(more…)

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Posted on Friday, February 13th, 2009 at 8:56 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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