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Archive for April 20th, 2009

J.G. Ballard, R.I.P.

Photo by Normko/Flickr

J.G. Ballard, the prescient, controversial bard of Shepperton, has died at age 78.

It is a huge loss, but as consolation we did not lose him four decades earlier, as he described in this article in the Times of London.

In 1970, I began to write Crash. This was more than a literary challenge, not least because I had three young children crossing Shepperton’s streets every day, and nature might have played another of its nasty tricks. I have described the novel as a kind of psychopathic hymn, and it took an immense effort of will to enter the minds of the central characters. In an attempt to be faithful to my own imagination, I gave the narrator my own name, accepting all this entailed.

Two weeks after I had finished, my tank-like Ford Zephyr had a front-wheel blowout at the foot of Chiswick Bridge. The car swerved out of control, crossed the central reservation and rolled onto its back. Luckily I was wearing my seat belt. Hanging upside down, I found the doors had been jammed by the partly collapsed roof. The car lay in the centre of the oncoming carriageway, and I was fortunate not to be struck by approaching traffic. Eventually I wound down the window and clambered out.

Looking back, I suspect that if I had died, the accident might well have been judged deliberate, at least on the unconscious level. But I believe Crash is less a hymn to death than an attempt to buy off the executioner who waits for us all in a quiet garden nearby. Crash is set at a point where sex and death intersect, though the graph is difficult to read and is constantly recalibrating itself.

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Posted on Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 12:33 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Feet on the Dashboard

The warmer weather this past weekend brought out a summer car ritual, one that admittedly is on my large list of car-culture pet peeves — things like stuffed animals in the rear-window ledge, or vocoder-heavy R&B (can we call for a moratorium on this device, please?) played at top decibel on my street.

I’m talking about feet on the dashboard. OK, yeah, call me uptight, neurotic, etc., but I tend to be rather repulsed by the site of bare feet in a public environment that isn’t the beach. Maybe it was those hacky-sack players on the quad in college. In business class to New Delhi I had to gently rebuke the passenger behind me, a kindly businessman who nevertheless saw fit to rest his unadorned foot on my armrest, just behind my elbow. The profusion of “mandals” leaves me cold.

But with alarming frequency one will spy, in the neighboring lane, a pair of bare feet propped up on the dashboard, or even dangling out the window (of the passenger side, of course; when you see this on the driver’s side, it brings up a whole other level of concerns). The phenomenon seems to tilt, demographically, towards a male driver and a female passenger. Again, call me uptight, but if there’s one thing I don’t want on my car’s interior surfaces it’s the oils, exfoliated skin, fungal detritus, etc., of someone’s feet. But the real issue, of course, is airbag deployment. When activated, airbags burst forth at around 200 MPH (and remember, you’ll be going forward), with tremendous loads that get higher the closer one is to the airbag. According to one study:

For example, at a distance of four inches from the airbag face to the chest plate, the deploying airbag exerted a maximum load of 912 pounds when released. In the slow motion video clip captured by Dr. Kowalski’s high speed camera, one can clearly see the chest plate on the fixture bow upward as the airbag pushes against it.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to picture what would happen to one’s legs if driven forward at such speeds and loads by an airbag; I don’t have statistics, but there must be numbers on injuries caused by airbags due to non-standard seating arrangements, or some such.

I looked in my copy of Accidental Injury: Biomechanics and Prevention, by Alan M. Hanum and John W. Melvin, but found nothing on the subject of airbags and feet. I did find, however, this rather sobering passage: “A laboratory study by Lau et al (1993) examined the potential for injury from out-of-position anesthetized swine with deploying driver airbags… splenic lacerations were the most frequent abdominal injury, often extending through the thickness of the spleen.”

It’s not a direct comparison, but extrapolating from this it seems like nothing good is going to happen if a crash were to occur and your feet were propped up at eye level — whether you were wearing shoes or not.

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Posted on Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 11:40 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The High Risk of “Low” Speed Roads

I came across this interesting graph in a new report from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, with the lengthy title “Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan Volume 23: A Guide for Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes.”

I was struck by the substantial percentage (the second-highest of all road forms) of speed-related fatalities on “low speed,” non-interstate roads. I am not sure what the percentage of pedestrian fatalities were, nor the speeds of impact involved (something would be far from exact in any case), nor do I (or anyone, really) know the exact differences in exposure for driving on local roads versus high-speed highways.

But I took the figure as a sign of what sort of issues were at stake in things like the recently mentioned Prospect Park West Road Diet (in Brooklyn), which now seems to be moving forward.

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Posted on Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 7:19 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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