CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

Archive for May, 2009

We’re All Traffic Experts Now

At the CTS conference yesterday at the University of Minnesota, I was chatting with a traffic engineer who relayed an interesting anecdote. As a traffic engineer, he is used to addressing packed rooms of people, all filled with firmly held convictions on the way things should be done. He was chatting with a colleague, a civil engineer, about whether people ever offered any input at meetings concerning things like sewer systems. The answer was no.

It should be said that I’m of the opinion that, particularly in some local jurisdictions, community residents might actually have a better idea of how to control their streets than engineers working with standardized approaches; and that, too often, streets are merely viewed as sewers of a sort, channels for simply moving as much stuff — i.e., cars — as possible, with insufficient thought for other considerations.

But the engineer also had a quite valid point, which beleaguered traffic engineers face every day at town meetings across America when trying to, say, tout the benefits of a roundabout. Suddenly, there will be a volley of criticism: Those things are dangerous, they will make traffic worse, etc., despite all statistical evidence to the contrary. Of course, people offering these opinions typically never have actual evidence, nor have they studied the problem in depth, and yet they feel comfortable to make diagnoses on engineering problems which it seems they would not feel comfortable doing in any other arena.

I thought of this morning when reading a dispatch on how Kansas City is going to introduce ramp metering to its highways (thanks Bryan).

This, not surprisingly, prompted a letter in the local paper:

Metering entrance ramps to I-435 is a terrible idea (5/13, National/Local, “Engineers turn to ramp meters to ease gridlock”). I travel to Milwaukee several times a year, and they have metered ramps onto I-94. They slow traffic down, especially during rush hour.

The meters back cars up off the ramp onto the streets, which have intersections with stoplights, and no one can go anyplace. Half the time there is plenty of room for cars to merge in on the interstate, but because of the meter you have to stop and wait.

People who live in Milwaukee and drive on the interstates hate them. Each time I drive up there I can’t wait to get back to Kansas City, where we know how to let people get around.

Ramp meters, as I mention in Traffic, are a particular case where the individual windshield perspective of drivers cannot account for the larger flow of the traffic system, with its multitude of variables; user optimality trumps system optimality in the mind of the driver. As one engineer told me, people ask me, why are you stopping me, the highway’s moving? The highway’s moving because we’re stopping you.” But hold on, K.C. engineers, throw out those models, rip up those studies — we’ve got a driver who “travels several times a year to Milwaukee,” where “everybody” hates ramp meters (everybody, except, presumably the people who are moving more smoothly than they would be without them). But there is “room” on the highway for people to enter, this driver notes. “Room,” or “capacity” as engineers might more properly say, is, alas, not the only variable to consider in highway flow, and indeed, squeezing another driver into that “room” might disrupt the flow, pushing the stream past its critical density, plunging the system from a congested synchronous flow into stop-and-go congestion. Of course, some ramp metering schemes do send traffic back up the ramps — but one might also note that those ramps might typically be backed up already, and that in some cases this is actually made worse without ramp meters. And I need hardly point out that one cannot judge the success or failure of a ramp metering scheme simply by judging one on-ramp at any one time — rush-hour traffic on a congested urban system is an incredibly complex array of networks and flows that are well beyond the ability of any one driver to fully intuit what is going on.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 at 9:53 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
4 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

The Missouri Compromise

Missouri is weighing a bill that would ban drivers under 21 years of age from texting while driving (while Illinois works through all the possible implications of its own all-ages bill). The bill’s sponsor didn’t want the age restriction, and to be honest I’m not sure where that came from — it’s hardly an age-specific issue.

(thanks Alex)

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 4:35 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
2 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Traffic Safety Film of the Week

Again, not an official safety film, but here’s a “greatest hits” of collisions between a tram (in Houston, I believe) and a series of cars. Most of these seem to clearly involve negligent or outright illegal acts by drivers, but the video serves as a very effective kind of warning: It is in fact quite possible to not see something as large as the train that stretches behind you in the rear-view mirror. The mishaps could be any combination of mirror blind-spot, an expectancy issue (odd given the bollards or raised bumps), or simply not bothering to look before making a turn.

(Horn honk to Dan)

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 3:58 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
6 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Copenhagen on the Willamette

Over at Hard Drive, Joseph Rose reports on growing congestion in Portland — on the bike lanes.

There are now so many people riding bicycles in Portland that we have bike traffic jams on the city’s bridges. And statistics suggest that the handlebar-to-handlebar congestion is growing faster than the bumper-to-bumper variety.

Since the mid-1990s, for example, vehicle traffic — motorized and pedaled — on the Hawthorne has increased 20 percent. But the volume of auto traffic has increased only a little more than 1 percent. Bus traffic, meanwhile, has held steady.

Cyclists — now about 7,400 a day — account for almost the entire surge.

This despite a less-than-stellar facility:

Of course, if you want to walk or bike across the Hawthorne, it’s not the most zenlike experience. You’re confined to a 10-foot-wide sidewalk.

On the right, a rail keeps you from steering into the drink. On the left, nothing but lucidity and smart riding keeps cyclists from falling a foot onto the metal-grated motor lane.

But it seems engineers’ hands are tied:

But the reality is that the county can’t do much else on the 98-year-old Hawthorne.

In 1999, it spent $2 million to widen the sidewalks from 6 to 10 feet, which required extending steel supports under the bridge and installing lighter panels in the lift span.

Any wider, engineers say, and the bridge will start to buckle. Also, there would be no room for TriMet buses. There isn’t even room to add railings.

The county has created passing lanes for bikes approaching the east end. It has added markings to help separate cyclists and pedestrians. But several ideas have been deemed unmanageable.

Bike improvements planned on other bridges should ease the bike jams.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 2:52 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
1 Comment. Click here to leave a comment.

The Latest Slate Column…

…is up, and it’s about trains. Specifically, about HSR. No, not high-speed rail. I’m talking Harding-Era Speed Rail. Turns out things were faster on the rails back then. Read all the gory details here.

Here’s the intro as a tease:

Quick: Can you think of a technology that has regressed since the early 20th century?

Technological progress is usually considered a given. Think of the titters when you see Michael Douglas in Wall Street walking on the beach with a bricklike mobile phone. Then, it was thrilling, almost illicit—Gekko can call Bud Fox from the beach. Now, the average 12-year-old has a far superior phone: smaller, camera-equipped, location-aware, filled with games and a library of music, and so on. We’ve seen vast improvements in just a few decades, which means the gulf between now and, say, the 1920s seems almost unimaginable.

There is at least one technology in America, however, that is worse now than it was in the early 20th century: the train.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Friday, May 15th, 2009 at 3:13 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
7 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Suburban Mom Braves Downtown Houston Traffic in SUV, Lives to Tell About It

Driving to Downtown Houston – Stephanie Click – MommyMadnessHouston.com from Stephanie Click on Vimeo.

Can the Jon Krakauer ghost-written tale of survival be far behind?

OK, this poor woman has been mocked enough over at Swamplot.com, but my first thought, reading that site’s account, was: Wait, GM is now giving out cars to bloggers to test drive and oh-so-non-critically review its fleet? No wonder they’re in the tank!

Driving alone in heavy traffic (to paraphrase the Gang of Four, “we live as we drive, alone”), she then notes that this congestion is why she’s glad she doesn’t live downtown. A bit ironic, given that it’s suburbanites causing the traffic, and that if one lived in central Houston it might actually be possible to do a thing or two without a car. Or, if you lived downtown and worked in the suburbs, you could reverse commute. But c’mon, you’ve never changed lanes? Madness indeed.

(Horn honk to Dan)

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Friday, May 15th, 2009 at 3:09 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
7 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

One Reason You Should Finance a Car

Via the BBC:

A man in Germany discovered the dangers of driving an open-top car when an envelope containing 23,000 euros (£20,600) blew off the back seat.

The notes rained down on the fast-moving motorway traffic behind him.

Police closed the road in both directions for half an hour to search for the missing money. All but 3,000 euros was recovered.

The man, 23, was test-driving an Audi convertible near Hanover, and the money was intended to pay for the car.

The police have warned the public against scavenging along the motorway for the missing notes, pointing out that it would be illegal to keep them.

And things could get even more expensive for the German test-driver. The police are considering charging him for the cost of the search.

The motorway closure caused long tailbacks in both directions.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Friday, May 15th, 2009 at 2:52 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
No Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Sticker Shock

Photo by uopfindsomt/Flickr

A few winters ago, I found myself in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens at Christmastime. I was struck by the presence of a number of open-air containers holding little burning piles of coal (or some such), cheerily blazing through the Danish night. What got my attention is that these were in no way marked or restricted. There were no ominous warning signs (Caution: Coals are Hot When Heated!), no barriers, no minders, no consent forms to sign. And surprisingly, there were no mass incinerations of Danes on the spot, no burning children running in terror, no medics on the spot administering salve and bandages (unless I missed that study, “On the Prevalence of Second-Degree Hand Burns at an Unprotected Heat-Emitting Device: A Weighted Exposure Analysis,” in the Royal Danish Journal of Random Minor Public Risks). Just people warming their hands, drinking their glog, and moving on.

Back in the litigious U.S., I am constantly reminded of that moment in Copenhagen. The most recent event to do this was the purchase of a rear-facing infant car seat (yes, some of you predicted there would be infant car seat posts!). Now, this is not necessarily an object one buys for aesthetic reasons, but I was dismayed to find any number of yellow-and-black warning stickers pasted all over its frame (in multiple languages), essentially warning me not to put this rear-facing infant car seat in the front seat. Given that my car doesn’t have the NHTSA-approved “latch” system in the front seat, I’m not quite sure how I’d even do this, but in any case the stickers are almost impossible to remove. Now, this is a device for which one needs to read the instruction manual rather carefully to install (of course, many people do not), so I’m not sure why it also requires a profusion of permanent warning stickers as backup. Maybe I’ll loan my car, car-seat, and infant to someone else? Well, wouldn’t I make pretty darn sure that person knew not to put the car seat in the front seat? Perhaps someone will steal my car and put my infant car seat in the front seat, smash it up, then sue me?

The reason the car seat is not supposed to go in the front seat, of course, is that it would, among other things, run the risk of being impacted by the front passenger airbag. And I know all about this device because of the virtually impossible to remove warning stickers that are plastered to the visor, warning me, in various ways, about having small, unrestrained children in the front seat! Being of sound mind and body, and having absorbed the knowledge about this via the car’s manual (among other sources), I had thought this sticker could be removed (and isn’t there something a bit creepy about a safety device coming with a warning in the first place?), but it stays to this day (apparently there are incredibly labor intensive, and not guaranteed, ways to remove it).

I am all for safety, but do we really, apart for any reason other than a potential lawsuit against a company (and I wonder how many of these been launched against the auto/car-seat makers when the product is used in an inappropriate manner), need these omnipresent warning stickers? Are we saying that we have entrusted someone enough to drive a car in the first place (a process that admittedly has been made too easy in the U.S.), have a child (er, ditto), and then still not possess sufficient intelligence to know how to handle safety devices and infants? Why must I “subsidize” — with these offensive stickers all over my stuff — the foolish acts of others? There are myriad ways to die in a car — mostly having to due with negligent acts by the driver involving the actual act of driving, as well the unlawfully high speeds these machines so easily attain (there’s no warning sticker on the speedometer, mind you) and not seating infants in the front seat. Why don’t we direct some of this attention that way?

Then we can take all these warning stickers, gather them up, and roast them in a big bonfire in Tivoli Gardens — just make sure to sign the release form.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Friday, May 15th, 2009 at 2:29 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
1 Comment. Click here to leave a comment.

Snap, Krackle, Steer

Massachusetts man pulled over for negligent driving. The reason? He was eating a bowl of cereal, which police found was “still cold” when they inventoried the car. He also didn’t have a license.

Police are seeking a criminal complaint against the man for unlicensed operation, failure to stay within marked lanes and operating to endanger. Based on the man’s prior driving record, police are pursuing an incompetent operator complaint against him.

(Thanks Warren)

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Friday, May 15th, 2009 at 7:19 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
No Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Traffic Safety Film of the Week

Well, not so much a safety film as a revenge fantasy for some beleaguered neighborhood residents (audio in German).

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Thursday, May 14th, 2009 at 2:40 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
1 Comment. Click here to leave a comment.

‘The More You Protect a Crossing, the Worse People Behave’

I’ve been interested in the work of UC-Berkeley’s Douglas Cooper and David Ragland on crashes at railway crossings. Looking at incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2004 in the state of California, they found that “of the crashes that occurred, 73 percent occurred at crossings equipped with gates, 59 percent involved vehicles moving over the crossing, and 27 percent involved vehicles that had driven around or through lowered gates. An unbelievable number, 21 percent, involved a vehicle running into a moving train.”

I couldn’t help but think of those findings when I recently came across the following remarkable passage in John Stilgoe’s book Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene, describing the early problem of dealing with vehicular traffic at railroad crossings:

“Adding gates, bells, and electric flashing lights at some crossings at first seemed to help, especially if the gates overlapped each other to prevent motorists from snaking past them onto the tracks. But by 1913, experts knew that numerically as well as comparatively more persons are killed at protected crossings,” at crossings defended by watchmen, gates, bells, lights, and signs. What accounted for “comparatively”? Certainly protected crossings usually passed many more wayfarers than unprotected rural crossings far from towns, but why did proportionately more people collide with trains there? Did carelessness born of some mad scurrying haste account for the deaths, or was it the old “familiarity with the timetable” syndrome? If anything, a sort of early-twentieth-century highway hypnosis might explain the accidents at protected crossings. “How many of you readers heard your clock strike at the most recent hour?” asks Whiting in his 1913 article. People intimately familiar with their route to work, to shopping, to school, simply did not realize the protected crossings. Lost in some sort of waking trance, they walked past the lights or drove directly into and through the gates. “Disgusted railroad men will sometimes tell you that the more you protect a crossing, the worse people behave,” Furnas noted in 1937. “They seem to figure that if the company has taken all that trouble, the drive is absolved of responsibility for himself.” So concerned were California authorities that as early as 1917 they began designing speed bumps into paved highways approaching crossings, hoping that a violent jarring would knock motorists out of their trances and apprise them that they “should cut down speed and be on the lookout for warning signals.” By 1937, after the speed bumps had increased in height to two or three feet, one magazine writer concluded that they did nothing to alert motorists. Drivers simply breezed over them, crashed through gates, and struck trains. When reformers suggested that railroad companies install gates so solid that motorists could not break through them, companies replied that such gates could not be designed. The flimsy gates, they explained, existed to permit motorists to crash through both pairs and escape death, or through the far pair if they entered the crossing as the gates lowered. By the early 1930s, the protected grade crossing displayed the gadgets of mechanical, electrical, and efficiency engineers—and all of the engineers had failed.”

An interesting early example of the challenges of safety engineering in light of human risk compensation, and clearly a longstanding problem that has not been solved.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Thursday, May 14th, 2009 at 11:30 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
5 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

The HOV Economy

Photo by Ed Wray/New York Times

There was a glancing reference in Traffic to Jakarta’s “passengers for hire,” people a driver can hire in order to use the HOV lanes on the city’s crowded roads. The New York Times notes the practice is still flourishing:

Angga, an 11-year-old boy who puts in time as a jockey after school, had just returned from his first ride, beaming. He had earned just under $1 and paid less than 20 cents to return by bus to his starting-point. A black Toyota van pulled up moments later and Angga hopped inside.

“Markets in everything,” as Tyler Cowen would say. I’m not sure what an economist would term this behavior, other than unintended consequences and informal markets, but it does reflect something of a pattern, i.e., how well-meaning traffic control policies will be circumvented by clever drivers (e.g., under Mexico City’s “Hoy No Circula” program people simply bought another car with a different license plate). It also, of course, depends on a society in which there is sufficient “surplus labor” to fill such a superfluous job as HOV jockey. In the West, such a concept is only satirical — i.e., Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm hiring a prostitute to simply sit in the passenger seat so he could make the Dodger game in time via the HOV lane.

In any case, Indonesia is investigating scrapping the “3 in 1″ program and going with electronic tolling.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Thursday, May 14th, 2009 at 7:17 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
5 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

The English Motorway System

Joe Moran, whose book Queuing for Beginners is referenced in Traffic, has a new book coming out next month that is right up my alley: On Roads: A Hidden History.

The film above is a teaser of sorts to the book. It takes its title from a song from one of my favorite early 90s bands, Black Box Recorder, and it’s filled with piquant quips and boring postcards. Based on this quick glimpse, the book seems just the right tonic to mix with my recent re-reading of the J.G. Ballard catalog (the books I would take with me if I were stranded on a “Concrete Island,” if you will). I will no doubt be checking back in with random passages.

And while we’re in the mood, below is a video for another very apt BBR song, “The Art of Driving.”

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 12:47 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
No Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Roadsworth Captured

I’m a fan of Montreal’s Roadsworth, a sort of graffiti artist whose canvas is not the sides of buildings but the streets. Most of what he does is done without permission, though he has been selected to put installations in traffic treatments like the one in the U.K.’s Ashford — and I’d love to see his approach taken to heart in more public-space schemes. Needless to say, since we’ve mostly given over the “public way” to the strictures of traffic engineers, Roadsworth’s asphalt interventions are usually viewed darkly by city officials.

The Roadsworth story is now told in a documentary, directed by Alan Kohl, the trailer for which is posted below. I don’t know much about the distribution schedule, but it was recently shown at South-by-Southwest in Austin, Tx., and I hope to soon see it myself.

(Thanks to Brian Weis)

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 11:01 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
2 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Watching Other People’s TV While Driving

On a bus trip in Tokyo, I was surprised to occasionally glance down and see, in a neighboring car, a television screen playing where the nav device might normally sit. Apparently this is a favorite of taxi drivers in a number of other Asian capitals.

The distraction effects of a front-mounted television are obvious. But what about the televisions in the back seats of other vehicles? We’ve all seen it: The ghostly blue flickering of Shrek or some such in the back of an SUV (apparently, children are no longer able to amuse themselves with books, license-plate bingo, or looking out the window). Do they pose a risk for the general traffic stream?

According to a paper by Julie Hatfield and Timothy Chamberlain of the NSW Injury Risk Management Research Centre in Australia, “The impact of in-car displays on drivers in neighbouring cars: Survey and driving simulator experiment,” published in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, there is reason to think those displays do effect the behavior of other drivers. Using a driving simulator (this is one of those experiments that would be almost impossible to carry out in actual traffic) with a nearby laptop to simulate in-car displays, the researchers had subjects carry out a number of drives in which they were instructed both to look for the displays, and to ignore them, and drives in which no instructions at all were given (curiously, the effects were similar in this case to when drivers were told to look for the screens). A number of differences were observed in drives in which the displays were present versus when they were not, including a more variable lane position and a slower response time to pedestrians.

What the study seems to suggest is that we can’t but help pay a bit of attention to those moving images in other vehicles. This may depend, of course, on the traffic conditions in the moment; i.e., if we were busy attending to many other stimuli in the environment we would likely screen out non-essential things. But there is that notion too that there’s something inherently seductive in the moving image (as the hypnotized children in the back row will attest to), and that may engage us, almost against our will. The researchers note that their use of a laptop screen does not purely replicate the small screens seen at a distance in the back of cars; but then again, those may cause even more trouble. As they write: “Once attention has been attracted, the smaller screens may produce greater impairment because of the greater cognitive capacity required to make out the materials being screened. Thus, if anything, our results may underestimate the impairment produced by attending to the smaller audiovisual display units that are currently available in vehicles.”

In-car backseat screens are an example of how technology is added to cars for reasons of marketing without really knowing how it will change the driving environment — and, as I mentioned earlier, it is vastly challenging to test such things. I am not suggesting that these have caused a raft of crashes or anything, but given the inaccuracies of crash reporting and the complex interplay of variables present in traffic, it’s actually fairly hard to tell what the effect of the screens is. Perhaps the overall calming effect they have on the passengers in the vehicles in which they are present — and thus the reduction of distraction on those drivers — is more beneficial than the distraction effects they pose to other drivers. In essence, though, they seem to fall into one of those regulatory black holes, in which they are permitted because there’s no evidence they are causing harm, even if that evidence would be incredibly difficult to acquire.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 8:25 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
No Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

50 Cars or One Coach

This innovative roadside ad campaign from Sweden gives a graphic representation of what happens when 50 people choose to drive themselves to the airport rather than take the shuttle.

(Horn honk to The City Fix)

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Tuesday, May 12th, 2009 at 7:23 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
6 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Crimi-Nail Behavior

This piece brings up two issues that have been batted around here recently: Lane-splitting by motorcycles, and distracted drivers. In this case, a motorcyclist stopped at traffic lights was killed after being struck by a driver who was painting her nails (had she been between vehicles, the crash presumably would not have happened). The piece notes another egregious case in which a cyclist was killed by a driver who was “downloading ring tones” on his cell phone — and received nothing more than a “traffic ticket.”

The piece wonders, in that abstract way of lazy journalism, of “where the line should be drawn” in deciding what’s distracting: “Is programming a GPS more of a distraction than tuning the car radio?” Uh, yeah, it actually is, and there’s plenty of research on that — it’s why the car manufacturers don’t let you input addresses while you’re in motion, and they do let you change the radio station.

And the piece also finds the requisite “critics” of criminalizing distracted driving — not surprisingly, it’s a criminal defense attorney!

“Truth be told, anything we’re doing other than giving our full attention to the road is potentially a distraction, but that doesn’t make it a criminal case,” said Darren Kavinoky, a criminal defense attorney who practices in California.

So a glance to the side of the road is the same, in terms of non-criminality, as someone painting her nails while she drove?

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 9:36 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
3 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Intexticated

Yet another driver is implicated in texting while driving — this time a trolley in Boston. Given the trouble that highly trained drivers have with distracting technologies, it doesn’t require much imagination to think what’s happening to the average car driver as they remotely engage.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 8:36 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
3 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

The Invisible Hand

David Williams of the Telegraph gives a prototype vehicle equipped with Intelligent Speed Adaptation (what used to be known as a “governor”) a spin through London. The car limits speed to whatever the limit is on the segment — typically 30 mph.

This line struck me:

Like most motorists I want to be law-abiding. Up until now I’d believed I was. But this clever car exposes such self-delusions. Normally I try to keep to 30mph in town but in reality I must have been doing nearer 40 as I never drive this slowly.

Someone recently asked me, “why do people speed?” There’s no short answer to that question (I’ve got 250-page reports tackling the question), but one possibility that must be considered, in light of the above sentences, is that: They actually don’t know how fast they are going. Any number of studies have shown how drivers, particularly when the feedback is noisy — i.e., they’re sitting high up from the road, the car cabin is ultra quiet (or the radio loud), the road is very wide — routinely underestimate their speed.

As we’ve banged on here about many times before, these minor differences in urban speed, while inconsequential and almost imperceptible for the driver, can be of dramatic importance for the pedestrian or cyclist struck by a vehicle.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 8:30 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
15 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Things I Didn’t Know

Ramping up slowly here, folks, and it’s staggering how much happens in the world of traffic in a week — there are dozens of things I would have posted on, had my attentions not been elsewhere.

With Hummer on the verge of extinction, save for its purchase by some Chinese manufacturer looking for a new market niche for emerging oligarchs, I came across this piece by Salon on the rise and fall of America’s most unbeloved car brand. This bit struck me in particular:

Beginning in 1996, a series of tax laws combine to create large tax credits for certain Hummer buyers. By 2002, the New York Times reports that, thanks to changes in the tax code during the Bush administration, an eligible buyer can deduct $34,912 of the $48,800 base price of the Hummer.

God does that now seem like a piece of Bush-era lunacy (and keep in mind at the same time the deduction for hybrid vehicles was being capped and restricted). That whopping deduction supposedly reflected the Hummer’s role as a “light duty truck,” and hence a work vehicle for yeoman farmers and the like, though the only people I ever saw driving them looked dressed for nothing for labor intensive than a day on the links — and they were certainly never hauling anything beyond a pair of jet-skis or ATVs (and don’t get me started on those!). In retrospect they were the perfect emblem of the Bush interregnum, a totem of entitlement, profligacy, social and personal insecurity, militarism as a form of consumption, and absolute pretension — “all cattle and no hat.”

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 8:12 am 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

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
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

 

 

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Twitter
May 2009
M T W T F S S
« Apr   Jun »
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031