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Archive for August 12th, 2009

Bald Injustice

I slept on this story, but the above clip (actually it’s here as I couldn’t embed for some reason) is from Andre Marin, the Ombudsman of Ontario. He filmed the driver ahead as he shaved his head while driving.

“I was absolutely astounded,” Marin said. “He had both hands up in the air and he was using one hand to pull the skin at the back his neck and head and in the other hand he had an electric razor.”

The kicker is that Marin, who waited until he was stopped at light to film the offending grooming driver, is the one who would have gotten a ticket under Ontario’s forthcoming legislation against hand-held electronic devices (which does not discriminate against moving versus non-moving traffic), while police would presumably have been left, er, scratching their heads over what to do with the shaving driver.

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Posted on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 at 5:39 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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No Phones In School Zones

I’m currently in Texas, and just heard an item on the radio about a curious new law: That it’s illegal to use a (hand-held) cell phone in a “school zone.”

And, as an article by Ben Wear (who was on my panel back at the Texas Book Festival last year) in the Statesman notes, cities like Austin now have to (or don’t, it’s still a bit up in the air) post signs alerting drivers to the presence of this law, otherwise police cannot enforce.

Robert Spillar, the City of Austin’s transportation director, said the city has not set aside money for the signs. Nonetheless, it will begin installing them this fall, starting with elementary schools. It could take two years to get them all up, he said.

“I don’t see how we can not put them up,” Spillar said. He said he isn’t sure the mere presence of signs will change driver behavior, and said some sort of education program might be necessary to get the message across. “It’s an unfunded mandate that has our backs against the wall. We can’t enforce it if the signs aren’t up.”

This is the first I’d heard of such a particular distinction being made in a particular zone, and I’m having trouble seeing the reasoning, or the safety impact. The first thought that jumps to mind is that a driver on a cell-phone is hardly likely to pick out a “no cell-phone” sign, much less expeditiously hang up their call as they approach. The second is that signs warning of “school zones” themselves, while a bit better — particularly when backed up flashing lights — than the ubiquitous (and absolutely ineffectual) “Slow Children” signs that are not officially recognized by engineers, tend to be little regarded as well, at least based on various tests in which drivers were still found to be routinely exceeding the speed limit; typically it’s the parent bringing their kids to the very same school. The entire concept of “School Zones” is a bit wanting, really, prone to driver and legal confusion, not to mention that it raises that eternal question: One is supposed to drive slowly and attentively on this stretch past a school, but it’s then OK to accelerate to higher speed a block later (a block on which there may be just as many children)?

And then, on the cell phone issue, we’re again making odd distinctions: We’re admitting that cell phones are a hazard to use when driving around groups of children at schools, but somehow OK when driving among groups of pedestrians or cyclists or children on the blocks in front of their homes — or in fact every other car on the road? And that it’s OK for drivers to zip past schools while talking on their hands-free-not-brain-free unit?

And then there’s the aesthetic blight of all the extra signage — more signs for drivers to ignore — not to mention all the money going to put the signs up, just so a law can be enforced; it seems rather ridiculous that if a state law is passed declaring it illegal to use cell phones in a school zone, one would have to expensively repeat that statement at every already marked school zone. After all, we don’t feel the need to erect signs announcing that driving while impaired is illegal, in school zones or anywhere else.

As always, any experiences or technical clarifications welcome.

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Posted on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 at 5:14 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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In the Driver’s Seat

Unlike most big city mayors (Portland’s Sam Adams is, or was, or still is, an exception), D.C.’s Adrian Fenty drives himself, and is apparently not setting the best example:

But Fenty’s recent fender bender has again raised questions about why the mayor is commandeering his city-issued vehicles, a Lincoln Navigator and a Smart Car. Fenty (D) was driving the Navigator when it collided with a Nissan Pathfinder at a four-way stop in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of the District this month. A police report on the accident was incomplete and contradicted an accounting of the incident provided by the mayor’s office.

It is another controversy surrounding Fenty and his vehicles. In May, he apologized for allowing a friend who was not a government employee to drive the Navigator, an apparent violation of the law. Fenty also picked up a speeding ticket in the Smart Car during the same month.

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Posted on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 at 9:39 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Does Your City Make Its Roads Look Big?

Former NJ-DOT-er Gary Toth (now with the project for Public Spaces) recently visited the Netherlands, a country that not so long ago had a worse traffic safety record than the U.S., but which now has a far superior one. There are a number of explanations, but in an interesting post (which echoes some material in Traffic), he singles out differing national approaches to the “forgiving road” concept:

Forgiving Highways is a concept that designs roads to “forgive” mistakes made on the road. It seeks to smoothly redirect the vehicles that leave roads, and allow wide enough clear zones to bring vehicles to controlled stops if and when they leave the roads. Breakaway supports, burying the end of guardrail, clearing the roadside of unneeded obstacles, and flattening and rounding slopes and ditch sections became standard design as part of the concept.

The idea that Forgiving Highways (wider and straighter) would reduce crashes on non-freeways took root during the 1966 National Highway Safety hearings. Leading the way was a nationally revered expert on safety: Kenneth Stonex, who during his career at General Motors, oversaw much of the research that created the basis for the Interstate Highway safety standards. Justifiably marveling in the remarkable safety record of the Interstates, Stonex and others sought to apply the Interstate principles to the rest of our roads. “What we must do is to operate the 90% or more of our surface streets just as we do our freeways… [converting] the surface highway and street network to freeway road and roadside conditions,” Stonex testified. It sounded logical at the time… and a great political solution, because the responsibility for fixing the problem once again fell on government, not the individual. We dove deep into the Forgiving Highway philosophy and still have not come up for air.

The Dutch also believed in technology and Forgiving Highways. However, they began to notice that while this worked on the high speed freeways and the low speed residential areas, they still had a problem in their “built up” areas. Recognizing that it is in these areas that they have the biggest conflicts between the purpose of roads for moving people and the value of roads in providing for exchange and access, they began to commit themselves to a different approach. They began designing roads in built up areas that induced motorists to operate their vehicles in ways and at speeds that were appropriate for passage through urbanized areas. The Dutch came to understand that the post-World War II world wide approach to making roads wider, straighter and faster simply doesn’t work on local and commercial roads in urbanized areas.

In the US, application of the Forgiving Highways approach in urban areas did accomplish its mission when vehicles did leave the road. However, as an unintended consequence, vehicular speeds go up. Drivers responded to their environment. Put them on a stretch of road that is wider, flatter, and straighter and they drove faster. While okay on controlled access freeways where there are no adjacent land uses or pedestrians, and where sight distances are near infinite, curves are flat and opposing roadways are separated by wide medians or center barriers, higher speeds caused problems in built up areas. Yet we were so caught up in the paradigm that we never stopped to check to see if we were getting the desired result.

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Posted on Wednesday, August 12th, 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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