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Archive for October, 2009

Topilandia

I mentioned briefly in Traffic the preponderance — and sheer size — of speed bumps, or topes, in Mexico City (as this writer for La Jornada wryly opines, Mexico City — topilandia— must lead the world in speed bumps, and it’s at least nice to be first in something).

But as this story in the Arizona Republic notes, there’s a new tope on the horizon:

It’s a speed bump that automatically lowers into the ground if drivers are going the speed limit. Though it is still only a prototype, proponents say it could save gasoline, cut air pollution and calm tempers.

“With this speed bump, people will feel rewarded for obeying the law, something that doesn’t happen now,” said Carlos Cano, president of Decano Industries, which is developing the speed bump. “The aim is not just to slow traffic, but to change society.”

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Posted on Saturday, October 10th, 2009 at 8:39 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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When Compliance Kills

The BBC reports on what may be a troubling trend or a statistical aberration:

Many of the fatalities involving cyclists happen in collisions with a heavy goods vehicle (HGV). This year, seven of the eight people killed by lorries in London have been women.

Considering that women make only 28% of the UK’s cycling journeys, this seems extremely high.

One of the offered reasons seems to involve compliance with traffic regulations (the sort of thing drivers are always accusing cyclists of violating):

In 2007, an internal report for Transport for London concluded women cyclists are far more likely to be killed by lorries because, unlike men, they tend to obey red lights and wait at junctions in the driver’s blind spot.

This means that if the lorry turns left, the driver cannot see the cyclist as the vehicle cuts across the bike’s path.

The report said that male cyclists are generally quicker getting away from a red light – or, indeed, jump red lights – and so get out of the danger area.

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Posted on Saturday, October 10th, 2009 at 8:21 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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I Can Haz Cheezburger at My Steering Wheel

A very SkyMaul-ish product, that sort that seems designed to elicit mock reviews on Amazon and violate any number of Michael Pollan’s “food rules.” Needless to say, not be used while driving (that’s what your legs are for, after all, to hold french fries — and keep them warm).

And speaking of SkyMaul, did you see the first product on the list of other things customers who purchased this item purchased? Poop Freeze Aerosol Spray. Wow.

(Via Eat Me Daily, thanks Vagabondblogger)

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Posted on Saturday, October 10th, 2009 at 8:11 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Musically in Step

We’ve remarked here before on things like Japan’s ‘melody road,’ in which road grooves would play songs only at the proper driving speed, and here comes another form of musically-based behavioral modification, an intriguing transportation “nudge.” The benefit here is I suppose oriented more towards people’s health than actual energy savings (do escalators consume more energy with more passengers?), but it’s an interesting result in light of previous findings that only escalator queues of a certain length will compel people to the stairs (with the exception of efficiency nuts like myself, the frantic guy you see bounding down the stairs at the airport because I can’t stand waiting on the clogged escalators).

(Thanks Robert)

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Posted on Friday, October 9th, 2009 at 9:39 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Extreme Makeover: Speed Bump Edition

Usually Staten Island’s in the news for its law-averse drivers, but here’s a different take: Renegade homegrown traffic engineers.

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Posted on Friday, October 9th, 2009 at 8:40 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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As Long as It’s the Right Sound

Lawrence Rosenblum on the hazards of ultra-quiet hybrid cars:

This finding is consistent with a fact many of us have suspected all along: the quietness of slow moving hybrid cars is a danger to all of us—blind and sighted alike. Our auditory systems often work at an implicit level in warning of nearby dangers, allowing us to concentrate on more conscious tasks. Our ability to safely cross a parking lot while we talk to a friend, manage our children, or simply look for where we’ve parked, is aided by our implicit auditory warning system.

In fact, there’s evidence that our brains are exceedingly sensitive to approaching sounds. Research shows that when we hear a sound approach—vs. recede or remain stationary—brain regions associated with attention and motor action are quickly recruited. The auditory brain also possesses a disproportionately large number of cells sensitive to increasing sound loudness: one of the primary cues for perceiving approaching sounds. These brain findings jibe well with perceptual research showing that we consistently over-anticipate the location of approaching sounds. It’s likely that our auditory systems have been designed to use approaching sounds to avoid hazards. If there’s too little sound to effectively engage the system, as is the case with hybrids at low speeds, then any normal distraction becomes hazardous.

But our hyper-sensitivity to approaching sounds can also be part of the solution. It means that only a subtle enhancement of sound should be needed. Hybrids and electric cars won’t need to beep, chirp, or produce an alarm to be audible. Beeps and chirps are likely more distracting than they are perceptually useful. The enhancing sound, needed only at slow speeds, could be either the simulated sounds of a very quiet engine (think cooling fan), or of rolling tires. For purposes of both auditory utility and simple familiarity, the safest sounds are car sounds. And these sounds would be barely noticeable for most of us. Not much sound is needed for the auditory system to warn us about hazards, as long as it’s the right sound.

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Posted on Friday, October 9th, 2009 at 6:17 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Friends Don’t Let Friends Walk Drunk

Photo by Oxygen147/Flickr

I eagerly started reading SuperFreakonomics last night, and wasn’t long into before I encountered a rather eye-raising bit of traffic-related material (which is of course not a surprise).

The authors, Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner, write:

“Each year, more than 1,00 drunk pedestrians die in traffic accidents. They step off sidewalks into city streets; they lie down to rest on country roads; they make mad dashes across busy highways. Compared with the total number of people killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents each year — about 13,000—the number of drunk pedestrians is relatively small. But when you’re choosing whether to walk or driver, the overall number isn’t what counts. Here’s the relevant question: on a per-mile basis, is it more dangerous to drive drunk or walk drunk?

After running through some numbers, they find:

“Doing the match, you find that on a per-mile basis, a drunk walker is eight times more likely to get killed than a drunk driver.

They add a caveat that drunk walkers don’t kill other people, as drunk drivers do; but even factoring for that, “walking drunk leads to five times as many deaths per mile as driving drunk.”

As the jacket notes, the book asks “not only the tough questions, but the unexpected ones.” But having raised this rather startling statistic, it then moves on, leaving a number of interesting questions in its wake. The first is the problem with exposure data (not just how much but when and where), which for pedestrians is notoriously inaccurate, and for drivers only slightly better. Another thing that seemed worth raising immediately is the idea of causality; not that Levitt and Dubner have done this, but one might walk away from those numbers with the idea that all those pedestrians were running heedlessly drunk into the streets. But the statistic simply refers to the blood-alcohol content of pedestrians killed in traffic, so one could be standing on a street corner after having had a few drinks, and be killed by an out-of-control taxi (or a hit-and-run driver), and this would be coded as a pedestrian alcohol-impaired crash (One could also be walking to one’s car, of course, as many “pedestrians” in America are doing, although the authors present an either/or case of walking or driving).

And of course, the relationship in the book between drunk drivers and drunk walkers is perhaps less dramatic when viewed in light of the overall risk of walking versus driving. As a paper by John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra notes, “it is much more dangerous to walk or cycle in American cities than to travel by car. Per kilometer traveled, pedestrians were 23 times more likely to get killed than car occupants in 2001 (140 vs 6 fatalities per billion kilometers), while bicyclists were 12 times more likely than car occupants to get killed (72 vs 6 fatalities per billion kilometers).”

This raises the question of how much more of a risk it is to walk drunk than to walk sober — which perhaps is the more interesting point of comparison here. But that question is of course complicated by any number of factors, like exposure — pedestrian deaths that involve alcohol are overrepresented at night, when visibility is a greater problem (and there are also more drunk drivers on the roads — and as this chart notes, a certain number of pedestrian fatalities involve alcohol impairment on both the part of the driver and the pedestrian). Another factor to consider, one not addressed by the authors, is the number of fatalities by .BAC level. Particularly in the category in which no driver alcohol impairment was implicated (but in other categories as well), there are many more pedestrians killed at at the .10+ BAC level than at the .01-.09 level (I’m not sure how this mathematically matches up with driver deaths by BAC level). So how much one has had to drink (which is probably associated with all sorts of other factors, like time of day, etc.) matters as well.

There’s a lot of other interesting things to consider here. One would be the mindset of severely intoxicated pedestrians versus drivers. One imagines, at least among a certain part of the intoxicated driving public, a certain behavioral adaptation (even if their performance per se cannot be modified), to avoid getting caught. As walking intoxicated is generally not against the law, is there greater risk-taking behavior at work? Certainly there are demographic factors to consider as well — it’s hard to imagine that drunk drivers and drunk walkers sync up in terms of life profile in most places in America. Then there’s the question of facilities — how many alcohol-impaired pedestrians were killed walking in unsafe places, places without sidewalks, etc.? (presumably stumbling through the French Quarter is safer than trying to leave a rural or exurban bar on foot, etc.). And I’m sure there are things I’ve left out that spring to your mind.

In any case, if it’s a sad commentary that driving drunk would be safer than walking drunk, it’s an even sadder commentary that it’s seemingly even more dangerous to walk sober than to drive sober.

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Posted on Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 at 8:31 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Random Fact of the Day

From a report by Boeing:

Since 1970, the actual speed at which passengers boarded an airplane (enplane rate) has slowed by more than 50 percent, down to as low as 9 passengers per minute. (figure 3) Similar through-stop time increases and boarding rates have been observed for wide-body airplanes. The trends are generally attributed to increased passenger carry-on luggage, more emphasis on passenger convenience, passenger demographics, airline service strategies, and airplane flight distance (stage length). Boeing believes that these trends will continue unless the root causes are understood and new tools and processes are developed to reverse the trend.

Of course, new queuing systems have been proposed, but they all depend on compliance — people not sorting through their bag in the overhead compartment and holding up dozens of others, or people boarding out of order and being held back for not being biz class, etc.

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Posted on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 at 2:15 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Young Pups

In his entertaining “Nanny State Diaries” presentation before the Distracted Driving Summit, Democratic Rep. Steve Farley made an offhand remark that I found curious: Arizona bans dogs from the back of pickup truck beds but not children. I’m not sure I’ve got this correct, or how it works in other states, but it seems a strange distinction.

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Posted on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 at 11:29 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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A Continuous Layer of Mush

The Missouri DOT gives a nice time-lapse (and count-down, or count-up that is, money clock) depiction of a highway’s life span. (Via Infrastructurist)

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Posted on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 at 9:51 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Old Big Car Versus New Small Car, Take Two

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Posted on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 at 9:28 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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iRisk?

I come across stories like this all the time. The subhead announces, “POLICE are warning tech-savvy school students to unplug, log off and look out, amid a surge in pedestrian deaths in Victoria.”

It then quotes a police official: “It’s no surprise to police that with more and more people, especially school students, owning MP3 players, and lots of people walking and sending text messages, that we’re seeing more and more collisions between distracted pedestrians and vehicles,” Insp Parr said.”

The only problem is that among the surge in deaths reported, we are not given exact figures, or really any clue, as to what extent that has to do with distracted pedestrians, as well as what other factors might have been involved. This is not to dispute the idea that a pedestrian acts differently and loses situational awareness when on a mobile device — and this idea should give any driver pause — but we can’t just announce an iPod scare when for all we know the bulk of the rise in pedestrian fatalities may have been due to distracted (or otherwise negligent) drivers (and there are plenty of observational studies hinting at the added risk to pedestrians from drivers on cell phones, a point raised at the Distracted Driving Summit).

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Posted on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 at 9:06 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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What’s Missing from Google Earth? Traffic!

Via Engadget.

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Posted on Friday, October 2nd, 2009 at 9:03 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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A Quick Note on The Summit

I’ve not had a chance to catch everything, but John Lee’s testimony yesterday was a high point for me — and not just because he’s in Traffic. I never thought I’d hear William James’ name show up in government testimony, and another front, one idea that intrigued me in his presentation was not just the idea that there’s temporary distraction (eyes off road time, fumbling for an object), or cognitive distraction (e.g, a cell-phone conversation), but this more meta-level distraction in which one’s role as a driver is essentially “distracted,” into some other role — busy office worker, mother tending to children in back seat, diner in mobile kitchen — which subverts what should be the most most primary role, driver (which is a job title in itself, after all). It also reminds me of something Andrew Pearce from the Global Road Safety Partnership mentioned to me, which is the different ways, through training and culture and mission, drivers and pilots address their task:

a.) The primary thought in the mind of most people who get in a car and drive it is the objective of getting to the other end of the journey.

b.) The primary thought in the mind of a pilot is getting his passengers safely off the ground and back to land.

The idea is to make a.) more like b.), with drivers considering not only the safety of their own passengers, but as fellow road users as “passengers” of a sort.

Some people are thinking this way, of course: The NTSB, appropriately, recently announced a total mobile device ban for employees using government cars; its administrator, Deborah Hersman, interestingly invoked the concept of the “sterile cockpit,” which prohibits non-mission critical conversation and activity during the most sensitive flight times. This reminds me in turn of something I heard while out at Stanford a couple weeks back, talking to Clifford Nass. He noted that someone had asked him something about multitasking in the context of Capt. “Sully” and his heroic river landing. Well clearly that shows that people can do multiple things at once, even in extreme situations. Yes, sort of, but of course, everything he was doing was integrally related to the process of landing that craft. He wasn’t phoning his wife to see what he needed at the store or trying to find just the right music on his iPod for an emergency water-borne landing.

As someone mentioned at the summit yesterday, there’s probably not the political will or even the money to train drivers with the same rigor as pilots, but I’m not just talking skills here, I’m talking about the whole idea of the culture of safety, which drivers seem to so easily disregard (and government reflects in, for example, its extreme reluctance to take away one’s license, even in the face of multiple serious infractions). In story after story I keep reading the same stock quotes from people, “we lead busy lives,” “there’s more pressure than ever before,” blah, blah, blah. Guess what, we all lead busy lives — but not all of us take it out on those around us in traffic with our negligence — and in fact they might feel less busy if one didn’t feel the need to text and talk their way home through a long commute. I’ll close with a few relevant thoughts I had on Dalton Conley’s book Elsewhere U.S.A.:

Why should such free-floating anxiety exist among people in seemingly comfortable positions? One hears of executives being constantly uprooted in a job market rife with downsizing. Parents worry that their careers are not allowing them to spend enough time with their children. No one feels as if they have any time. But Conley points out that the facts tell a different story: Fewer Americans moved in 2000 than did in 1950. The percentage of people logging more than ten years with large firms has increased. This generation of fathers, he observes, “spends more time with their children than any in recent history.” As for the time squeeze, a study has found that higher-income women, even when they work the same number of hours as those earning less, report feeling more pressed for time. As Conley notes, “when you can earn more per hour, the opportunity cost of not working feels greater and the pressure is all the more intense.”

The frenetic, self-regulating regimen of one’s inner time manager is the chief culprit, Conley argues, in the forever-harried state of postindustrial labor. For the first time in history, the more people are paid, the more they feel they must work. Income inequality has risen absolutely, but particularly within the upper echelons of the professional classes. “From any link in the chain,” he writes, “it looks like everyone else is rushing away.” So the presumed leisure time that money might buy merely breeds anxiety over how much the moment is costing.

This anxiety is all but inscribed into the software of devices such as the BlackBerry, the info-status accessory par excellence for this generation of knowledge workers. Whether the device, which corrodes the boundary between work and leisure, makes one more productive is open for debate; the science writer Stefan Klein has noted that “when we are under stress, we are no longer able to filter out unimportant matters; we become scatterbrained, flighty and reckless.” So cue the BlackBerry users, working the digital age’s own set of worry beads. “We tell ourselves that the stress comes from a lack of time, even though it is really just the other way around,” Klein observes. “We are not stressed because we have no time; rather, we have no time because we are stressed.”

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Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 12:06 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Accidental Journalist (an occasional series chronicling how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents)

Alcohol-impaired driving, despite a century’s worth of evidence of its dangers, still being couched in terms of an “accident.”

(thanks Rich)

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Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 8:19 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
2 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Real Life Ferris Bueller

In a roundup of in-vehicle event data recorders/cameras, Carlton over at Quickrelease links to this video, which shows, via Roadhawk, the “diagnostic” drive a couple of mechanics undertook with an unwitting client’s car. Thinking of Ferris Bueller, they knew via the odometer that the car had been driven, but not how it had been driven.

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Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 7:53 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Speed Eraser

You have to love the irony.

Up went the Gatsometers, the Dutch brand that dominates the speed camera industry. Named after founder Maurice Gatsonides, a famous race car driver who developed the first speed monitoring system more than 50 years ago to help himself improve his speeds around corners, the early Gatsometers were rudimentary — cars ran over a wire, triggering a stopwatch that shut off after a second wire was tripped.

From a reasonably measured piece in the Washington Post.

More on Gatsometers at Slate.

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Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 7:14 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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