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Archive for November 23rd, 2009

The Effects of Beauty on Speed

I was intrigued by this line from a new paper by John N. Ivan, Norman W. Garrick, and Gilbert Hanson titled “Designing Roads That Guide Drivers to Choose Safer Speeds”:

The aesthetics or “beauty” of a road environment has also been investigated in relation to traffic safety. Drottenborg (1999) studied the impact of speed on streets that appear as “beautiful” due to the blossoming of cherry trees along the streets in Lund during springtime, and similar streets that lack such beautification. She found that the free-flow mean speed decreased by about 5 percent and the number of vehicles traveling at high speeds between 50-60 km/h decreased by about 12 percent during the cherry blossom period.

One imagines a whole new sub-field of traffic engineering, with myriad questions: Do certain buildings or even architectural styles affect driver behavior? Can beautiful people literally “stop traffic”? Road aesthetics in general is a rather lost art; there’s a whole interesting strand of research from the optimistic 1950s, particularly from the U.K., looking into things like which sorts of road-side plants read most legibly at design speeds.

Of course, in so much of contemporary America, what James Howard Kunstler lovingly calls our “National Automobile Slum,” there’s not much present that would make anyone slow down (just the opposite really); indeed, the only seeming role of aesthetics in these environments is to transmit basic information (e.g., branding messages) at highway speed. When one actually gets out of the car in something like a big-box parking lot the effect is rather soul-crushing.

The aforementioned paper (which looked at a variety of locations in Connecticut), by the way, found that, perhaps not surprisingly, “drivers slow down where the road feels “hemmed- in” or there is noticeable street activity, and they speed up where the road feels “wide open” or street activity is less noticeable. This finding is not surprising, but these relationships are quite strong in the observed data, and it is a useful result to isolate this short list of factors that are significantly correlated with actual vehicle running speeds.”

And speaking of aesthetics, roads, and Connecticut, the Merritt Parkway is in trouble. The Depression-era Merritt Parkway had made the World Monuments Fund list of endangered global treasures, joining Machu Picchu, among others.

Built in the 1930s, the Parkway was intended for cars going a leisurely 35 mph, not today’s high speeds. More than simply a road to get drivers from one place to another, it provides a uniquely relaxing experience, said Jill Smyth, executive director of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, the nonprofit that nominated the road for a slot on the World Monuments Fund list. She touted its gently rolling topography, quintessentially New England landscape and historic stone bridges…

…Newman said he and other Merritt fans are currently at “loggerheads” with ConnDOT over a plan that is underway near Trumbull, Conn., which will restore 12 bridges, but also involves the removal of many trees.

The Merritt is a case where the presence of trees and aesthetics doesn’t seem to affect speed choice for many drivers — I’m always amazed at how fast people pass me. I’d hate to see the Parkway turned into some sterile version of I-95 because of the actions of a few people driving, as the police summons puts it, “too fast for conditions.”

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Posted on Monday, November 23rd, 2009 at 10:29 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
5 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

ESC and Driver Adaptation

NHTSA has predicted that electronic stability control “would save 5,300 to 9,600 lives and prevent 156,000 to 238,000 injuries in all types of crashes annually once all light vehicles on the road are equipped with ESC.”

This article brings up a few of the reasons why that estimate — as with previous technological interventions — might be high (even if there is still a net safety gain). One of the operative questions is how aware people are of the presence of ESC, and whether they can actually feel its effects, and what new problems owing to unintended consequences might arise.

But not everyone sees stability control as a cure-all that will prevent all road crashes.

Independent stability control development specialist Graeme Gambold says that while he supports the rolling out of the system, there are drawbacks. One is the dumbing down of drivers who increasingly are relying on technology to get them out of fixes.

“With the new regulation calling for every car to be equipped with [stability control], I worry that skill deprivation is not an issue in the minds of governments,” Gambold says. “Yet this is the great killer on our roads. You’ve still got to be smart and still need a high level of skill to drive a motor car but authorities seem to think that there is a technological fix for the road toll.”

Gambold says stability control is only as good as a vehicle’s grip on the road. “It’s not as effective on more slippery surfaces such as ice, snow and on gravel,” he says. “Any number of environmental factors – crowned roads, potholes and broken road edges – can reduce its effectiveness.”

Another shortfall of stability control systems is that they will only try to control the car in the direction of your steering command.

“Turning the wheel into the slide can tell the system its task has finished and it may cease its assistance,” Gambold says.

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Posted on Monday, November 23rd, 2009 at 9:17 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
6 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

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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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