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Archive for December, 2009

Incentives

Via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Planning to drink and drive this New Year’s? A north Georgia funeral home has a deal for you. Between now and noon Thursday, drivers can visit McGuire, Jennings and Miller Funeral Home in Rome to sign a contract stating they plan to drink or take drugs and then drive on New Year’s Eve. If they die in a wreck that day, the funeral home will give them a free burial.

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Posted on Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 at 7:56 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
6 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

On Gender and Parking

As I note in Traffic, there has been some research into parking and gender, ranging from the indefatigable John Trinkaus’ “informal looks” at “No Parking — Fire Zone” violations at a shopping mall (women driving SUVs were the leading offenders), to suggestions that female drivers spent more time searching for the “best” parking spot (to which the above cartoon alludes).

Now, Claudia C. Wolf and colleagues at Germany’s Ruhr University-Bochum have explored the idea of parking ability, in a new paper in Psychological Research titled “Sex differences in parking are affected by biological and social factors.”

As the authors note, some previous work has found men to have a slight edge on certain cognitive tasks involving spatiality, in particular the “Mental Rotation Test,” while women have, in some cases, outperformed men on more language oriented spheres, like the “phonological retrieval in the letter fluency task.” But real-world equivalents for things like mental rotation have not been in abundance. Which is why the authors headed to the parking lot.

During everyday life—and obviously especially during parking—individuals are required to imagine themselves from different perspectives, which involves mental rotation. A driver who steers towards a parking space must predict the outcome of spatial relationships between objects (including own car, parking space, further cars, and kerb) after changes in viewpoint, which arise from the car’ s—and thus the driver’ s motion.

But curiously, they note, “the cognitive mechanisms involved in parking have never been investigated.” Of course, it’s not just innate spatial ability that’s involved; confidence in one’s ability to do the task matters as well. This belief is “domain specific,” and can socially conditioned by stereotypes, etc.

For the test, the authors asked subjects, divided into similar levels of driving experience, to park an Audi A6 in various ways (back in, parallel, etc.) in a closed-off multi-story car park. The result? “The present data revealed a sex difference in parking performance in driving beginners as well as in more experienced drivers.” Women took longer to park the car, which might be seen as an offshoot of lesser risk-taking behavior by females in driving, but interestingly, even though men parked more quickly, they also parked more accurately, as measured by distance to neighboring cars.

Before we get into a whole “are men or women better drivers” argument, let’s remember that men also come out on top on another variable of driving performance: The tendency to get oneself killed or injured. And this was a relatively small sample. And it’s just parking, after all. And then there’s that question, raised by the authors themselves, of how much this is in any sense innate — always a dangerous word — and how much is generated by social expectations or other feedback loops along the way:

Additionally, unequal base levels of parking performance — which could be due to unequal spatial skills in unexperienced drivers — may have resulted in differential feedback during training of parking skills, leading to a change in self-assessment and thus differential behaviour and achievement… [I]n a recent driving simulator study, it was found that women, whose self-concept was manipulated by confronting them with the stereotype that females are poor drivers, were twice as likely to collide with pedestrians as women who were not reminded of this stereotype.

Strangely, just after reading this paper early yesterday, I came across an item in the BBC about new ‘car parks for women’ in China.

The women-only car park in Shijiazhuang city is also painted in pink and light purple to appeal to female tastes.

Official Wang Zheng told AFP news agency the car park was meant to cater to women’s “strong sense of colour and different sense of distance”.

The parking bays are one metre (3ft) wider than normal spaces, he said.

Were the Chinese government ministers reading Wolf, et al’s paper? And are they taking a potentially biologically innate, and perhaps marginal, difference, and whipping it up into an ever-perpetuating, and debilitating, social construct of drivers with particular, gendered needs? (not to mention the environmental impact of all that extra asphalt — three feet times the soon to be many, many millions of Chinese women drivers).

(thanks Peter)

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Posted on Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 at 6:04 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
3 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Twenty’s Plenty

For those looking to explain why the U.K. has made comparatively greater advances in traffic safety than the U.S. over the last few decades, urban speed zones are one good place to look.

An article recently published in the British Medical Journal, “Effect of 20 mph traffic speed zones on road injuries in London, 1986-2006: controlled interrupted time series analysis,” by Chris Grundy, et al., notes that “the introduction of 20 mph zones was associated with a 41.9% (95% confidence interval 36.0% to 47.8%) reduction in road casualties, after adjustment for underlying time trends.”

The reduction, they also note, was greatest for young children — which brings up the point that it’s not merely children’s risk-taking behavior responsible for their deaths as pedestrians, that addressing driver’s behavior can make a difference — and mattered more for KIAs (killed or serious injuries) than for minor injuries. They also report that “there was no evidence of casualty migration to areas adjacent to 20 mph zones, where casualties also fell slightly by an average of 8.0% (4.4% to 11.5%).” Perhaps driving more slowly on one set of streets even had a carry-over effect. The reductions are impressive and seem beyond what might be explained by some other factor, such as a reduction in pedestrian volumes over that same time period (although other factors, like the presence of enforcement cameras, need to be kept in mind).

About now is where someone usually complains that putting up 20 mph signs is ineffective and won’t change driver behavior. But we’re not talking about mere signage here, we’re talking “self-enforcing roads,” with a variety of engineering and design measures, and as the authors write, some evidence “suggests that the self enforcing 20 mph zones are effective in reducing traffic speeds to an average of 17 mph, an average reduction of 9 mph.”

The benefit wasn’t merely for pedestrians. “A somewhat counterintuitive observation,” they write, “is the apparently large reduction in injuries to car occupants.”

And not surprisingly, given their findings, the authors argue for extending, where justified, the 20 mph zone throughout London, and other metropolitan regions. Which isn’t necessarily an easy task, as Shanthi Ameratunga notes in a reply, also worth reading. “Giving provincial or local agencies the authority to reduce national speed limits is an important step in achieving this vision. Yet the 2009 global survey on road safety reported that only 29% of 174 participating countries set speed limits of 50 km an hour or below on urban roads and allowed local authorities to reduce national speed limits. These findings probably reflect both the lack of evidence on cost effective speed management strategies in low income and middle income countries, and the reticence of most governments to enforce laws that limit driving speeds, possibly because of perceived public opposition.”

But progress is being made, at least in the U.K.

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Posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 at 9:41 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Los misterios de la carretera

Many years ago, living in Madrid, I would settle in with a cafe con leche in one of my favorite cafes near the Prado and try to work my way through El Pais — always struck that the corrida writeup was in “arts,” not “sports.” In any case, Traffic is just out in Spain (and Latin America) from Debate and I had a feature in last weekend’s magazine (not my translation).

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Posted on Monday, December 21st, 2009 at 8:11 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘City Permeability’

A useful addition to the urbanist lexicon.

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Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2009 at 11:24 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Safety Film of the Week

I’m always fascinated by the U.K. Highway’s Code — not just the sheer amount of material one must absorb for the exam, but the very idea of a national code, which eliminates the weird comparative quirks among state laws here — even though the roads, drivers, and traffic environments are essentially the same (those states where you can drive at 14, a relic of family farm life, even though in places like Iowa agribusiness has taken over and true farm kids are much fewer; or the patchwork quilt of texting/talking laws) — as well as different driver training regimens, not to mention those awkward moments where a driver with multiple DUIs in one state gets one in another state and goes unpunished. My sense too is that the Highway Code as a cultural concept looms larger in the U.K. than our driving laws and training regimen does here (it’s not something much considered once one has the license). In any case, thanks to Chris for the video tip.

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Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2009 at 11:20 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
3 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

More Trashy Celeb Driving Coverage for a Wasting Pre-Holiday Friday

Ok, while we’re mining this trough, it appears Anne Hathaway is safe — miraculously — after the car in which she was riding was struck by a… bicycle. No word on airbag deployment.

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Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2009 at 10:16 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Accidental Journalist

Not that the Daily Mail should really be held to any standard, but yes, there’s the ‘a’ word in this decidedly not-accidental brush with death by Peaches Geldolf and the IDGAF crew (“I Don’t Give a … this a family blog!). Something Yeats-ian here: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are found on Twitter.”

I should add, by the way, for those not in the know, that Peaches Geldolf is not something on the menu at the Waldorf-Astoria but errant offspring of Bob, who has long ago stopped being known for anything but the antics of his celelbutante daughter.

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Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2009 at 10:08 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Park Department

Some interesting parking-related figures I came across today, in a forthcoming paper in the journal Land Use Policy, “The environmental and economic costs of sprawling parking lots in the United States,” by Amélie Y. Davis, Bryan C. Pijanowski, Kimberly Robinson and Bernard Engel:

A large proportion, over 6.5%, of the urban footprint, is allocated to parking lots in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. We estimated that this is the same size as 1075 American football fields. In our mall study area, we found that parking lots exceeded the footprint of buildings they service by 20%.

There are many more spaces than registered vehicles (1.7×), households (6.3×) or people living in the county of driving age (2.2×). This implies that if all of the vehicles in the county were removed from garages, driveways, and all of the roads and residential streets and they were parked in parking lots at the same time, there would still be 83,000 unused spaces throughout the county. Annual ecological services value of these parking area represents over $22 M if they are all replaced by wetlands.

If the percentage of parking lot area in the county (0.44%) is scaled to the area occupied by the conterminous United States, the entire states of Connecticut, and Massachusetts (12,550 + 20,305 = 32,855 km2 ) would be paved over with parking lots.

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Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 at 3:47 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Paralello-Parking: The Geometry of the Curb

If only Fermat had lived to the age of the automobile, he too might have grappled thusly:

How much extra length (above the length of your car) do you need to parallel park?

Maths (as they say in the U.K.) professor Simon Blackburn, working on behest of Vauxhall, has cracked the code (study can be downloaded at his page). Though much of it was beyond me — I suffer from horrible innumeracy — I was happy to learn about such things as “The Ackermann Linkage” (Ludlum-esque, that!). The footnotes also reveal that Blackburn is not the first to take a calculator to the curb — or kerb.

(Horn honk to Nathan)

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Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2009 at 3:48 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Twin Valves

A photo I took of a toilet at Stanford University — my research endeavors never cease! — is up at the Nudge blog. Comments point to the possible flaws in the system, as well as a seeming European ubiquity to these systems.

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Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2009 at 3:35 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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American Idle

Photo by Pedals/Flickr

In my latest Slate column, I consider the drive-through.

One thing that struck me was the historical novelty of the form; McDonald’s didn’t begin to unroll them until the mid-1970s, and they now, rather shockingly, account for the majority of their restaurant business. It’s a subtle, yet indicative, symbol of how much American society has changed, driving-wise, in a few decades. At one moment, most children, like me, were walking to school, and while we may have driven to McDonald’s, we actually got out of the car to eat our meal (and something like McDonald’s, pre-drive-through, was then an occasional novelty, at least for me).

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Posted on Saturday, December 12th, 2009 at 1:26 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Adopt-a-Bike-Lane?

I know there’ve been guerilla lane paintings and the like, but just curious if anyone knows of examples where this model has been done in the world of two-wheeled infrastructure. The sponsor could check maintenance, remove debris, monitor double-parking violations — I dunno, even install tube vending machines or free air or some such.

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Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 at 4:45 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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No More Dashboard Dining

For some reason I’ve never really associated eating lunch while being stuffed behind your steering wheel in a car with freedom. But I may be wrong.

(via Wonkette)

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Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 at 9:54 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Pedestrian Crossing Behavior: Lemmings or the Lone Wolf?

I was walking down New York City’s Fifth Avenue yesterday (the windows at Bergdorf Goodman are a particular pleasure this year), which as usual around this time of year was incredibly crowded — I begin to feel less like a person than a permanent obstruction to someone’s snapshot. The corners were particularly bulging with people — for some reason the police were actually blocking pedestrian crossings with yellow tape at around 51st Street — and it’s always interesting to note the little patterns: The Europeans and out-of-towners tend to wait for signals, while the intrepid New Yorkers often sail through. And sometimes, one pedestrian’s bold move can fool others into thinking the signal has changed, when in reality there is a yellow taxi bearing down on the crosswalk. At times things can get so crowded that the mass essentially sort of spills into the street, perhaps triggered by some early crosser but now possessed of an energy all its own.

In any case, I was thinking of this when I came across a study by Tova Rosenbloom, “Crossing at a red light: Behaviour of individuals and groups,” in the journal Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour (and, by the way, the idea that this journal goes all the way to ‘F’ gives you an idea of how complex and wide-ranging the field is). In any case, Rosenbloom, looking at pedestrian behavior in Tel Aviv, came to a rather different finding than what I suspected might be the case based on my Fifth Avenue perambulations, and she offers a few reasons as to why this might be.

She writes:

The first hypothesis of the study was that more people would break the law (i.e. cross on a red light) while standing alone than people waiting with others on the curb. The findings of this study support this hypothesis. The more pedestrians present at the curb, the lower was the rate of people crossing on red. Two explanations may account for this pattern: one is theoretical while the other is pragmatic.

The theory of Social Control (Hirschi, 1969) describes the mechanism behind obedient behaviour as the motivation to be rewarded just for being conformist. Normal individuals have inner controllers that prevent them from breaking the law and therefore encourage them to behave in a normative fashion. The sanctions of society are greater deterrents for normative people than are formal sanctions (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1994).

Indeed, people who reach a crosswalk alone when the light is red are less concerned with social criticism and so break the law more easily, while those surrounded by other pedestrians waiting for the green light feel more committed to social order and to social norms and therefore tend to stick to social norms, although not all of them, of course. It should be clarified that it is the immediate social constraints that make people feel more committed to social order. In other words, a transient social state operates to engage pedestrian behaviour. This is also consistent with the social learning explanatory framework (Bandura, 1969).

This being true, this tendency might potentially have some beneficial implications. Hirschi (2004) assumes that strengthening the ties to conventional social institutions might increase the commitment of individuals to normative behaviour. Authorities might want to apply this principle by implementing public educational programs for increasing self-control and hence normative and safer behaviour.

This tendency does have exceptions however. Comprehensive research (Ben-Moshe, unpublished Master’s thesis, 2003) that examined the road crossing decisions of young children and adolescents (6, 9 and 13 year old boys and girls) revealed an opposite trend. Each participant standing with his/her peer group on a crosswalk was much more lax regarding risk-taking in crossing the street than the same participant standing alone. Thus, the mechanism of social facilitation ([Corston and Colman, 1996] and [Sanna and Shotland, 1990]) works differently when teenagers are involved. Support for this notion is found in other studies ([Christensen and Morrongiello, 1997] and [Miller and Byrnes, 1997]) which point to the adolescent tendency to take more risks in the presence of their peer group. Carsaro and Eder (1990) tried to explain that values such as social acceptance, social solidarity and popularity are much more considered among adolescents than among mature people.

An important perspective of road behaviour, such as pedestrians’ road crossing, is the cultural context of the society (e.g. Levine, Norenzayan, & Philbrick, 2001). The behavioural norms of society might be reflected, for example, in the tendency to walk alone or in groups (Rosenbloom et al., 2004).

The current study was conducted in an urban setting at a pedestrian crosswalk in the largest Israeli metropolis – Tel Aviv, which is not typified by any unique features that can be found in other regions in Israel where minorities lives (such as the ultra-orthodox citizens, for example, who walk together in large families and groups as documented by Rosenbloom et al., 2004). So, it can be predicted that individualism-collectivism, for example, could play an important role in explaining people’s behaviour. Sagy, Orr, and Bar-On (1999) found that religious students scored higher in a questionnaire than the secular students on items emphasizing collectivist orientation.

In addition, the decision to cross streets when the light is red is probably influenced by the traffic law associated with crossing on red. In Ireland, for example, crossing in red light for pedestrians is not a traffic violation but rather a warning for pedestrians to be careful while crossing the street. In Israel it is forbidden by law, and those who violate this law take the risk of being fined by the police (http://www.police.gov.il). In a way, the current study’s findings are in line with these norms since people usually do not intend to violate the laws but do control each other’s behaviour.

What then, could be the pragmatic explanation for crossing intersections on red when alone? From past experience, people know that the larger the group of people waiting on the curb, the shorter the waiting time is likely to be. In a quick ‘cost-benefit’ calculation they decide it is worth investing a few more seconds to be on the safe side. Here, our recommendation is to install more traffic lights that also indicate the time remaining for the light to change. Further research on this topic is recommended.

From a pragmatic point of view, large groups of pedestrians should have a stronger feeling of safety than individuals have, due to the “safety in numbers” effect (Harrell, 1991) that they feel when many other pedestrians are also crossing. One might assume that oncoming traffic is better able to see pedestrians and come to a stop when there are many of them grouped on the crosswalk or many of them beginning to cross on red. Consequently, there may be greater confidence that drivers would stop under these (crowd) conditions, eliminating the need for caution by the pedestrians.

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Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 at 9:38 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Eyes on the Ground

Photo by Tom Vanderbilt

I flew in L.A. traffic reporter Mike Nolan’s Cessna as part of the research for Traffic. The piece of paper taped to the stick above, by the way, has the text of commercials he read as part of his report.

These days, as this AP dispatch notes, he’s no longer airborne.

Airwatch, a subsidiary of radio giant Clear Channel Communications Inc., has 60 reporters and producers working around the clock to provide traffic updates to more than 40 Southern California stations. They sit side by side in a small studio overlooking an Orange County freeway, staring at computer monitors and TV screens as they speak into the microphones, sometimes talking over each other as they file live reports.

Nolan was one of them. He took a substantial pay cut to work from the ground. He chose to work from home rather than commute 40 miles roundtrip to the Airwatch studio in Santa Ana.

He now takes a few steps from his bedroom to his study to start his split shifts, from 5 to 9 a.m. then 3 to 7 p.m. He puts on a headset, turns on the stopwatch application on his iPhone, and pulls up a half-dozen Web pages to gather traffic information.

When it’s his turn to come on at the top of the hour, 20 minutes past and bottom of the hour on KFI-AM and twice per hour on KOST-FM, Nolan rattles off a list of congested freeways in 40 second to one minute bursts.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the early 1960s, Nolan saw freeways expand deeper into suburbs. Flying over Southern California day in and day out gave him an understanding of traffic patterns that enhance his reports from the ground.

When he reads traffic maps on the computer, he can picture every tunnel, hill and curve and knows when drivers should be slowing down. He can suggest alternate routes and knows what type of incident is likely to cause more misery.

He said that kind of knowledge can’t be replaced by GPS-equipped gadgets.

“The radio reporter is going to tell you what’s going on where you’re going to be in addition to where you are,” Nolan said.

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Posted on Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 at 7:07 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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End-of-Year Holiday Road Read Roundup

Seeing Traffic positioned on a reading list recommended by Foreign Policy’s “Top 100″ thinkers had me in mind of book lists, and so I thought I’d round up the transportation-related books (or at least marginally so) that have crossed my desk this year and would make good holiday purchases for your mobility-minded friends (or yourself).

In no particular order:

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1.) Joe Moran, On Roads. I’ve noted my interest in this book before, but suffice it to say it’s cracking cultural history of the U.K. motorway system, a must-buy for bitumen boffins everywhere.

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2.) Ted Conover, The Routes of Man. OK, this one’s not out until February, but the galleys of this book accompanied me on a cross-country flight, and I was hooked. A far-flung, elegiac, honest examination of roads and their impact on us and society, Conover’s book ranges from the tangled “go slows” of Lagos, Nigeria to an (illicit) “capitalist road” trip in China.

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3. The Yugo: The and Fall of the Worst Car in History, by Jason Vinc. If you’re old enough to remember actually riding in one of these things, and enough of an automotive-cultural obsessive to remember, say, the Yugo’s appearance in the plot-line of Moonlighting, then this tale of geo-political commerce is for you. And as Vinc reminds us, the Yugo was the “fastest-selling first-year European import in American history.”

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4. Carjacked, by Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez.
OK, this is turning into next year’s list — this one’s not out until early January — but in Carjacked, an anthropologist and writer delve into American car culture — the romance that longed ago turned into marriage — and offer a thorough, gimlet-eyed assessment. Sample quote: “In the period from 1979 to 2002, the period in which seat belts, air bags and other improvements in vehicle crashworthiness were installed, U.S. crash deaths declined by just 16 percent, while those in Great Britain declined by 46 percent, in Canada by 50 percent, and in Australia by 51 percent.”

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5. Waiting on a Train, by James McCommons. Shifting from road to rails, McCommon’s book is a cross-country trip into the modern-day heart of U.S. passenger rail (“service that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of,” notes James Howard Kunstler in his intro), laying bare the roots of its decline and offering a way forward for the country’s most embattled mode. And I’ve not read it yet, but Matthew Engel’s Eleven Minutes Late, a “train journey to the soul of Britain,” is definitely on my list.

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6. Jeff Mapes, Pedaling Revolution. Another one I’ve banged on about before about, but the go-to work on cycling as a form of transportation in America today. And full disclosure: The guy did lend me a bike to ride in Portland.

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7. City: Rediscovering the Center. By William H. Whyte.
One of those rare books — reissued in paperback in 2009 — that actually lives up to the promise of “changing the way you see the world.” Along with the writing of Joseph Mitchell, I can’t think of any other title that has so influenced my experience of living in New York City.

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Cars: Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything (text by Stephen Bayley).
Because sometimes you just really want to look at a pretty picture of a 1955 Citroën DS.

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9. Jeff in Venice, by Geoff Dyer. One of my favorite writers, and his description of driving in India does not disappoint.

Suggestions are welcome for others I may have left out.

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Posted on Monday, December 7th, 2009 at 4:19 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
5 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Streets Ahead in Islington

Via This is London, the London borough of Islington is going to ramp up its number of 20-mph zones:

Islington council has agreed to introduce the limit in January to cut accidents, congestion and pollution. More than 150 miles of road will be affected, with motorists able to drive at 30mph on just 15 out of 1,420 streets…

This year the Government announced plans intended to reduce the number of road accidents, with a 10-year target of lowering traffic deaths by a third. As well as 20mph limits in residential areas, the plans include a tougher driving test and cutting the speed limit at accident black spots on some A-roads from 60mph to 50mph.

In London, 31 of the 33 councils have introduced a total of 400 20mph zones. In Islington half of the roads already have the limits.

Rather than rote anti-jaywalking campaigns and the like, it’s nice to see some sanity entering the issue of urban speed. The recently released findings on pedestrian safety in cities, which again found Florida hogging several of the most-dangerous spots, speak to this; it’s not uncommon, in cities like Orlando, to see 40-mph zones in dense, pedestrian-heavy areas.

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Posted on Monday, December 7th, 2009 at 8:26 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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DIY Streets

The device at right — the “Plant Lock,” for locking bikes, not plants — was new to me.

It’s one of a number of features employed in a so-called “DIY Street” in the East End of London.

Writes the Guardian:

Getting cars cars to slow down instead of racing through backstreet rat runs benefits everyone from cyclists to residents. But a windswept street on a November night in the East End of London is not the first place you’d expect to find inspiration for how to do that – not only cheaply but also with the total approval of the people who live there.

Clapton Terrace is one of 11 “DIY Streets”, a nationwide project launched by sustainable transport charity Sustrans as a cheap solution to local traffic problems. By narrowing and raising sections of road to pavement level, planting trees and using street furniture and bollards, the scheme forces drivers to slow down by blurring the distinction between space dedicated to cars and pedestrians.

Two years ago locals were fed up as drivers were using their street as a shortcut to avoid a busy junction nearby. They resurrected their residents’ group and got together to vote on their own DIY Street. Lyn Altass became what Sustrans calls a “community champion”.

“We leafleted every house for ideas and 40% of people responded. Hackney council only gets 25% during elections,” she says when I meet her. She points proudly to the new trees and new access to the green opposite, which means the road now looks more like an entrance to a park.

Residents described the street as previously being “an accident waiting to happen.” By raising a section of road in the centre of the road to pavement height, traffic is forced to slow down. The road now feels a lot more spacious as two trees were added beside the road, communal wheelie bins replaced 64 individual bins, and a fence around the nearby green was removed. The site also uses Plantlocks – boxes of plants with bike-friendly bars – where residents can lock bikes.

“We were expecting a 20mph sign and we got all of this!” a local told me.

More on the project here.

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Posted on Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 at 9:13 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Hack

Here’s an update, via the Los Angeles Times, on the case of the L.A. engineers — as alluded to in Traffic — charged in tampering with traffic signals as part of a labor action (in a reverse of The Italian Job, they wanted to slow traffic down):

Two L.A. traffic engineers who pleaded guilty to hacking into the city’s signal system and slowing traffic at key intersections as part of a labor protest have been sentenced to two years’ probation.

Authorities said that Gabriel Murillo, 40, and Kartik Patel, 37, hacked into the system in 2006 despite the city’s efforts to block access during a labor action.

Fearful that the strikers could wreak havoc, the city temporarily blocked all engineers from access to the computer that controls traffic signals.

But authorities said Patel and Murillo found a way in and picked their targets with care — intersections they knew would cause significant backups because they were close to freeways and major destinations.

The engineers programmed the signals so that red lights for several days starting Aug. 21, 2006 would be extremely long on the most congested approaches to the intersections, causing gridlock. Cars backed up at Los Angeles International Airport, at a key intersection in Studio City, at access onto the clogged Glendale Freeway and throughout the streets of Little Tokyo and the L.A. Civic Center area, sources told The Times at the time. No accidents occurred as a result.

As part of their plea deal, the engineers agreed to pay $6,250 in restitution and completed 240 hours of community service.

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Posted on Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 at 4:57 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:

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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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