CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

Archive for April 26th, 2010

On Airport Congestion and City Congestion

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld once observed that “closest thing that we have to royalty in America are the people that get to ride in those little carts through the airport.”

He continued: “Don’t you hate those things? They come out of nowhere. “Beep, beep. Cart people, look out, cart people!” We all scurry out of the way like worthless peasants. “Ooh, it’s cart people. I hope we didn’t slow you down. Wave to the cart people, Timmy. They’re the best people in the world.” If you’re too fat, slow, and disoriented to get to your gate in time, you’re not ready for air travel.”

Now, I do believe these carts have their authentic purpose, though recently navigating the airports of Houston and Atlanta — two travel hubs as sprawling as their host metropolises — I found myself, as I walked, constantly buffeted by their passing presence, or subjected to the very same imperious announcements that Mr. Seinfeld decries (and sometimes they were really quite nasty), and I’d watch as hapless travelers were often forced to execute rapid evasive maneuvers to avoid the onrushing conveyances. And sometimes, looking over, I’d see a boatload of what looked like utterly able-bodied people, looking rather smug. After the fourth “beep beep” in a row I was starting to see the world from Seinfeld’s point of view. Like, who regulates who actually gets on these things?

I thought of this when recently penning a short bit for the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” blog, which discussed the city’s plans to reduce and restrict the amount of vehicular traffic on sections of 34th Street, in favor of creating swifter bus facilities and improved pedestrian access.

The airport courtesy cart is a wonderful way to travel. Who wants to walk Houston’s or Atlanta’s long dendritic corridors (dodging those spillover queues from Auntie Anne’s) when you could be whisked, in comfort if not exactly style, directly from security to your gate? Sure, there’s plenty of mass transit options, like shuttle trains and moving walkways, and there’s always good old walking (which I frankly find a welcome respite after four hours of impersonating David Blaine’s latest act of extreme deprivation in 12F), but who wouldn’t want that private door-to-door ride?

The problem, of course, is that if everyone wanted to travel this way, the airport corridors would quickly bog down in a teeming, thrombosed mass of Lagosian proportions. Airports are able to process huge amounts of people because of mass transit, or because they walk.

And I think there’s something of a metaphor here for the presence of the car in the city of the 21st Century. On 34th Street, as the NYC DOT reports, one in ten people who travel on the street go by car. And yet they are granted an inordinate amount of space, and they exact a toll in time on the vehicles carrying many more people. It’s not difficult to imagine the car, forcing its way through a crosswalk during a right turn (as so many do), as the equivalent of that individual courtesy cart disrupting the larger flow of the stream of airport pedestrians for the sake of its few passengers. Or the driver honking as he passes a cyclist as that shrill cry of “beep, beep, cart coming through” that so vexed Seinfeld. Imagine now if, at the airport, courtesy carts were given wide swaths of real estate in which to navigate, and people on foot were relegated to a smaller, crowded, space, and you have something of an idea of the routine spatial imbalance that exists in New York City.

As with the courtesy cart, the car is a wonderful way to travel — the problem, of course, is that it gets less wonderful with each additional driver. Beep-beep.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Posted on Monday, April 26th, 2010 at 11:32 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
7 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
April 2010
M T W T F S S
« Mar   May »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930