Over at the Nimble Cities project, I sift through some of the latest developments in bicycle infrastructure for cities, from “bicycle superhighways” to “bicycle boulevards,” that are being rolled out around the world. Further examples/concepts always welcome!
Archive for June, 2010
Via the Washington Times:
How many cats is a person legally allowed to let roam the inside of his or her car while they travel the country?
The South Dakota Supreme Court weighed in on that very issue last week, setting the bar somewhere below 15.
The state’s highest court ruled — in a case titled State of South Dakota v. Fifteen Impounded Cats — that a police officer acted correctly in August when he seized the aforementioned 15 felines from a vehicle belonging to Patricia Edwards.
Not every justice agreed.
Justice Severson also said state laws dictating no more than three people ride in the front seat of a car lest they interfere with the driver’s view or control did not apply to cats.
“Miss Edwards’ cats should be returned to her care,” he wrote.
As I recently transferred the infant rear-facing car seat from my car to that of my in-laws, my father-in-law, noting my exasperated straining and stretching, gazed wistfully into the distance and said something along the lines of, ‘we used to just stick ‘em in the back seat.’
This is not to say there weren’t crude, biomechanically dubious predecessors of the modern infant car seat: Before there was the LATCH system, before there was the backseat rear-facing Snugride, before there were three-point harnesses, there was the… Kiddee Drivette! (with its ‘not noisy’ horn). Not sure about that ‘educational’ bit though.
Enjoying this poster, apparently via the city of Munich’s transportation department, of how much street space it takes to move the same amount of people via car, bus, and bicycle.
They are all around you. They influence the way you live, and the look of where you live. They cost you whether you drive or not. They are minimum parking requirements. This week, over at the Nimble Cities project, I write about the idea, proposed by a number of readers, to reform or even abolish parking minimums.
Relatedly, and I’m late to post this, but Paul Barter over at Reinventing Urban Transport explains that while building/zoning codes often treat parking curiously like toilets — a big necessity — there are reasons why this comparison is flawed.
Paul Collins finds a curious mobility takeaway in the 1934 memoir Savage of Scotland Yard:
The overwhelming sense of the book, though, is that Scotland Yard once spent a great deal of its time dealing with habitual neighborhood criminals who were, in their own way, an ancient and unsurprising part of the social fabric of city life. The police knew them well, knew which pubs and boarding houses they frequented, and so the real long-haul career criminals learned how not to push their luck too hard.
At the end of his book, Savage blurts out a remarkable comment on the spiking crime rates of the 20th century. The Scotland Yard detective — who’d began back before the force even owned a single car — knew exactly whodunnit: Henry Ford.
“My experience convinces me that the criminals of twenty and thirty years ago were cleverer, more daring and enterprising than the criminals of today…. The increase in serious crime is due not to education, but to the incoming of the motor-age. The introduction of the motor-car has made life easy and less risky for criminals. They travel faster and farther afield, and this increased mobility makes the chance of capture infinitely less than it used to be. The activities of criminals knows no bounds… In the old days a smash and grad was done by a pedestrian with a brick, and he had to rely on his legs to get him quickly out of danger of capture. The motor-car gave him considerably increased facilities both for committing a crime and escaping detection.”
Hmm. Has anyone, I wonder, ever tried plotting crime rates in the early 20th century against car registrations among males 16 – 35?
Sounds like a job for Historical Freakonomics. Another way to look at this, of course, is that police, at least in New York City, stopped living in the neighborhoods they patrolled, and in many cases they were the ones who had shifted to car-based patrols, thus distancing themselves from the community.
Via Ian Sacs, here’s a program that speaks to the heart of the networked, “cloud commuting” city I talked about earlier, vis a vis Adam Greenfield (and it turns out “cloud commuting” has already been theorized by frequent Traffic appearer David Levinson): Hoboken’s Corner Cars:
The program, called Hoboken Corner Cars, seeks to sprinkle car-sharing vehicles on-street throughout the entire city – complete with exclusive, reserved parking spaces – so that these vehicles are much more accessible and convenient than any personally owned car. Existing car-sharing statistics in Hoboken justify this special treatment; for every one of these vehicles placed in the community, over 17 households will choose to give up their cars, taking cars off the street and culling the glut of “recreational” ownership for residents who commute daily via transit. An additional 20 or more households say they postpone or stop considering buying a car because car-sharing vehicles are available. The cherry on the sundae is a potential savings per household of $3,000 to $5,000 over vehicle ownership.
There’s some good proposals already, a mix of pragmatism and futurism, wild-eyed rants and thoughtfully considered suggestions. One thing I’m not seeing a lot of though is already existing ideas, in cities around the world, that should be extended to other metropoles. But I trust these will emerge as ideas and voting continues.
Over at Gerry Gaffney’s User Experience podcast, there’s an interesting conversation with Adam Greenfield (among other things, a user experience designer at Nokia) that takes a brief turn towards transportation:
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about something that I’ve been calling transmobility. And I go into this to some degree in the new book, “The city is here for you to use”, the notion that once you take a vehicle, or any other object, and you make of it a networked resource, it’s no longer an object anymore, it becomes something with the nature of a service, it becomes something that you can schedule, something that you can share, something that has a presence on the network and is capable of locating itself, and you can book it or swap it or any of the other operations that you can perform on a networked piece of data you can now perform on that physical vehicle.
It turns out to change the nature of urban mobility entirely, at least potentially. It opens onto something that I think of as transmobility, where again you’re really taking the network seriously, and you’re understanding what it can do to vehicular mobility. And I think a really, really crucial and important aspect of that is shared bicycle systems.
The bicycle is an incredibly supple and finely-grained way of using urban space. To be kind of wonky about it I don’t think that there is any finer tool in the psychogeographer’s toolkit than the bicycle. It allows you to traverse comparatively large stretches of ground in short order, and yet you still have something of the pedestrian’s ability to make instantaneous decisions about: I’m going to stop here, I’m going to turn down this corner. And yet as opposed to walking it lowers the opportunity cost of having made a bad decision.
So if you turn down a street and you find out that it’s really not that interesting, you really haven’t made that great [an] investment in time whereas on foot, obviously, if you make a wrong turn and you walk to the end of a block, there’s a significant investment of time involved in doing that.
The bicycle is just… It is hard for me to imagine a technology that has less downside and more upsides than the bicycle. It’s just an incredible thing, and the degree to which we could turn bicycles into network resources and ensure that everybody in the city can use them, and allow them to sort of insufflate the street network and the street grid, it’s tremendous.
So yes, absolutely one of the things Urbanscale is interested in doing is the next generation of network shared bicycle systems.
Lovely word, that: Insufflate. But I was intrigued by Greenfield’s concepts (and thought they’d be suitable for the Nimble Cities project), which, I should say, are somewhat in spirit with the “mobility internet” as envisioned by Bill Mitchell and the other authors of Reinventing the Automobile (and please turn here or here for remembrances of Mitchell, by two friends of his, and mine; I didn’t know Mitchell but had engaged with his work on various occasions).
And I wonder if there’s some useful metaphor here vis a vis cloud computing; instead of just having one’s application (e.g. music library) running native on one’s own device (limited in memory, etc.), one can gain access to a shared music library as one needs, where one needs, through the cloud, for an arguably richer experience in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I hereby trademark the phrase: “Cloud commuting.”
The WSJ’s Ralph Gardner, a hesitant city cyclist, writes:
Last year, the city passed a bill that went into effect several months ago requiring commercial garages with space for 100 or more cars to also set aside places for bicycles. The ratio is 10 spaces for the first 100 cars. After November 11, 2011, garages with only 50 spaces will also have to allow bicycles.
Sounds great. except for one thing: The law allows the market to set the going rate. My garage is charging—no joke—$175 plus 8.875% tax. That’s almost $200 a month to stow a bike! You probably won’t be surprised to hear it has no takers. As one attendant observed, “You can buy a new bike” for that amount.
Well, yeah, but on some bikes that price wouldn’t cover a single pedal. But in any case, perhaps not surprisingly, there seem to be few to no takers for $200 a month bike parking. The first question that came to my mind was why it was so expensive (when presumably you could fit upwards of a dozen bikes in a standard car spot), and then, secondly, why garages would charge such a high amount if no one seemed willing to pay it. Wouldn’t it better to make half (or anything above) the theoretical profit than no profit at all? I don’t know how these garages are set up, but if parking that bike means having to have an attendant park and retrieve it for you, I suppose the garages want to make sure the transaction costs are covered — i.e., if they charged cyclists ten bucks a month but then had to send attendants in search of bikes (when they could be retrieving more lucrative cars). In other words, do they essentially charge that much to not have to deal with the aggravation of dealing with parked bikes? But maybe the attendants don’t always have to fetch bikes; aren’t there some garages where the bikes are right within view? Do the city regulations on garages having to have a certain number of spots stipulate where and in what form those spots have to be?
Via Vaughan Bell, a study from Travis Ng and colleagues examines the the economic effects of superstition on Hong Kong roads:
Controlling for visual factors that affect price (for example, plates with fewer digits are more sought-after) Ng’s team found that an ordinary 4-digit plate with one extra lucky ’8′ was sold 63.5 per cent higher on average. An extra unlucky ’4′ by contrast diminished the average 4-digit plate value by 11 per cent. These effects aren’t trivial. Replacing the ’7′ in a standard 4-digit plate with an ’8′ would boost its value by roughly $400.
Australian officials investigating reports that pilot for ozzie budget airliner Jetstar was texting “just before his aircraft was forced to pull out of a landing at Changi Airport in Singapore.”
Dear readers, I’m currently overseeing, for the next month, Slate’s second ‘Hive Mind’ project. The first was about how to live a more efficient life, personally, in energy terms; this one’s about how to make transportation in and among cities more efficient (not to mention safer, more pleasant, etc.) in the 21st century.
Here’s a taste to get you started, but I urge you to submit your own ideas (and I know readers here have ‘em), and vote upon those you think most worthwhile.
You probably have a friend like Campbell Scott. Or, rather, the character Campbell Scott played in the 1992 film Singles. You remember: the idealistic transportation planner flummoxed by all the congestion generated by single people (caution: metaphor ahead!) driving alone. “If you had a supertrain,” he tells a friend, “you give people a reason to get out of their cars. Coffee, great music … they will park and ride. I know they will.” (To which his friend replies: “But I still love my car, though.”) This is the sort of person who waxes lyrical about things like modal splits and commutersheds; gets a wistful, thousand-yard stare as he reminisces about the 1970s personal-rapid-transit demonstration project in West Virginia (and can finger the culprits in its demise); and conspicuously vacations in places with active streetcar networks.
Or maybe you are Campbell Scott. Maybe you’re the one–sitting in a Mumbai traffic jam, waiting on a tube platform in London’s Elephant and Castle station, lost between connections at Tokyo’s Narita or cycling over the Willamette River–who, in a moment of pique or boredom or inspiration, suddenly envisions a better way of managing the commute. Perhaps it’s a sweeping, inefficiency-killing overhaul or maybe a minor design tweak that just makes the experience ineffably better: the “flash of genius” that does for traffic what the intermittent wiper did for windshields. And then you want to tell the world, or at least the taxi driver or pub companion who’s stuck listening to you, all about it.
Here is your chance. Welcome to “Nimble Cities,” the second in Slate’s Hive series, a project designed to harvest the world’s collective wisdom to solve the world’s most pressing problems. We are asking you, essentially, to become transportation hackers (and we’re talking not simply cars but the whole of urban and interurban movement). We are looking for your best ideas. They may be your own wild brainstorms, or they may be examples, whether grand or mundane, of things you’ve experienced in your own city or while traveling. But we want your best proposals for solving an increasingly relevant problem: how to move the most people around and between cities in the most efficient, safe, and perhaps even pleasurable manner. And then we want you to vote on which of those submissions you think are best.
I’ve got a roundup, in the new issue of Sierra magazine, of the transpo related things that have caught my eye lately. NB: I was limited to 1000 words, so there were many other books, blogs, films, etc. I would have mentioned, and probably already have here.
The Onion takes a mordant look at household ‘accidents.’ It’s about snakes, but the parallels with driving are not hard to fathom.
My latest Slate column is up, and it considers the emerging legal questions about liability in cases of crashes in which faulty GPS information is implicated.
And yet what happens when the world that is depicted is different from, or has not yet caught up to, the external world, and something goes awry? Where does the fault lie? Drivers, one might argue, should never rely entirely on a map—what family vacation hasn’t had its moments of (nonlitigable) high drama, with parents squabbling over a desert shortcut promised by Rand McNally that was washed out in the spring runoff? But there is a difference between glancing at a map for initial guidance (and then relying on signs or the road itself for information) and the new way of navigating, which is to receive authoritative real-time spoken and visual instructions—at a level of granularity measured in meters or feet—as one actually drives.
India overtook China to top the world in road fatalities in 2006 and has continued to pull steadily ahead, despite a heavily agrarian population, fewer people than China and far fewer cars than many Western countries.
It goes on to cite a few reasons:
A lethal brew of poor road planning, inadequate law enforcement, a surge in trucks and cars, and a flood of untrained drivers have made India the world’s road death capital. As the country’s fast-growing economy and huge population raise its importance on the world stage, the rising toll is a reminder that the government still struggles to keep its more than a billion people safe.
In China, by contrast, which has undergone an auto boom of its own, official figures for road deaths have been falling for much of the past decade, to 73,500 in 2008, as new highways segregate cars from pedestrians, tractors and other slow-moving traffic, and the government cracks down on drunken driving and other violations.
As R.J. Smeed first noted, having fewer cars is by no means an indicator that one will have fewer traffic fatalities (and an important distinction in the developing world is that traffic fatality categories are topped by pedestrian deaths). But one thing that goes unmentioned in the piece is research, cited in Traffic, by Elizabeth Kopits and Maureen Cropper, that links a nation’s rate of traffic fatalities to its GDP. When GDP climbed from $1200 to $4400 in the countries studied, the fatality rate dropped by a factor of three.
According to the CIA Factbook, the 2009 estimated GDP of China was $6600, while in India it was $3100. Just by this measure alone, the discrepancy between the two countries could be predicted, if not fully explained (for there would be many other factors at play here, like culture, governmental structure, etc.). It’s not hard to imagine why higher GDP would lead to fewer deaths (in this regard it’s not properly correct to call traffic deaths, as is often done, a “disease of affluence”); as development levels increase, there’s not only more money for engineering, enforcement, etc., but also a reduced likelihood of corruption (roads are built to standards, police less willing to take bribes), accompanied by a greater societal emphasis in safety in all kinds of areas of life. But the real question is how India can close the huge fatality gap with China even if it can’t immediately narrow the GDP gap.
A Spanish company, Badennova, has developed what it calls an “intelligent speed bump,” which only acts as a speed bump if you’re going faster than the posted speed:
When vehicles traveling at the appropriate speed pass over the top, the intelligent speed bump provides no resistance and, as a consequence, does not cause any damage. For cars moving at excessive speed, however, the speed bump hardens and therefore provides the same resistance as any standard speed bump.
This behaviour is due to a non-Newtonian fluid which constitutes the filling material of the intelligent speed bump. These kinds of fluids behave differently than water. This means that their flow properties cannot be described by a single constant value of viscosity. There are different types of non-Newtonian fluids. The intelligent speed bump contains a so-called shear-thickening fluid (also known as dilatants).
Dilatants are suspensions whose viscosity increases with the rate of shear, i.e., the strain rate raises with the rate of shear. The dilation effect occurs when closely packed particles are combined with enough liquid to fill the gaps between them. At low velocities, the liquid acts as a lubricant, so the non-Newtonian liquid flows easily. At higher velocities, the liquid is unable to fill the gaps created between particles, and friction greatly increases, causing an increase in viscosity.
As a consequence, the non-Newtonian material allows the speed bump to change from a soft to a solid state according to the vehicle’s speed.
The Accidental Journalist (an occasional series chronicling how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents)
There’s an underlying tone of the passive voice (not to mention repeated use of the word “accident”) running through this Daily Beast dispatch Note the opening: “With summer driving season here, so is the deadliest part of the year on the road. The Daily Beast crunches the numbers to determine the 100 interstates most likely to generate a fatal wreck.”
You see, it’s the interstates that generate the crashes, not the actions of drivers. It’s also questionable whether it makes sense to focus on interstate highways, which per mile driven rank among the safest of roads traveled. A further problem is the lack of any exposure data — “fatal accidents” per mile is a rather meaningless statistic when we don’t know how many people drove those miles.
A bit further down: “Summertime, when America traditionally takes to the road, carries with it a more somber tradition—’the 100 deadliest days’ of the year for drivers.” It’s makes it sound as if there were something about the days themselves that were somehow dangerous, rather than the actions — e.g., the increased alcohol intake over the Fourth of July — that actually lie behind these fatalities.
Just stop charging. Geoff Manaugh notes:
“AT&T is launching a free wi-fi network for its customers in New York City’s Times Square,” Business Insider explained last week. “This will take a load off AT&T’s battered 3G network, by pushing peoples’ email, web, and app traffic onto wi-fi and off of 3G. And it should speed up downloads for AT&T customers in the area.” I’m reminded of Charles Komanoff’s proposed transportation policy changes for New York City, in which bus rides would always be offered free of charge, “because the time saved when passengers aren’t fumbling for change more than makes up for the lost fare revenue.” In other words, both cases suggest that offering certain urban services for free, at moments of high-intensity usage, often makes much better financial sense than charging for everything, all the time.
The flipside, of course, is that elsewhere, for the heaviest users (the so-called ‘data hogs’), AT&T is upping the pricing; and this too is the converse of Komanoff’s proposal — charging “road hogs” more for using the most network bandwidth at the most congested times.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.
May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
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)
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas
September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Honda R&D Americas
San Diego, CA
October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Texas Transportation Forum
(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
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Wednesday, September 22
Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Wisconsin Dells, WI
Wednesday, October 20
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California
Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto
February 22, 2013
March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA
September 26, 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI
- Visible Enforcement
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