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Archive for January, 2011

A Response to Hainline, Steisel, and Weinshall

I am glad that my posting on the Prospect Park West bike lanes occasioned a serious and thoughtful response (see the comments).

I wanted to reply to a few points.

They write:

(1) PPW is not simply an arterial roadway between intersecting streets (as is the adjacent roadway inside Prospect Park, which, we have argued, would be a more appropriate location for a two-way bike lane). Rather, PPW borders high-density residential blocks—with a school and elder-care facility (on one side of the street) and entrances to Prospect Park (on the other). This means that on a less-than-one-mile stretch of roadway, thousands of residents and park-goers are continuously entering or exiting school buses, wheel-chair vans, taxis, or driveways, while dozens of Fresh Direct, UPS, Fedex, USPS trucks, moving vans, and other delivery vehicles are also blocking one of the two remaining traffic lanes. This requires that drivers in the blocked lane continuously shift into a single more-heavily-used traffic lane to avoid the blockage. And since this single lane is now narrower on a significant stretch of PPW, if not the entire street (as our measurements, pace Vanderbilt’s assertion to the contrary, clearly show), there is less margin to avoid car doors opening, drivers or passengers squeezing into their vehicles, parents lifting babies from their car-seats, cars edging into or out of parking spots, or side view mirrors extending from vehicles. These circumstances, rather than producing a “calming feeling,” are more likely to produce irritated impatience, at best.

I admit that the studies I referred to are for road types different from PPW; in part this is a necessity because of the rather unique nature of PPW itself. But I am interested here in their description of all the exiting school buses, UPS trucks, parents getting babies out of cars, Fresh Direct vans, etc. Given this huge amount of stopped traffic, and pedestrian activity, to my mind the most important safety benefit we could bring to those users is a reduction of the speeds on that street — which were typically well above the speed limit prior to the installation of the bike lane. Speed, and the violating of right of way — not lane changing and merging — is the root cause of the vast majority of serious traffic injury in New York City. As I’ve said repeatedly, drivers, in their ‘irritated impatience,’ have tended to use PPW as a high speed arterial to neighborhoods beyond Park Slope rather than the neighborhood street it should be. I will take an infinite number of bent mirrors over the lives or health of any one person.

In their second point, they note:

“In addition to the option of moving the lane onto the adjacent roadway inside the park, making the PPW bike-lane one-way is the other proposal we have made as members of “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.”

I would take a one-way bike lane over no bike lane; but as a condition of that one-way status, I would call for a protected one-way bike lane, in the other direction, on Eighth Avenue, which suffers from some of the same speed problems as PPW.

They then note:

(1) Vanderbilt’s basic argument relies on the perception of increased safety that roadway users (drivers, bikers, and pedestrians) may have when more drivers and riders are using fewer and narrower lanes, because their awareness of other roadway users is heightened. But this perception of increased safety is not what users of PPW have experienced. In a self-selected survey of over 3,000 Brooklynites conducted by Councilmembers Lander and Levin, most people—bikers were the only exception—reported feeling less safe after the bike lane was installed (Ref. 2).

This misrepresents what I have said, and indeed highlights a problem: Perception of safety and actual safety in traffic are not always the same. When subjects have been asked to identify what they think are crash hot spots in certain locations, for example, they often choose places with low numbers of crashes, not the actual hot spots. When roundabouts are installed, it’s quite common for the local populace to protest that their safety has been compromised — when in fact, roundabouts, as have been documented in any number of studies, tend to make things safer for all road users. ‘Shared space’ experiments in Europe and the U.K. have shown a similar disconnect between perceived and actual safety.

But let’s stick to what we know: The actual numbers from PPW, which are now available, via the Brooklyn Paper:

“Crashes are down from an average of 30 in six months to 25, or 16 percent.

• Crashes that cause injuries are down from 5.3 in six months to two, a whopping 63-percent drop.

• Before the project, a crash was twice as likely to include an injury.

• Injuries to all street users dropped 21 percent.

The data also found that since the lane was installed last June, there have been no reported pedestrian injuries and no pedestrian or cyclist injuries from pedestrian-bike crashes.”

Granted, crashes involving pedestrians and bicycles tend to be underreported, but vehicle crashes, particularly involving injury, are not — and by this measure, the addition of the lanes has actually made for a safer environment for all road users. An increase in active transportation; a decrease in injury — I fail to see this as a problem.

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Posted on Thursday, January 20th, 2011 at 10:33 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
10 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

A Question of Parking

Reader Jeff poses this query, which I admit has puzzled me as well (but to which I have no convincing answer):

“What makes some people back into parking spaces’ [in parking lots] rather than pull straight in? Is this a regional thing (in the south)? I’ve always thought that it takes much longer to back into the space and pull straight out than it takes to pull straight in and back out of the space.”

Is it some Starsky and Hutch move for maximum preparedness, to be able to whisk out at a moment’s notice? Is it something they teach security professionals in evasive driving techniques? As Jeff notes, either way you’re backing up, so there’s no overall time saved. Anyone have an idea?

[P.S. As usual, great responses here; and I'm wondering if we're on to some deep, if absolutely unscientific, personality indicator here — are you a nose-in or tail-in parker?]

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Posted on Thursday, January 20th, 2011 at 6:28 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
59 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Painted Roundabout

From somewhere in Germany, I believe (would be curious to know the exact location), a roundabout with nothing in the center save paint. I’d be curious about the stats for this intersection; on the whole it seems more or less orderly (there’s confusion but low-speed confusion), but some people just seem to blow straight through as if they had a green light in a signalized intersection.

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Posted on Saturday, January 15th, 2011 at 1:49 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
23 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Desire Named Streetcar

My latest Slate column looks at two transportation forms, the monorail and the streetcar, each with their supporters and each with their detractors, and how time’s arrow seems to have inverted somewhere along the way:

What’s interesting about Disney World and Disneyland is not merely the range of transportation options, but the mixture of new and old modes they represent. These varied ways to get around reflect biographer Neal Gabler’s observation that Walt Disney was “at once a nostalgist and a futurist, a conservative and visionary.” One imagines he would have been equally happy riding the retro trolley on Main Street as whisking through Tomorrowland in an ultramodern monorail.

But there is something else to note here. The monorail—which must have looked to Disney and the world like the transportation of the future in the 1950s—is now, to many, considered a historical footnote, a relic of World Expos or, at best, an automated ride between airport terminals. America’s highest-profile monorail project, the expansion of Seattle’s line, was plagued by cost overruns and funding gaps, and was finally dissolved in 2005 (costing taxpayers $125 million). The Las Vegas monorail has filed for bankruptcy. At the same time, those retro streetcars, which Disney himself rode in Kansas City in the early 20th century and which must have seemed to him part of a vanishing past, are returning (or may soon return) to any number of American cities, including Washington, D.C.; Cincinnati’ Tucson; Atlanta; Dallas; St. Louis; and Salt Lake City.

So the future we thought we were going to get somehow seems antiquated, while the past looks increasingly, well, futuristic. Why is the trolley ascendant as the monorail declines?

[P.S. I do realize a fair number of people prefer buses to either of these options, but for space it was cut. An original line read: "Light-rail supporters — and transportation people, whether for reasons of funding, fandom, or something else, and even if they’re working toward similar goals, tend to cleave into camps (a third group, the bus people, find their vessel of choice superior to both the light-rail and monorails) — counter with a battery of well-practiced rejoinders..."]

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Posted on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 at 5:40 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
14 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Stranger than Fiction

I was intrigued by this passage from a typically fascinating Paris Review interview, this time with science-fiction legend Ray Bradbury:

If I’d lived in the late eighteen hundreds I might have written a story predicting that strange vehicles would soon move across the landscape of the United States and would kill 2,000,000 people in a period of seventy years. Science fiction is not just the art of the possible, but of the obvious. Once the automobile appeared you could have predicted it would destroy as many people as it did.

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Posted on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 at 1:38 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
3 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

No Signal

Joburg thieves steal SIM cards from traffic signals.

Makubela said the agency was now cancelling the SIMs stolen from the GPRS units inside some of the traffic lights and working with Johannesburg police to stop the traffic light thefts. Ordinary lights have not been targeted by the gangs – although there were some thefts of traffic light poles last year for their scrap value.

(thanks Jeff)

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Posted on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 at 1:33 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
No 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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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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