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Archive for July, 2011

Marked Crosswalks and the Raquel Nelson Case

In the by turns tragic and outrageous case of Raquel Nelson, I keep seeing a call for “marked crosswalks” to be installed on Austell Road, near the bus stop where pedestrians naturally want to cross (rather than walk the estimated 2/3 of a mile to the stop).

But I’m unclear what they’re calling for — is it a traffic signal with a marked crosswalk?

Or just a marked crosswalk? Which we intuitively think would be better than nothing — or would it?

From what I’ve read on marked crosswalks, they precisely begin to lose effectiveness on roads with at least four lanes, and volumes of upwards of 30,000 vehicles per day. Not to mention a “posted” speed of 45 mph.

To quote the FHWA:

Thus, installing a marked crosswalk at an already undesirable crossing location (e.g., wide, high-volume street) may increase the chance of a pedestrian crash occurring at such a site if a few at-risk pedestrians are encouraged to cross where other adequate crossing facilities are not provided. This explanation might be evidenced by the many calls to traffic engineers from citizens who state, “Please install a marked crosswalk so that we can cross the dangerous street near our house.” Unfortunately, simply installing a marked crosswalk without other more substantial crossing facilities often does not result in the majority of motorists stopping and yielding to pedestrians, contrary to the expectations of many pedestrians.

Thoughts?

P.S. One of the more dismal comments I saw in this case was from anonymous web poster, along the lines of: “Please install a pedestrian bridge and fix this dangerous street!” Sigh.

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Posted on Thursday, July 28th, 2011 at 9:48 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
21 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

The Big Roads

My review of Earl Swift’s The Big Roads, via the New York Times.

Here’s a taste:

When “On the Road” was published, in 1957, it may have seemed a rousing dawn chorus for an awakening generation of postwar seekers, but it was also an encomium of sorts — for the year before, construction had begun on the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. “You can’t do what I did anymore,” Kerouac would later say. And as noted in “Why Kerouac Matters,” by the New York Times reporter John Leland, even as Kerouac was writing, the author glimpsed that his kind of rambling “may soon be obsolete as America enters its High Civilization period and no one will get sentimental or poetic anymore about trains and dew on fences at dawn in Missouri.”

In place of poetry we had standardized efficiency, not just the new Esperanto of green highway signs speaking to us at 65-mile-per-hour Highway Gothic — the same tongue from Maine to Montana — but the whole experience of travel itself. “With the modern car on the modern freeway,” Earl Swift writes in “The Big Roads,” “the modern traveler was left with practically nothing to celebrate but the ever-briefer time he had to devote to getting from one place to another.” Or, in John Steinbeck’s famous remark, one could now drive from “New York to California without seeing a single thing.”

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Posted on Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 at 7:32 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
1 Comment. Click here to leave a comment.

#flightversusbike

How my idle tweet spawned an epic transportation showdown.

Ezra Horne, part of (the non-victorious) 'Team Jet Blue,' with some inspired in-flight reading as he prepares for the 'Tour de Carmageddon'
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Posted on Saturday, July 16th, 2011 at 8:46 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
1 Comment. Click here to leave a comment.

#raceajet

As you no doubt have heard, JetBlue has offered $4 flights from Burbank to Long Beach to help Angelenos avoid the “carmaggedon” closure of the 405.


But what if there was a faster way than air travel?

Courtesy of the Wolfpack Hustle
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Posted on Friday, July 15th, 2011 at 6:22 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
5 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Problem Drivers Are Problem People

From an interesting op-ed, in which I am quoted, in The Canberra Times:

Not long after Henry Ford drove the car into mainstream American life, a new area of psychology began to flourish. Its aim, in layman’s terms, was to understand why apparently normal people become complete arseholes behind a steering wheel. Leon Brody’s 1955 book, The psychology of problem drivers, concluded that ”problem drivers are problem people; or rather, people with problems, including problems of which they often are not aware”. Until then, researchers had believed most crashes were caused by physical shortcomings such as slow reflexes, poor eyesight and glare-recovery time. But, as Herbert Stack wrote in the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1956, ”[In] all of our studies, these characteristics have been found to have little significance. The real causes of accidents are far more deep-seated. They have to do with our attitudes, our emotions, and our judgments.”

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Posted on Monday, July 11th, 2011 at 9:10 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
9 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Fogbrooms

Wondering what ever became of New Jersey’s ‘fogbrooms,’ as per this Time article, 1967:

Ordinary hazards of driving are compounded in New Jersey, where meteorology, topography and industrial air pollution often produce dense fogs that suddenly blot out the road ahead. Fog is so familiar a problem in some sections of the state that permanent electric signs have been erected along the New Jersey Turnpike to flash warnings of fog and to cut speed limits. But New Jersey motorists may soon have a clearer view. By borrowing a discovery used to produce water in Chile, state transportation officials hope to be able to sweep long stretches of highway clear of fog.

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Posted on Monday, July 11th, 2011 at 9:07 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
2 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Carmaggedon

I joined the stable again over at the New York Times’ Room for Debate, this time on the idea of full highway shutdowns.

Just for historical curiosity, here’s my original, somewhat more fanciful (but contextual) submission:

It’s perhaps appropriate that the town that produced Michael Bay should summon such a bombastic bout of overblown apocalyptic fury as the forthcoming “carmaggedon.” Given the life-support functions of the 405 in the L.A. region’s transportation monoculture, perhaps the hype is warranted, but the truth is, highways are closed all the time, and there’s been much study and practice into how to do it most effectively.

The perturbed driver may be asking, ‘why do they have to close the whole thing down? Why can’t they just do it a lane at a time?’ And indeed, any number of strategies have been tried to mitigate traffic impacts during construction, from nocturnal work crews (which has been found to add 6% to the base price of a project) to various incentive plans for road contractors.

But as research by the Federal Highway Administration has shown, closing down a highway entirely means the job gets done, on average, 63 to 95 percent faster than projects that tried to maintain a semblance of traditional traffic. Why? No traffic means no interference from drivers, no work-zone crashes (in 2007, for example, 835 people were killed in work zone crashes) or other bad behavior, not to mention that the trucks hauling materials and workers don’t have to sit in the same congestion as everyone else as they go back and forth.

The secret to making this happen, as is happening in Los Angeles, is to enact a comprehensive “Traffic Management Plan,” with careful study of alternate routes and “network effects.” Implicit in this is to issue a prediction of Nostradamusian direness; to do for weekend driving what Jaws did for ocean swimming (“just when you thought it was safe to go to Santa Monica”).

This reason this generally works is that in any road system, there is a certain amount of elasticity; not every driver on that road has to be there at that time. There may be another route, another mode of travel. Or they just stay home. When highway segments are taken out because of disaster (as in the Minneapolis I-35 W bridge collapse, or the collapse of Manhattan’s West Side Highway) the surrounding roads do not automatically filled up with all the diverted drivers; rather, some traffic “disappears.” To quote two of the main findings of a report analyzing any number of road closures, planned or otherwise, by transport researcher Phil Goodwin and colleagues: “When roadspace for cars is reallocated, traffic problems are usually far less serious than predicted” and “Traffic reduction is partly explained by recognizing that people react to a change in road conditions in much more complex ways than has traditionally been assumed in traffic models.”

When Los Angeles partially closed the 710 expressway for eight weekends, it was able to reduce traffic by 37%. Interestingly, though, traffic was lowest through the work zones the first weekend, and then grew gradually on each successive weekend, as L.A. drivers, in a kind of city-wide learning curve, began testing the drive. In the case of the 405 closure, of course, drivers won’t have that option. There’s no knowing how bad or how good it’s going to be, until you’re in it.

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Posted on Friday, July 8th, 2011 at 6:46 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
4 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Looking for a Foot Note

Any transpo types out there know how to get reasonably approximate data estimations (understanding all the limitations) on walking rates (miles, trips, whatever) per year in the U.S. — the longer the time span, the better? Feel free to email or leave comments, and thanks in advance.

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Posted on Friday, July 1st, 2011 at 1:39 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
4 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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