In the end, Komanoff found that every car entering the CBD causes an average of 3.23 person-hours of delays. Multiply that by $39.53—a weighted average of vehicles’ time value within and outside the CBD—and it turns out that the average weekday vehicle journey costs other New Yorkers $128 in lost time. At last, urban planners could say just how big the externalities associated with driving are, knowing that the number was backed up with solid empirical analysis.
Archive for the ‘Cars’ Category
Charles Komanoff reports from Gauangzhou:
With double-digit rises in car ownership and the city’s relentless expansion outpacing even the rapid provision of transit, the idea of charging a toll to drive into Guangzhou’s city center is gaining traction. The rationale is clear: drivers who pay only for their own lost time but not for the time their trips take from other drivers have little incentive to prioritize trips by car.
Singapore, London and Stockholm have been using congestion pricing for 35, 7 and 3 years, respectively, and the meeting featured detailed reports on how these cities overcame the political hurdles and improved traffic dramatically through tolling. Nevertheless, a congestion pricing plan proposed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg died in the state legislature in 2008. In my talk, I drew these lessons for Guangzhou from New York’s failure:
• To succeed politically, congestion pricing must produce dramatic increases in travel speeds — at least 15 percent — in the charging zone. (The Bloomberg plan promised only a 7 percent gain.)
• The toll must align benefits with costs. In New York, a hefty taxi surcharge — on the entire fare, not just the “drop” — would ensure that residents of Manhattan, who use taxis rather than private cars, paid their fare share.
• Transit improvements financed by the toll revenues must be instituted ahead of time, and fare reductions guaranteed.
The stance of the domestic transportation experts here has been one of cautious interest: appreciation of congestion pricing as a virtually fail-safe tool, tempered by awareness that politics leaves little room for error in designing the toll, choosing the tolling technology, and marketing the program.
The budget for the aerial perspective move chase scene just went down dramatically.
I’ve only met one Westerner who had a Chinese driving license, but his story more or less echoed that of Peter Hessler in his fascinating new book Country Driving:
By the summer of 2001, when I applied to the Beijing Public Safety Traffic Bureau, I had lived in China for five years. During that time I had traveled passively by bus and plane, boat and train; I dozed across provinces and slept through towns. But sitting behind the wheel woke me up. That was happening everywhere: in Beijing alone, almost a thousand new drivers registered on average each day, the pioneers of a nationwide auto boom. Most of them came from the growing middle class, for whom a car represented mobility, prosperity, modernity. For me, it meant adventure. The questions of the written driver’s exam suggested a world where nothing could be taken for granted:
223. If you come to a road that has been flooded, you should
a) accelerate, so the motor doesn’t flood.
b) stop, examine the water to make sure it’s shallow, and drive across slowly.
c) find a pedestrian and make him cross ahead of you.
282. When approaching a railroad crossing, you should
a) accelerate and cross.
b) accelerate only if you see a train approaching.
c) slow down and make sure it’s safe before crossing.
Chinese applicants for a license were required to have a medical checkup, take the written exam, enroll in a technical course, and then complete a two-day driving test; but the process had been pared down for people who already held overseas certification. I took the foreigner’s test on a gray, muggy morning, the sky draped low over the city like a shroud of wet silk. The examiner was in his forties, and he wore white cotton driving gloves, the fingers stained by Red Pagoda Mountain cigarettes. He lit one up as soon as I entered the automobile. It was a Volkswagen Santana, the nation’s most popular passenger vehicle. When I touched the steering wheel my hands felt slick with sweat.
“Start the car,” the examiner said, and I turned the key. “Drive forward.”
A block of streets had been cordoned off expressly for the purpose of testing new drivers. It felt like a neighborhood waiting for life to begin: there weren’t any other cars, or bicycles, or people; not a single shop or makeshift stand lined the sidewalk. No tricycles loaded down with goods, no flatbed carts puttering behind two-stroke engines, no cabs darting like fish for a fare. Nobody was turning without signaling; nobody was stepping off a curb without looking. I had never seen such a peaceful street in Beijing, and in the years that followed I sometimes wished I had had time to savor it. But after I had gone about fifty yards the examiner spoke again.
“Pull over,” he said. “You can turn off the car.”
The examiner filled out forms, his pen moving efficiently. He had barely burned through a quarter of a Red Pagoda Mountain. One of the last things he said to me was, “You’re a very good driver.”
Via Jeff Frings, who politely tries to educate a driver (who’s clearly trying to overcompensate in all kinds of ways) on traffic laws. Later he’ll tell his long-suffering wife about some “idiot” cyclist on the road who wouldn’t get out of his way. It leaves one to wonder what actual percentage of drivers out there have a grasp of, say, more than 50% of the traffic code.
[The gist of the conversation is cyclist points out to driver that he's blown a stop sign and almost hit him; driving tells him to get on the f***ing sidewalk where he "belongs." Cyclist points out that that's illegal. Driver threatens bodily harm. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.]
I was grooving on this almost Ed Ruscha-style illustration (“27 Onramp Configurations”?) in a new paper from David Levinson and Lei Zhang, “Ramp Metering and Freeway Bottleneck Capacity,” in Transportation Research: A Policy and Practice 44(4), May 2010, Pages 218-235.
The findings were sanguine on ramp metering:
Traffic flow characteristics at twenty-seven active freeway bottlenecks in the Twin Cities are studied for seven weeks without ramp metering and seven weeks with ramp metering. A series of hypotheses regarding the relationship between ramp metering and the capacity of active bottlenecks are developed and tested against empirical traffic data. The results demonstrate with strong evidence that ramp metering can increase bottleneck capacity. It achieves that by:
(1) postponing and sometimes eliminating bottleneck activation – the average duration of the pre-queue transition period across all studied bottlenecks is 73 percent longer with ramp metering than without;
(2) accommodating higher flows during the pre-queue transition period than without metering – the average flow rate during the transition period is 2 percent higher with metering than without (with a 2% standard deviation);
(3) and increasing queue discharge flow rates after breakdown – the average queue discharge flow rate is 3 percent higher with metering than without (with a 3% standard deviation).
Therefore, ramp meters can reduce freeway delays through not only increased capacity at segments upstream of bottlenecks (type I capacity increase), but also increased capacity at bottlenecks themselves (type II capacity increase). Previously, ramp metering is considered to be effective only when freeway traffic is successfully restricted in uncongested states. The existence of type II capacity increase suggests there are benefits to meter entrance ramps even after breakdown has occurred. This study focuses on the impacts of ramp metering on freeway bottleneck capacity. The causes of such impacts should be more thoroughly examined by future studies, so that the findings can provide more guidance to the development of ramp control strategies. It should also be noted that both types of capacity increases on the freeway mainline are at the expense of degraded conditions at the on-ramps and possibly arterial network. Therefore, without more comprehensive system-wide analysis, the findings of this paper, though in favor of ramp metering, do not necessarily justify its deployment.
Reading, via Tyler Cowen, about this controversial classical music behavioral nudge in the U.K. — act badly and you’ll get blasted with Brahms — put me in mind of a way to make things safer for teens (and everyone else) on the road. Since BPMs often seemed tied to RPMs when teens are at the wheel, how about using the car’s increasing electronic integration to hijack the stereo when aggressive driving is detected, pumping in some Sibelius or Chopin to attenuate the raging hormones? (one wonders more broadly about some kind of iTunes ‘genius’ system that measured surrounding traffic density, car speed, etc., and used it tailor musical selections — Satie for that frenetic rush hour scramble at the Holland Tunnel, Brian Eno for those epic tunnels in Norway (ok, wait that’s a bad idea), rousing anthems (e.g., the Pogues) for long, dark quiet roads.
Which reminds me of one last point: The curious power (both as narrative and sense-memory) a song can have in the context of a drive. I once almost drove off the road in rural Maine at night when I first heard the plaintive, haunting voice of Townes van Zandt singing Kathleen:
It’s plain to see, the sun won’t shine today
But I ain’t in the mood for sunshine anyway
Maybe I’ll go insane
I got to stop the pain
Or maybe I’ll go down to see Kathleen.
When I hear that song today I still recall a glowing white line, the dark outlines of tall trees lining the road, glittering moose eyes…
I can’t resist this story from one of my favorite blogs, “Tales of a Traffic Cop,” which I would urge the legions of people out there who seem to think the highway patrol exists solely to extract revenue from beleaguered American drivers to peruse. And there’s definitely some design and usability lessons in here.
I knew from the start of the day it was going to be a crazy day. The first call I get is from a driver on the highway. Here’s the crazy story, but trust me, I am not imaginative enough to dream this one up. The owner was warming her car up in her driveway.
Sidenote, don’t leave your keys in an unlocked to “warm it up” in the morning. It’s the best way to give your car away. Especially if you live near a high school! I can’t tell you how many recovered stolen autos we’ve found in parking lots of our high schools. Anyway…
This lady was smart enough NOT to leave her keys in the car. But, she had a smart key, one of those keys that you just leave in your pocket and press a button to start it. So, as she’s warming it up, she decides to leave the key on her hood near her windshield wipers. Car gets all warmed up, so she drives away.
The problem is, she doesn’t grab the smart key. She noticed that she forgot as she’s driving 60 down the highway, during a snowfall. BUT, instead of pulling over calmly and retrieving her smart key, she decided to roll the window down, turn on the wipers and try to grab the key that way. Needless to say, it doesn’t work, and now her smart key is traveling AWAY from her car at 60 mph. For those of you that don’t have smart keys for their cars, this is not an ideal situation to keep the car powered.
She’s able to get stopped, and wants me to shut down a 3 lane highway in order for her to try and find her key. Mind you, it’s a 3″ square box on a three lane highway that snow plows are clearing. Obviously, that’s not gonna happen. I convince her that we can just go to her house and get the spare.
Peter sends along this troubling video of a woman struck by a bus — I’m sure any number of you out there could dissect the many things wrong with that street (not sure where it is).
Almost as disturbing as the video is the fact that its categorized on Digg as “comedy,” which in the world of Internet culture, I’m sure it is.
You may have heard the news: Cars that accelerate inappropriately down local streets, veer out of control on rural highways late at night, fail to brake in time to strike a pedestrian, follow lead vehicles too closely to stop in the event of an emergency, and so on. There was a technical problem in all these cases, but one that, I’m afraid, is difficult to fix with a factory recall, for I’m talking about the human decision-making apparatus. Towards this end Leonard Evans provides some much-needed perspective about the Toyota recalls:
Consider: According to various reports, 19 deaths have been associated with Toyota’s gas pedal problem over the past decade. But over the same decade, a total of 21,110 people have been killed in Toyota vehicles, with an additional 1,261 killed in Lexus cars (based on analyzing 1999-2008 fatality data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Almost none of these deaths had anything to do with technology, faulty or otherwise. Almost all of them were the result of driver behavior.
Even the claim that the 19 deaths were “linked” to the defect in no way implies that it was the main factor.
Seventy years of scientific research has shown that what drivers do behind the wheel is the dominant factor in traffic deaths. Speed, for example, is a critical factor in safety. An almost imperceptible reduction in speed from 52 mph to 50 mph cuts the risk of being killed by 15 percent. That’s more than the risk reduction from airbags.
So if the prospect of a sticky gas pedal alarms you, just slow down a little. The result will be that you are safer with the defect than you were without it.
Obviously, deaths linked to faulty cars are a serious problem, and it’s also clear that if attention is not paid, the safety problems could grow much worse. And still, however, I am struck by the sheer volume of the coverage about Toyota — almost verging on a panic — given the comparative risk posed in the numbers above. The study of risk perception is instructive here: Risks seem to loom larger in our imagination when they are novel, and when they are seemingly out of our control, among a host of other factors. Toyota is certainly novel, and the idea that an accelerator might suddenly activate on its own fills us with much more dread than the calculated decision to drive very fast down a street — itself a risk for the drivers and others but seemingly under one’s own control.
There’s a larger story here too, of course, which I was talking about last week with a writer for the Globe and Mail; i.e., the kind of shattering (or cracking) of a mantle of sheer confidence in not just the Toyota brand but the idea of the modern automobile as more or less infallible. When I think of my MacBook Pro or iPhone, I think of wonderful devices that are also prone to bugs (the later device had to be swapped out three times). But thinking about my Subaru, another incredibly complex device, I basically expect that as long as I take it in for its regular maintenance plateaus, I do not expect to encounter any difficulty on the road (needless to say, the experiences at the Genius Bar and Subaru dealership are distinct; one is tense anticipation as I wait to hear the diagnosis, the other is simply showing up to check off the list). Like many other drivers (or at least I suspect), I barely cracked the owner’s manual (this was studied Talmudically in my father’s era) when I bought the car, and certainly didn’t spend much time under the hood because, quite simply, I wouldn’t have understood much of what I was looking at (nor, for the record, do I take apart the MacBook). One still sees articles in the AAA magazines and the like with “driving checklists,” a tally of things you should do before setting out, but I would guess that very few of us do this, for a very simple reason: It has become an article of faith that the car will perform. This contrasts with the situation when I drove used American cars of 1970s vintage as a teenager, during which I experienced all kind of random breakdowns, faulty gas gauges, blinking ‘check engine’ lights that seemed to come on, as if by a law, late at night far from an open service station.
It’s hard to quantify, but I imagine this sense of the machine’s infallibility has changed the way we operate it. It is known that average speeds and following distances changed over time on certain highways, causing engineers to rework their models, and one of the reasons given is, inevitability: Superior handling and performance of the modern car. In this respect, all the coverage given to Toyota is a good thing — if it serves as a reminder of the risks of the road. If it merely shifts further focus away from driver behavior and onto a large, litigable car-maker, this won’t mean much in the overall picture of traffic safety.
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).
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:
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another delight from Copenhagenize.
Perhaps one could, with Lego Mindstorms, create an electronic congestion charging cordon?
The Sacramento Bee notes the state’s insurance commissioner is drafting regulations.
A pay-as-you-drive study last year by the Brookings Institution, a public policy research group, concluded that driving would drop by 8 percent nationwide – and oil consumption by 4 percent – if all motorists paid for car insurance by the mile.
Two-thirds of U.S. households would save money – averaging $270 per car – under pay-as-you-drive policies, which routinely would be adjusted for rural vs. urban driving, the Brookings study concluded.
If some cars are being charged less, presumably some will be charged more, based on more miles driven, but that issue hasn’t been discussed as much. But bringing any granularity to the incredibly inexact pricing regiment of auto insurance is welcome.
There are many things to recommend about Rich Cohen’s elegiac paean to car salesman in The Believer, but this was one of those lines that, to my mind, fairly screamed off the page:
An early problem was how it spooked horses, which snorted and fled in terror before its engines—a problem not addressed until 1900, when the designer Uriah Smith attached an imitation horse head to the grille of his “Horseless Horsey Carriage,” which, he believed, would cause the pack animals to register the carriage as “friend.”
I came across this interesting passage in Tim Falconer’s book Drive:
Ford made and sold the Falcon in the United States until 1970, but the car had an even longer and more successful life in other parts of the world, where many saw it as a mid-sized model. In Australia, it remains the company’s best-seller. And in Argentina, the Falcon was not just the most-produced car, with half a million built between 1962 and 1991, but also a hugely important one culturally. The Falcon was a racing car, a family car, a taxi, a police car—and, from 1976 to 1983, a sinister symbol of the country’s military dictatorship and the so-called ‘Dirty War’ that the generals who ruled after the coup d’etat waged against their own people. Death squads used dark green Falcons to ‘disappear’ trade unionists, artists, students and anyone else who might oppose or question the junta. Since the squads illegally arrested, tortured or killed an estimated thirty thousand people, the car now stirs bitter emotions for many Argentines. (Lawrence Thornton’s 1988 novel Imagining Argentina does a hauntingly good job of capturing the ominous mood those dark green birds of prey created.) Even today, some people in Buenos Aires won’t get into a taxi if it’s a Falcon, and a tour operator in the northern city of Salta, who would have been just four or five when the dictatorship crumbled, told me, ‘I don’t like it when I see a Ford Falcon, I get bad memories.’
I wonder if any other car brands through the years have acquired a such an unwitting negative political and cultural connotation, at least among a certain part of the population. The “black cars” of the title seem a staple (and vis a vis the “secret police” there is an irony in their driving around in unmarked cars that became almost more conspicuous in their lack of marking); Stalin was shuttled around for a time in a black Packard (and people were always said to be seeing Stalin on the street; “God came driving by in five black automobiles,” went a line from a Soviet poet of the day). The Citroen Traction Avant (in black) was favored by the Gestapo. I imagine there was a certain Trabant (or Mercedes) favored by the Stasi, a Lada by the KGB, etc., and I’ve no idea what the SAVAK drove. But I’m curious if anyone knows of any examples of particular car makes that in and of themselves became a dreaded sight, a vehicle of repression?
The BBC reports on what may be a troubling trend or a statistical aberration:
Many of the fatalities involving cyclists happen in collisions with a heavy goods vehicle (HGV). This year, seven of the eight people killed by lorries in London have been women.
Considering that women make only 28% of the UK’s cycling journeys, this seems extremely high.
One of the offered reasons seems to involve compliance with traffic regulations (the sort of thing drivers are always accusing cyclists of violating):
In 2007, an internal report for Transport for London concluded women cyclists are far more likely to be killed by lorries because, unlike men, they tend to obey red lights and wait at junctions in the driver’s blind spot.
This means that if the lorry turns left, the driver cannot see the cyclist as the vehicle cuts across the bike’s path.
The report said that male cyclists are generally quicker getting away from a red light – or, indeed, jump red lights – and so get out of the danger area.
The IIHS pairs a big hullking 1959 Chevy Bel Air versus a 2009 Chevy Malibu. The results show how far car safety has come in 50 years. Now for the hard part: the drivers.
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: email@example.com.
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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
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