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Archive for the ‘Cities’ Category

System/Empathy in Transit

My latest Slate column considers Jarrett Walker’s new book Human Transit and the question of how we can make transit more successful: Make it nicer or more efficient (and do we have to choose)?

As befits someone who has spent decades in small, formerly smoke-filled rooms with civic officials trying to implement working transit systems, Walker is a realist, and Human Transit is a spirited guide—prescriptive but with a righteous dash of polemic—to what we get wrong about transit. “In many urban regions,” he writes, “support for public transit is wide but shallow.” People generally like the idea of transit (as characterized by the Onion headline, “98 Percent of Americans Support Public Transit for Others”), but much of our society’s experience and understanding of transit, not to mention our willingness to pay for it, is limited. The very fact that most of us drive, argues Walker, casts a subtle, but powerful, influence onto transit thinking. “In most debates about proposed rapid transit lines,” he writes, “the speed of the proposed service gets more political attention than how frequently it runs, even though frequency, which determines waiting time, often matters more than speed in determining how long your trip will take.” Drivers don’t wonder when their cars are going to show up.

The Economist picks up the thread over at its Democracy in America blog.

A lot of ink has been spilled over the past few years arguing about whether trolleys are silly atmospheric baubles or a vital ingredient of livable cities. Reading this passage, I abruptly realised why it is that I prefer taking my city’s rail-based transit to taking its buses: the presence of a dedicated rail serves as a visual promise of service. A bus stop stands forlornly in the urban wasteland, offering no real guarantee of the existence of the bus. The figure of the passenger waiting for a bus that may or may not ever arrive is a visual cliche. Trolley tracks and electric lines running down the middle of the street, however, are a promise: a line runs here. It may be ten minutes between trolleys, it may be half an hour, but something is going to come down that line and take you where you’re going. The very expense of creating the line tells you: the government has invested too much in this infrastructure for there to be no service. The rails are, literally, an ironclad guarantee.

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Posted on Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 at 2:19 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Let the Robot Drive

My feature on autonomous vehicles is the cover story in this month’s Wired. You can find the story here.

The last time I was in a self-driving car—Stanford University’s “Junior,” at the 2008 World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems—the VW Passat went 25 miles per hour down two closed-off blocks. Its signal achievement seemed to be stopping for a stop sign at an otherwise unoccupied intersection. Now, just a few years later, we are driving close to 70 mph with no human involvement on a busy public highway—a stunning demonstration of just how quickly, and dramatically, the horizon of possibility is expanding. “This car can do 75 mph,” Urmson says. “It can track pedestrians and cyclists. It understands traffic lights. It can merge at highway speeds.” In short, after almost a hundred years in which driving has remained essentially unchanged, it has been completely transformed in just the past half decade.

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Posted on Monday, January 23rd, 2012 at 9:54 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Secret Lane

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Posted on Monday, October 3rd, 2011 at 8:25 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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New York City Century Ride: A Few Quick Thoughts

Yesterday I did my first NYC Century ride, 100+ miles of Gotham glory, everything from stunning ocean vistas to broken-bottle-strewn tunnels, from estaurine marshes to riverine gulleys. Given that the event is supposed to demonstrate the joys and possibilities of everyday city cycling, I did it on a bog-standard Trek commuting bike (thank you, Bontrager Hard Case Race Lights, for not flinching as you rode over the detritus of millions). As invigorating as the riding was, the event highlighted something else: The sheer panorama of the spectacle of the city, unfolding at a scale that is beyond the limits of pedestrianism, but more closely-observed than the car. Here, in no certain order, is a sample of the things we saw: Morning tai-chi in Sunset Park; Chinese fisherman in Sheepshead Bay, Russian guys in fatigues in Brighton Beach carrying assault rifles (let’s hope this was for paintball); an apartment building on fire; a woman being dragged unconscious out of a bar in Queens (at ten in the morning); an aerial view of soccer games, looking like Playstation, from the towering bike bath of the Tri-Boro Bridge; the huge bustle of sound, dancing, marching and speechifying that is African Day; the similarly boisterous San Gennaro Festival in Lower Manhattan (whose streets were so traffic-clogged suddenly it was Canal Street that seemed the least chaotic option); white-suited West Indian cricket in Queens; striped-shirted women’s rugby in the Bronx; a motorcycle training course (which we accidentally rode into) in the shadow of the Steinway piano factory; Evangelical storefront churches booming with praise; slack-jawed European shoppers in Soho; the tote-bag clutching patrons of the Brooklyn Literary Festival; the emerald constellation of city parks from Marine to Forest to Van Cortlandt; the Cyclone of Coney Island quiet but proud in the early morning light; pitbulls barking from high terraces; a handful of “ghost bikes” lending sober perspective; the shining Unisphere, which we circled twice looking for the ‘C’ to guide us (a hot dog vendor had pulled over it accidentally)…

I could go on, but you get the picture. And while there were some dodgy connections, some threatening three-way intersections, some fading sharrows, what the event spoke to was the possibility — and promise — of riding in the city. People kept asking, ‘is this a bike-a-thon’?, as if to ride means it must be for something; and of course, it is — for the right and pleasure and utility to ride itself. In the depths of the South Bronx, on some of the least cycling friendly streets, there was always a kid waving, giving a thumb’s up, or shrieking “bikes.” The city felt at once vast and intimate.

Curious to hear of others’ experiences, highlights, low-lights, in comments section.

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Posted on Monday, September 19th, 2011 at 8:57 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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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
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#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
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#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
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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
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Rage Against Your Machine

Back in November, I did an unusual bike commute with a guy named Joe Simonetti: I traveled from Northern Westchester County, to Joe’s office in midtown Manhattan (I then continued home to Brooklyn), via a carefully chosen, if not always evident, path that wound through bucolic gated communities in Greenwich, Ct., underneath the concrete underpasses of the city’s edges, to the delivery-truck laden warrens of the Bronx. I was admittedly intrigued by the unusual nature of the commute itself (for me, it was around 65 miles, one way) — in articulating a kind of “secret” way to get into the city it evoked, for me, John Cheever’s short story The Swimmer, whose narrator undertakes a quixotic journey to swim across his suburban county:

His life was not confining and the delight he took in this observation could not be explained by its suggestion of escape. He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county. He had made a discovery, a contribution to modern geography; he would name the stream Lucinda after his wife. He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure. The day was beautiful and it seemed to him that a long swim might enlarge and celebrate its beauty.

But I also wanted the journey to serve as a kind of Ur-text for exploring the state of riding a bike in America today, to examine the mechanisms of the oft-cited “culture war” between drivers and cyclists. In any case, the story, headlined ‘Rage Against Your Machine,’ is out today, in the new issue of Outside magazine. As far as I know it’s not online yet (I imagine it will be eventually), but I would, of course, urge you to buy this or any other issue of Outside in print. In the meantime, a few handlebar shots of the sometimes beautiful, sometimes foreboding landscapes we traversed.

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Posted on Monday, February 14th, 2011 at 11:52 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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On Bike Lanes, Road Widths, and Traffic Safety

There was an assertion made in one of the letters (signed by Louise Hainline, Norman Steisel, and Iris Weinshall in response to a recent New York Times editorial on cycling that caught my eye:

When new bike lanes force the same volume of cars and trucks into fewer and narrower traffic lanes, the potential for accidents between cars, trucks and pedestrians goes up rather than down. At Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, for instance, where a two-way bike lane was put in last summer, our eyewitness reports show collisions of one sort or another to be on pace to be triple the former annual rates.

The first point is that while the PPW conversion did take away one travel lane, the width of the existing lanes was not altered. So there may be fewer lanes, but they are not, as the letter argues, “narrower.” It may be that entire street feels narrower, which, as an emerging school of what I’ll call ‘behavioral traffic calming’ argues, is actually a good thing. Drivers, as I’ve quoted Ezra Hauer as saying, “adapt to the road they see.” They either do not see traffic signs or fail to read their meaning correctly. If they see a wide open, long boulevard, they will drive like this.

Even if the lanes were narrowed, as John LaPlante recently argued in the journal of the Institute for Transportation Engineers, “there is no significant crash difference between 10-, 11-, and 12-foot lanes on urban arterials where the speed limit is 45 mph (or less).” (a finding, he notes, that was unfortunately left out of AASHTO’s recent Highway Safety Manual).

And there’s something deeply suspicious about that “eyewitness reports” note; were they actually out there, day after day, meticulously logging conflicts and crashes (tellingly, they make no note of severity)? And why, if everything was so great with the street before, were they even doing these “before” counts? As the case of roundabouts shows, what people perceive as individual danger often does not translate at all to an increase in overall risk; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

But let’s take that notion — that fewer and narrower lanes lead to more crashes. This is a staple of traffic engineering, and in fact it does have some validity — when applied to highway environments (which PPW at times unintentionally resembles). Even here, though, the effects are often not ‘statistically significant’ and ‘more complex than expected.’

But in non-highway environments, there’s all kind of evidence that reducing the number of lanes (a.k.a. the ‘road diet’) can have positive safety benefits. As the Federal Highway Administration has noted:

Road­ diets­ can­ offer­ benefits ­to­ both ­drivers ­and­ pedestrians… road diets may reduce vehicles speeds and vehicle interactions, which could potentially reduce the number and severity of vehicle-to-vehicle crashes. Road diets can also help pedestrians by creating fewer lanes of traffic to cross and by reducing vehicle speeds. A 2001 study found a reduction in pedestrian crashing risk when crossing two-and three-lane roads compared to roads with four or more lanes.

But what if one of those lanes your crossing is a bike lane? Surely that must make things less safe, no? More interactions in less space. In a forthcoming paper to be published in the Journal of Environmental Practice Norman Garrick and Wesley Marshall examined 24 California cities (12 with relatively low traffic fatality rates, 12 with relatively high rates). They found that the cities that had a higher bicycle usage had a better safety rate, not just for cyclists but all road users. They write:

Our results consistently show that, in terms of street network design, high intersection density appears to be related to much lower crash severities. Our street design data also contains strong indications of these trends; for example, the high biking cities tend to have more bike lanes, fewer traffic lanes, and more on-street parking. At the same time, large numbers of bicycle users might also help shift the overall dynamics of the street environment – perhaps by lowering vehicle speeds but also by increasing driver awareness – toward a safer and more sustainable transportation system for all road users.

And as Eric Dumbaugh, of the University of Texas A&M, notes, “most recent research reports that wider lanes on urban streets have little or no safety benefit, at least to the extent that safety is measured in terms of empirical observations of crash incidence” (e.g., Potts, I.B., Harwood, D.F., & Richard, K.R. (2007). Relationship of Lane Width to Safety for Urban and Suburban Arterials. Transportation Research Board 2007 Annual Meeting; Milton, J., & Mannering, F. (1998). The relationship among highway geometries, traffic-related elements and motor-vehicle accident frequencies. Transportation 25, 395–413; and so on).

But the authors of this letter are not trafficking in empirical evidence, even as they allege that the NYC DOT’s data “more puzzlement than enlightenment.” It’s unfortunate that this letter is signed by a former DOT commissioner, and an academic — who should both know that it is evidence and analysis, not vague “eyewitness” reports and random testimony, upon which good science, planning, and safety interventions are made.

And as always, curious to hear of more work either supporting or countering what I’ve said here.

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Posted on Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 at 12:47 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Fewer Sidewalks, More Pedestrians

As I’m sure most of you know, Google’s NGram Book Viewer provides an invaluable window, via written texts of the last century or so, onto what the culture was collectively thinking. Not surprisingly, there’s much to be gleaned here from an urban or transportation point of view.

Exhibit A is the first word: Pedestrian.

You see that this word, never that popular, essentially held flat, prior to the automobile, when it began to rise. There was a drop-off after World War II, perhaps in response to postwar suburbanization — people were doing less walking. But then it continues to grow year after year, to the present — even as Americans were walking less every year. This is curious on the one hand, but predictable on the other. As people did more driving, and less walking, the notion of what was once a rather common, everyday activity — walking — became a more specialized “mode of transportation,” something to be considered as The Other, something even, dare I say, a bit strange.

For a sense of what was going on as pedestrian became a more common word, let’s turn to Exhibit B: Jaywalking.

Even as fewer people were walking, there was an increased prevalence of the term jaywalking. This reflects the idea, as noted in Peter Norton’s book Fighting Traffic, which I’ve discussed here often, that people on foot — now “pedestrians” — bore a greater responsibility for their own safety (where the burden had once been on drivers); not to mention that they were considered an obstruction to the smooth flow of vehicular traffic and thus worthy of demonization.

Maybe people were jaywalking more because as, Exhibit C hints at, there were fewer sidewalks in America (that little uplift at the end, however, is an encouraging sign).

And, just for fun, Exhibit D shows another form of built space that was on the rise: Driveways. These are found even in places that don’t have sidewalks.

I’ve been posting other results via Twitter, but would be curious to see your “UrbaNgrams.”

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Posted on Tuesday, December 21st, 2010 at 11:22 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Car As Renter of the City, Not Landlord

I have a short piece in the current World Policy Journal in response to the question of the future of the city. In this telegraphic dispatch I addressed the place of the car in the city (N.B.: The piece could also be headlined: ‘An Open Letter to Marty Markowitz’):

We spent much of the twentieth century engaged in a campaign to retrofit our cities to the car. However much this may have seemed to make sense at the time, it now looks more like a misdirected effort to save the city by destroying it. As plentiful as the benefits of individual vehicular mobility may be, the large metropolis can never comfortably accommodate any more than a fraction of its citizens in this manner, and we have learned the consequences of trying to do so. Ever-lengthening commutes have meant degraded public spaces, negative health outcomes, social fragmentation, infrastructure whose maintenance goes underfunded.

In the city of the future, we need to pursue policies that allow for safe, efficient and affordable transport of the many, while recognizing that market-based approaches that so rationally apportion space in the private sector can and should be applied to the valuable urban space — in the form of roads and parking spaces—that cities essentially give away. We need to recognize that streets are public spaces too, and not merely, in the old view of 1930s utopian modernism, channels for moving as many vehicles as quickly as possible. The car will continue to exist, but should be treated as a “renter” of the city, not its landlord. The urban car of the future should be shared, smaller, and slower.

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Posted on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 at 2:30 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘A person who can drive an automobile can fly a helicopter’

Igor Sikorsky was nothing if not optimistic about the idea of a personal helicopter for everyone (an idea that should now send any reasonable person to the brink of terror) in this 1942 article in The Atlantic.

A question certain to trouble you is this: With hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of helicopters flying in all directions at once, what about sky congestion and air traffic problems?

This problem has been foreseen and already a certain amount of planning has been done. While air traffic problems will not be at all comparable to what we now have with the motorcar, there must certainly be one-way air lanes within the limits and in the neighborhood of big centers of population. There will be “slow” and “fast” altitudes and you will choose the one that suits your temperament. Naturally, all helicopter highways will be at a safe distance from the airplane levels.

All helicopters, of course, will remain at a reasonable altitude over thickly populated centers. But there need be no such “flight plan ” as airplanes now must often submit to before undertaking a long journey. Helicopter owners will fly at will, bound only by their common sense and some general traffic rules which are easily obeyed in the vast reaches of the sky.

Nor will the strict physical examination that now might prohibit many thousands from flying an airplane be necessary. A person who can drive an automobile can fly a helicopter; and a man or woman with middle-aged reflexes is just as safe in one as in the other because the helicopter, as a rule, is always moving slowly when close to the ground. The helicopter owner will have to pass no stricter examination than is—or should be—necessary for driving a motorcar. He should not be color-blind, his vision should be normal with or without glasses. A man or woman with a heart ailment should not drive a helicopter—nor an automobile.

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Posted on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 at 7:21 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic and Algorithms in Seattle

Bill Beaty, the amateur “traffic waves” scientist described in Traffic, writes in to describe his early experiences with Seattle’s new Active Traffic Management System — the “dynamic” system of varying speeds, imported from Europe, which is meant to ameliorate the impact of drivers driving into vast stop-and-go traffic (with the ensuing shockwaves).

Beaty was curious to note that the first part of the project is happening on the very section of I-5 where he first began developing his one-man crusade for traffic harmonization. Here’s how he describes his new commute, which seems to have some of the disequilibrium that new schemes bring:

In the first week it created very strange patterns: huge I-5 jams on
Sunday (when Sunday I-5 northbound has always been empty.) They now seem
to be tweaking their algorithm. Or perhaps drivers are no longer freaking
out. Patterns are still odd, but keep changing over many days.

From what I can see, they’re trying to limit the inflow to the daily
northbound jam at I-5 and I-90 interchange. The result is a large
slowdown far south of the city, with an empty region right at the location
of the daily jam. Very odd to encounter a major slowdown near my own home,
where there never was congestion before …but then at the usual location
of the giant I-5 snarl, the traffic flows free at 50mph. Presumably there
no longer exists any continuously-growing daily jam. Merging at city
exits has suddenly become easy. Probably the old jam has been converted
into shockwaves moving slowly backwards, rather than the previously huge
region of 20mph driving.

Another ATMS section is on I-520 …which is right where I first saw the
string of headlights that inspired my first online article. Bizarre
coincidences. Or maybe the bigwigs in the Seattle traffic control
community have all been reading my site? :)

Any other Seattle-area readers/engineers care to share their experience?

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Posted on Thursday, September 16th, 2010 at 2:42 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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A Further Word About the Australian Magpie

What better way to conclude the Australasian Road Safety Conference, thought me, then to head out for a spot of cycling in Canberra, where spring is just on the wing. My guide was Ashley Carruthers, an anthropologist and member of local advocacy group Pedal Power (and my ride was a surprisingly nimble fold-up Dahon). Canberra is one of those intensely planned capital cities, its geography dictated by fiat and compromise, its layout and design (via the American Walter Burley Griffin) evoking, to my mind, D.C. — though, as Carruthers noted, reputedly infused with esoteric and hieroglyphic meanings. While the city, cycling wise, hasn’t gotten the attention of, say, Melbourne, with its new sharing scheme, Pedal Power boasts a large and active membership, and there’s a fairly wide trail network (though not much evidence of on-street cycling, in the area I was staying, at least).

Now, about that magpie, which I had tweeted about briefly in reference to its intoxicating song. It turns out they can be rather fierce enemies of those on bikes, swooping down from trees to land on their helmets and peck at their ears. As a countermeasure, riders will strap plastic twist-tie-like things to their helmets, virtually sprouting of their heads like gangly antennae. It was a bit unnerving to find a couple of these fellows coming toward me, the shock troops of some alien two-wheeled race. I’m not sure if this sort of thing happens elsewhere, but it was the first I had seen in such active preparation for avian attack. Yesterday, at least, the magpies were quiet.

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Posted on Thursday, September 2nd, 2010 at 12:38 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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B.R.T. (Bus Rapid Tunnel?) in China

Like a giant urban hovercraft sucking up traffic in its wake.

Notes dvice.com:

Do you hate waiting behind a bus as it loads and unloads? Well, friend, does China have the craziest solution for you! A Chinese company is looking to build buses so big cars can drive right under them, which will ease congestion. The company is serious about it, too.

Being developed by the Shenzhen Huashi Future Car-Parking Equipment company, the buses are currently planned for Beijing’s Mentougou district, where tracks on the road will make sure they stay straight as cars drive under them — and they drive over cars. Passengers get on and off at elevated stations, as the bus/trolley/what-have-you are so tall.

Interesting, but left unanswered is the question of how to keep cars in their lane.

(thanks Matt)

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Posted on Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 at 11:01 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Amazon Forces The Royal Mail Off Its Bike…

… but the ETA (the one in the U.K., not Spain) says it’s not thinking creatively.

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Posted on Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 at 10:56 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Hoboken’s Corner Cars

I was intrigued by Hoboken’s Corner Cars program — essentially a Zipcar style car-sharing program, albeit with even more direct car access — as I had written a bit about here before, so when New York Times “City Critic” Ariel Kaminer said she was going to check it out, I gladly hopped along for the ride (and, maybe it was just lucky timing or something, but I traveled by subway/PATH train from Brooklyn to Hoboken and was there shockingly quickly, even in this age of diminishing service, with no need to brave the city’s legendarily bad parking, pay the tolls, risk my life to NYC’s quantifiably substandard drivers — three cheers for transit!). One interesting question raised by the article (and please note that’s the NYT identifying me as a “traffic expert,” not me — though who isn’t a traffic expert in this town?) is the psychic hurdle of getting people to move past car ownership (in an area, ironically, where many people rent their houses):

There is another obstacle to car sharing in New York, perhaps the biggest of all. Given the paucity of street parking, the expense of garage parking, the traffic, the insurance costs and the toll to vehicle and psyche, New York car owners who aren’t motivated by true need must be motivated by some very strong force of will. So strong, perhaps, that it is impervious to reason. Is there any dollars-and-cents argument that could persuade New York’s discretionary drivers to give up their cars?

“I asked that question back when I was in city government in the ’70s and ’80s,” said Sam Schwartz, the transportation engineer who was once New York’s deputy commissioner of transportation. “In the ’80s we did several focus groups and we tried to find out what made them drive. And a very common theme is that they felt they were smarter than the people down in the tube. They’re the Brahmins. They deserve it.” He added, “I never heard of it anywhere else.”

Not to mention the endowment effect; i.e., once people own something, they feel it’s more valuable than before (even if, of course, the very value plummets the moment you drive the new car off the lot). One question for such programs, and the reason some people buy a car to begin with, is the issue of peak demand for weekends — it’s hard for a spontaneous lets-go-apple-picking trip when all the cars have been rented weeks in advance. And I’m not sure what to do about the alternate-side problem. That’s as intractable as the sabbath, or some force of nature.

Thoughts?

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Posted on Saturday, July 17th, 2010 at 4:59 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Nimble Cities: Wrapping Up

All the votes have been tallied, the loose chads swept off the floor, and “Nimble Cities,” the latest in Slate’s “Hive” series, has drawn to a close.

Check it out here, and thanks to those of you who voted/submitted ideas.

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Posted on Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 1:05 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Narrow Cars, Smart Buses, and Bike Centers at Transit Hubs

The three leading vote-getters at the Nimble Cities project, explained.

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Posted on Tuesday, July 13th, 2010 at 5:04 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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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
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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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