Archive for the ‘Commuting’ Category
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.
At a conference this weekend, a Disney logistics guy told me that the number of buses Disney operates to ferry visitors around the Magic Kingdom would, if it were a municipal system, make it the 21st largest in the U.S. (Not to mention those other 20 cities don’t have monorails).
My latest Slate column considers transportation from an iPhone-centric point of view, with an eye toward ways apps might change the experience for the better. I’d be curious to hear what I left out (I omitted some things for space) or things that are in the works, or apps you’d like to see, etc.
Mark Wagenbuur has put together a fascinating video (thanks to David Hembrow) on the evolution of a Dutch street (in Utrecht) over time; of particular interest is the creeping automobilization of the street in the 1970s-80s, only to see a subsequent reversion to historical precedents (or what we now call “complete streets”).
Via Urban Cartography, I love this image of a train moving through an urban marketplace that seems to have figured out to the inch where it can exist in relation to the passing train (and the retractable awnings can be drawn back when the time comes). I believe this is somewhere in India, and I’ve seen video footage similar to this before — quite a remarkable process (and it really makes our supermarkets with wide aisles, parking lots, etc. seem incredibly like an incredibly inefficient use of space).
This video, from the indispensable Streetfilms and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, notes that the equivalent of Cincinnati commutes by bus every day into New York City; if all those bus riders chose to drive, traffic levels would be 84% higher.
After crunching the numbers, he calculates that on a weekday, the average car driven into Manhattan south of 60th Street causes a total of 3.26 hours of delays to everybody else. (At weekends, the equivalent number is just over 2 hours.) No one car is likely to suffer excess delays of more than a few seconds, of course, but if you add up all those seconds for the thousands of affected cars and trucks, it comes to a significant amount of time.
Many of those hours are very valuable things, especially when you consider big trucks, staffed with two or three professionals, just idling in traffic. Komanoff calculates (check out the “Value of Time” tab) that the average vehicle has 1.97 people in it, and that the average value of an hour of saved vehicle time south of 60th Street in Manhattan on a weekday is $48.89. Which means, basically, that driving a car into Manhattan on a weekday causes about $160 of negative externalities to everybody else.
Vis a vis the recent discussion at the Transportation Experts blog on the question of whether car VMT in the U.S. should be reduced as a matter of federal policy, I was curious about this factoid over on the Rocky Mountain Institute’s website.
Improve public transportation, they say. Develop housing near mass transport nodes. Form carpools at the office. These are all effective and viable measures to address the average American business commute, and we should indeed do all of these things. But what if our business commute isn’t necessarily where we have the most influence? What if it’s our kids’ activities driving us to drive more — our child miles traveled (CMTs)?
According to the 2001 National Household Travel Survey, the average vehicle travels 3,956 miles for family and personal business. In 1969, that average was 1,270 miles. We’ve tripled our family business mileage, but VMTs for business commuting only increased 36 percent during the same period. Looks like our family miles are to blame.
Is this the end for people fumbling for dropped change on the floor of the car?
This weekend may mark the beginning of the end for toll-booth operators and plastic coin baskets, two institutions long associated with holiday traffic and highway congestion.
On Saturday, an authority that runs the E-470 toll road near Denver is ditching its coin handlers and going entirely cashless.
One curious thing about electronic tolls; they’re more expensive.
It is unclear whether cashless toll roads will have higher toll rates than ones offering a pay-with-cash option, but some theorists say higher rates are likely. Amy Finkelstein, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has analyzed 50 years of data for 123 toll roads. In a paper to be published in the August edition of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Prof. Finkelstein suggests electronic tolling results in rates that are 20% to 40% higher than they otherwise would be.
One reason, she speculates, is that “when tolls become less visible, it’s easier to raise the tolls.” (but is it also that electronic tolls tend to be built on new, more expensive facilities, or ones more prone to congestion?)
Do economists have a word for this phenomenon? Something about transparency? Price elasticity? But it seems a strange anti-thesis to the anchoring effect, with no frames or anchors at all.
I read this seeming obit for national congestion charging while on a train to Rotterdam yesterday (hence the slow posting lately); ironically, I came across it in the Daily Telegraph, not normally what I’d be reading but it was all the train station newsstand had — in any case it was the Telegraph which had backed a petition against the scheme.
It’s the economy, in a word, that’s killed it; traffic volumes are already down, and it’s a seemingly a political non-starter to ask drivers to pay more — even if it would get them out of congestion (or help reduce other externalities). It’s probably not the end of pricing itself.
Despite ditching national road pricing, the Government is carrying on with a series of technology trials which could pave the way for local pricing schemes.
However Lord Adonis insisted that any council looking to charge motorists for driving would have to prove they had public support to do so.
His decision to drop national road pricing was condemned by Stephen Joseph, executive director of the Campaign for Better Transport.
“I think this is completely unrealistic,” he said.
“If road use continues to grow, some means will have to be found to deal with it. If we are not to have old-fashioned Soviet rationing by queues, sooner or later a Government will have to look at pricing.”
And on another subject, one of the pleasures of an old-fashioned newspaper is that, a few pages later, in the letters section on the opinion page, I stumbled upon one of those random, wonderful quintessences of Englishness: Tips — many, many tips — from readers on how to remove stains from tea-pots.
Rutten notes it’s not true congestion pricing:
Oddly enough, no solo drivers will be admitted when average speeds in the new high-occupancy toll lanes fall below 45 miles per hour. That’s to keep them from getting clogged, but the result is that there will be congestion pricing — except when the highways are most congested.
Gordon notes that, responding to the inequity claim, that Angelenos, in essence, already pay a congestion charge. It’s called time (which equals money).
First, if price does not ration road space, something else will. This means that heavy traffic on roads and highways that aren’t priced is a given. It is the default rationing mechanism. Anything made available without charge is quickly crowded. None of this is a matter of ideology, as Rutten seems to think.
The Times itself largely agrees with Gordon.
Most highway improvements are paid for with state and federal taxes on gasoline. This is an extremely regressive tax, not only because rich and poor alike pay the same amount, but because poor people typically can’t afford modern gas-sipping vehicles — there are a lot more Priuses in Santa Monica than in South L.A. Congestion pricing, though, imposes a user fee; only the people who use toll lanes pay the cost, and the people who use them tend to have higher incomes. It’s hard to imagine a fairer system.
In truth, low-income commuters stand to benefit a great deal from L.A.’s experiment. Only 25% of the project’s budget will be spent on developing the new toll lanes; the bulk of the money will pay for public-transit improvements, including the purchase of 57 new express buses traveling the affected routes. And by law, the money from the tolls must be spent on transit or carpool improvements in the same corridor where the funds were generated.
In Moscow, it seems there is an outbreak of commuting dogs. According to England’s Sun (the U.K.’s most eminently respected trashy tabloid):
STRAY dogs are commuting to and from a city centre on underground trains in search of food scraps.
The clever canines board the Tube each morning.
After a hard day scavenging and begging on the streets, they hop back on the train and return to the suburbs where they spend the night.
Like so many things, it seems we have the oligarchs to blame:
Scientists believe the phenomenon began after the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, and Russia’s new capitalists moved industrial complexes from the city centre to the suburbs.
Dr Andrei Poiarkov, of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute, said: “These complexes were used by homeless dogs as shelters, so the dogs had to move together with their houses. Because the best scavenging for food is in the city centre, the dogs had to learn how to travel on the subway – to get to the centre in the morning, then back home in the evening, just like people.”
They seem to share a few tricks with New York-subway riders:
Dr Poiarkov told how the dogs like to play during their daily commute. He said: “They jump on the train seconds before the doors shut, risking their tails getting jammed. They do it for fun. And sometimes they fall asleep and get off at the wrong stop.”
(as a quick aside, this put me in mind of my friend James, who reported to me that after recently attending the Everton F.A. Cup loss — like the bulk of those attending he was absolutely soused — he later awoke to mysteriously find himself on a train bound for Liverpool, with two half-eaten baguettes in his pockets, and his first thought was to wonder who had put them there)
Not to mention NYC con artists, in a K9 version of the old “mustard scam”:
And they use cunning tactics to obtain tasty morsels of shawarma, a kebab-like snack popular in Moscow.
They sneak up behind people eating shawarmas – then bark loudly to shock them into dropping their food.
When on the prowl for shawarma, it seems they are conscientious users of the road traffic infrastructure:
The dogs have learned to use traffic lights to cross the road safely, said Dr Poiarkov.
(apparently they look for the position of the light, being color-blind)
It seems the Muscovy canines aren’t the only committed users of public transport:
The Moscow mutts are not the first animals to use public transport. In 2006 a Jack Russell in Dunnington, North Yorks, began taking the bus to his local pub in search of sausages.
And two years ago passengers in Wolverhampton were stunned when a cat called Macavity started catching the 331 bus to a fish and chip shop.
As they’re already riding the subway anyway, perhaps there’s some way to, er, train these dogs for bomb sniffing?
Almost in the tragic irony department: London Mayor Boris Johnson (and his Transport Department head), scouting the capital (helmeted) on two wheels for the best cycle routes ahead of next summer’s big “Super Highways” cycling initiative, is nearly taken out by a rogue lorry (which itself had hit a Ford Mondeo, “catapulting” it towards the group). More here and here.
As Ben Porter notes, the event “seems to bring several issues together that are of concern at the moment in London. In addition to the irony of this incident occurring while the cycling group were scouting safe cycle routes there are growing worries about the dangers of HGVs in London, particularly in east London with the increase in construction traffic for the 2012 Olympics. There have been three women killed by lorries in recent weeks in the capital.” (see here and here).
Ben also notes the truck’s doors seem to have flown open after it crossed a speed table at an inappropriate velocity.
(thanks to Karl as well)
Over at Hard Drive, Joseph Rose reports on growing congestion in Portland — on the bike lanes.
There are now so many people riding bicycles in Portland that we have bike traffic jams on the city’s bridges. And statistics suggest that the handlebar-to-handlebar congestion is growing faster than the bumper-to-bumper variety.
Since the mid-1990s, for example, vehicle traffic — motorized and pedaled — on the Hawthorne has increased 20 percent. But the volume of auto traffic has increased only a little more than 1 percent. Bus traffic, meanwhile, has held steady.
Cyclists — now about 7,400 a day — account for almost the entire surge.
This despite a less-than-stellar facility:
Of course, if you want to walk or bike across the Hawthorne, it’s not the most zenlike experience. You’re confined to a 10-foot-wide sidewalk.
On the right, a rail keeps you from steering into the drink. On the left, nothing but lucidity and smart riding keeps cyclists from falling a foot onto the metal-grated motor lane.
But it seems engineers’ hands are tied:
But the reality is that the county can’t do much else on the 98-year-old Hawthorne.
In 1999, it spent $2 million to widen the sidewalks from 6 to 10 feet, which required extending steel supports under the bridge and installing lighter panels in the lift span.
Any wider, engineers say, and the bridge will start to buckle. Also, there would be no room for TriMet buses. There isn’t even room to add railings.
The county has created passing lanes for bikes approaching the east end. It has added markings to help separate cyclists and pedestrians. But several ideas have been deemed unmanageable.
Bike improvements planned on other bridges should ease the bike jams.
Can the Jon Krakauer ghost-written tale of survival be far behind?
OK, this poor woman has been mocked enough over at Swamplot.com, but my first thought, reading that site’s account, was: Wait, GM is now giving out cars to bloggers to test drive and oh-so-non-critically review its fleet? No wonder they’re in the tank!
Driving alone in heavy traffic (to paraphrase the Gang of Four, “we live as we drive, alone”), she then notes that this congestion is why she’s glad she doesn’t live downtown. A bit ironic, given that it’s suburbanites causing the traffic, and that if one lived in central Houston it might actually be possible to do a thing or two without a car. Or, if you lived downtown and worked in the suburbs, you could reverse commute. But c’mon, you’ve never changed lanes? Madness indeed.
(Horn honk to Dan)
There was a glancing reference in Traffic to Jakarta’s “passengers for hire,” people a driver can hire in order to use the HOV lanes on the city’s crowded roads. The New York Times notes the practice is still flourishing:
Angga, an 11-year-old boy who puts in time as a jockey after school, had just returned from his first ride, beaming. He had earned just under $1 and paid less than 20 cents to return by bus to his starting-point. A black Toyota van pulled up moments later and Angga hopped inside.
“Markets in everything,” as Tyler Cowen would say. I’m not sure what an economist would term this behavior, other than unintended consequences and informal markets, but it does reflect something of a pattern, i.e., how well-meaning traffic control policies will be circumvented by clever drivers (e.g., under Mexico City’s “Hoy No Circula” program people simply bought another car with a different license plate). It also, of course, depends on a society in which there is sufficient “surplus labor” to fill such a superfluous job as HOV jockey. In the West, such a concept is only satirical — i.e., Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm hiring a prostitute to simply sit in the passenger seat so he could make the Dodger game in time via the HOV lane.
In any case, Indonesia is investigating scrapping the “3 in 1″ program and going with electronic tolling.
This innovative roadside ad campaign from Sweden gives a graphic representation of what happens when 50 people choose to drive themselves to the airport rather than take the shuttle.
(Horn honk to The City Fix)
At a number of schools in Los Angeles, parents are being press-ganged into serving as traffic safety officials to help protect kids from … other parents, driving kids to school.
From January to November 2008, there were 153 traffic-related injuries around schools, which Los Angeles public school officials said was much higher than five years ago, though they could not provide data for prior years…
…Increased traffic around schools has vexed other major cities, too. Nationwide, roughly 21 percent of morning traffic is generated by parents driving children to school, said Raquel Rivas, a spokeswoman for Safe Routes to School, a national organization formed to encourage walking and bicycling to school.
One of the first objections to congestion pricing of any sort is the undue burden it would place on lower-income groups (many of these objections seem to come from people who aren’t typically concerned with issues of distributional fairness in other arenas of life).
In “Just Pricing: The Distributional Effects of Congestion Pricing and Sales Taxes,” a paper published in the journal Transportation by USC’s Lisa Schweitzer & UCLA’s Brian D. Taylor, the researchers raise an immediate challenge to this logic: “This contention, however, fails to consider (1) how much low-income residents already pay for transportation in taxes and fees, or (2) how much residents would pay for highway infrastructure under an alternative revenue-generating scheme, such as a sales tax.”
In the paper, they examine the costs on users entailed by Orange County’s S.R. 91, the “value priced” road that allows commuters to choose faster travel times by paying a higher price, against other Orange County roads that are paid for by general sales tax, under Measure M — a more popular way, it turns out, to pay for the county’s “freeways” (an Orwellian abuse of language if there ever was one).
They make a number of important points which I’ll summarize here.
Are tolls regressive? According to this and many previous analyses, yes. But for transport
policy, whether tolls are regressive fails to fully address the justice and fairness issues that
arise in ﬁnancing road use. Whenever members of lower income groups pay for services,
they may be expected to pay a greater share of their income than do the wealthy. Strictly
speaking, public transit fares are regressive. The fact that congestion tolls are regressive in
the abstract reﬂects only one aspect of the distributional justice issues facing transportation
and taxation. The real issues are comparative: are congestion tolls more or less regressive
than other tax or price strategies?
On the sales tax, which they note is the fastest growing way to fund roads in the U.S., they note that while sale taxes are distributed widely across society, lower-income groups pay the highest proportion of their income on sales taxes. But here’s the kicker:
While the income regressivity of sales taxes is an issue, it becomes an even greater concern when one notes how much sales tax revenues, when spent on transportation projects that primarily beneﬁt individual users of an improved facility, redistribute cost burdens from users to non-users. In this case, the heaviest users of SR91’s priced lanes—who are the largest beneﬁciaries of the time savings it provides—are disproportionately from middle- and upper-middle income households both inside and outside of Orange County. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to compare such beneﬁts in detail, we can say that if Orange County’s Measure M had ﬁnanced the SR91 facility, the added capacity would have lowered the direct time and money costs of peak-hour, peak-direction trips on SR91 in the short term, but resulted in higher aggregate levels of person- and vehicle delay in the longer term if congestion reoccurs. From a regional planning perspective, funding freeway capacity with the sales tax is a pro-auto/pro-driving policy that taxes all residents, the rich and (disproportionately) the poor, to provide beneﬁts to a smaller group of drivers and their passengers.”
This sounds like socialism, Orange County-style: From each regardless of their ability to pay, to each according to their mode of travel.
The sales tax is a “hidden” subsidy that makes driving seem cheaper than it is (and thus never encourages any reduction in driving). And on that subject let’s not forget the semi-permanent “gas tax holiday” the U.S. has been on for nearly the last two decades. As Taylor notes elsewhere (pdf here), “the average combined state/federal fuel tax in the United States today ($0.375 per gallon) charges drivers about $0.02 per miles, on average, for their use of the road system, the lowest rate in the developed world, and about one-third of the inflation-adjusted U.S. rate in 1960.”
The result is ever more drivers using ever worsening roads. The U.S. road transportation system in this regard reminds me of the old Catskills joke, noted in Annie Hall: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”
And going back to Orange County and Measure M, let’s not forget the question of externalities.
These problems are especially a concern if the environmental, energy, safety, and congestion externalities associated with driving are also regressively distributed (Schweitzer and Valenzuela Jr. 2004). If these externalities are, in fact, regressively distributed, then the Measure M transportation sales tax, if used on road projects, would disproportionately tax poorer residents to subsidize an activity whose externalities (such as noise and freeway-adjacent particulate emissions) harm them.
How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.
Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.
May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana
June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands
July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas
September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Honda R&D Americas
San Diego, CA
October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Texas Transportation Forum
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)
Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture
Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Wednesday, September 22
Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Wisconsin Dells, WI
Wednesday, October 20
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California
Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto
February 22, 2013
March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
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