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Archive for the ‘Congestion’ Category

About That Moment of Silence…

While certainly sympathetic to the idea expressed by the image above, I was thinking it a bit too high-mindedly smug, too facetious, more of a sentiment than a reality, a phrase great for a t-shirt or cartoon caption but not much grounded in reality.

Then I looked at a random sample of Twitter.

My lips are sealed.

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Posted on Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 at 6:50 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
15 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

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
5 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

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
13 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Go Slow to Go Fast

My latest Slate column explores the concept of “rolling speed harmonization” on a Colorado highway.

As one report describes it, speed harmonization “holds that by encouraging speed compliance and reducing speed differential between vehicles, volume throughput can be maximized without a physical increase in roadway dimensions.”

The concept plays, in part, on one of traffic engineering’s core truths: Big speed differentials are dangerous. This is laid out in the “Green Book,” the bible of the American Association of Surface Highway Transportation Officials. “Crashes are not related as much to speed as to the range in speeds from the highest to lowest,” the book states. “Studies show that, regardless of the average speed on the highway, the more a vehicle deviates from the average speed, the greater its chances of becoming involved in a crash.”

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Posted on Sunday, October 16th, 2011 at 6:49 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
7 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

The Secret Lane

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Posted on Monday, October 3rd, 2011 at 8:25 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
2 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

#raceajet

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


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

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

Carmaggedon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arteries

Lisbon’s blood vessels from Pedro M Cruz on Vimeo.

Via Pedro Cruz:

In this work the traffic of Lisbon is portrayed exploring metaphors of living organisms with circulatory problems. Rather than being an aesthetic essay or a set of decorative artifacts, my approach focuses on synthesizing and conveying meaning through data portrayal. This portrayal is embodied in the visualization: The Blood Vessels in the traffic of Lisbon. I use an adaptive physics system to build and manipulate the road network – the thickness, the color and the length of the vessels are excited by the number of vehicles and average velocity in each road. With this system I try to bypass the strictness of contemporary visualizations that depict data accurately through direct mappings.

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Posted on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 at 5:09 pm 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
9 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

More Kids Who Won’t Be Walking to School

The reason: a collapsed pedestrian bridge.

I was puzzled by this last sentence:

A new bridge, if they decide to build one, could cost as much as 1-million dollars. Gugel says simply installing a traffic light may not be an option because Kearney Street has been designated a barrier street which means students shouldn’t cross it.

Somehow a “barrier street” doesn’t have the ring of something found in the MUTCD, but I may be wrong; any street, in any case, is a barrier with enough car traffic on it. But certainly street designations can be changed?

[UPDATE: See comment below for how the school defines 'barrier street.' The website also notes: "Springfield has a number of streets with an exceptionally high volume of traffic. In order to prevent students from having to cross the busiest street, SPS provides free transportation to students who live less than 1.5 miles from school in areas where they must cross a barrier street."

This reads like something of a fait accompli: These streets are too busy, large, fast, etc. to allow students to walk, so they must be driven (by parents or the school), thus increasing traffic on those busy roads. But one wonders what the larger planning decisions were vis a vis the school siting and the classification of those roads (and one hopes that school is not separated from residences by an interstate highway!). Surely children could cross with relatively, with a road diet, slower speeds, a HAWK crossing or crossing guard?]

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Posted on Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 at 8:12 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
12 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

The Logistics of the School Drop-Off

Via a discussion at the NRDC Switchboard about a school in Orange County that does not allow students on foot, I was struck by the school’s amazing “Strike Team” document, pictured above, covering the ins-and-outs of the school drop-off.

Is it just me or does this strike you as a sign of a system that is severely out of balance? (and I’m not talking about a “design” problem)

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Posted on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 at 6:23 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
20 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

End of the Road for Dutch Per-Kilometer Pricing

No time to comment on this as, coincidentally, I’m about to leave for the Netherlands, but Bern Grush sifts through the ashes.

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Posted on Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 at 12:27 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
4 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

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
2 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

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
7 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

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
10 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

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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Conveyor City

Over at the Slate Nimble Cities project, I discuss the suggestion from a few readers to install moving walkways in cities (as it turns out, an old idea).

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Posted on Monday, July 12th, 2010 at 7:11 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
2 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Tidal Flow in Bogotá

I found myself on the carerra septima this afternoon in Bogotá just shy of 5 p.m. (having just consumed a wonderful dish of la posta negra de Cartagena at the Club Colombia, watched the Netherlands defeat Uruguay, and had a cup of tea from coca leaves to counter the effects of altitude sickness — it seemed to do the trick). In any case Carerra 7 is one of the city’s principle arteries, multiple lanes divided by an island. At 5 p.m., though, something curious happens on this street: It turns into a massive one-way boulevard out of the city, and towards the north. This is an old and much-discussed idea — contraflow lanes — one that was practiced briefly in cities like Los Angeles and made a splash recently in emergency management circles for mass disaster evacuations.

But it was striking to see it in action. At just the stroke of 5 our car was still on 7, and there was already a small stream of vehicles beginning to seep across from the other lane. Their movement was cautious, exploratory, with the first vehicles coming across employing their hazard flashers. Their numbers began to surge, and it was immediately evident that staying on 7 was not prudent. There were one or two traffic police scattered about, and there are signs advising of the change, but one got the sense this was just a bit of ingrained civic behavior, as routine as the clock itself.

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Posted on Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 at 7:05 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
9 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.
Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau: rhspeakers@randomhouse.com.

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

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U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from Amazon.co.uk.

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Toronto

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Communications.
Grand Rapids MI

 

 

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