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Archive for the ‘Traffic Culture’ Category

Cars, Community, and Crime

Paul Collins finds a curious mobility takeaway in the 1934 memoir Savage of Scotland Yard:

The overwhelming sense of the book, though, is that Scotland Yard once spent a great deal of its time dealing with habitual neighborhood criminals who were, in their own way, an ancient and unsurprising part of the social fabric of city life. The police knew them well, knew which pubs and boarding houses they frequented, and so the real long-haul career criminals learned how not to push their luck too hard.

At the end of his book, Savage blurts out a remarkable comment on the spiking crime rates of the 20th century. The Scotland Yard detective — who’d began back before the force even owned a single car — knew exactly whodunnit: Henry Ford.

“My experience convinces me that the criminals of twenty and thirty years ago were cleverer, more daring and enterprising than the criminals of today…. The increase in serious crime is due not to education, but to the incoming of the motor-age. The introduction of the motor-car has made life easy and less risky for criminals. They travel faster and farther afield, and this increased mobility makes the chance of capture infinitely less than it used to be. The activities of criminals knows no bounds… In the old days a smash and grad was done by a pedestrian with a brick, and he had to rely on his legs to get him quickly out of danger of capture. The motor-car gave him considerably increased facilities both for committing a crime and escaping detection.”

Hmm. Has anyone, I wonder, ever tried plotting crime rates in the early 20th century against car registrations among males 16 – 35?

Sounds like a job for Historical Freakonomics. Another way to look at this, of course, is that police, at least in New York City, stopped living in the neighborhoods they patrolled, and in many cases they were the ones who had shifted to car-based patrols, thus distancing themselves from the community.

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Posted on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 at 11:55 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Superclogger

We’ve all been amused by (or at least subjected to) the impromptu road theater of children turning around in the back seat of the car ahead to wave at us (or worse). Although, come to think of it, we probably see that less these days given the heightened awareness toward back-seat passenger restraints — not only do you not want your precious cargo hurtling forward, you don’t want them hurtling forward into you (same goes for dogs, etc.). Trust me, you don’t want to learn about the biomechanics of in-cabin projectiles.

But Phil Patton alerts me to a new form of high-concept road theater about to take place in that nexus of art and traffic, Los Angeles: Superclogger.

Conceived with Providence-based artist and bike mechanic Peter Fuller and developed out of Kyack’s interest in chaos, performance, and the relationship between individual will and collective control, Superclogger will present various puppet shows to drivers caught in afternoon traffic jams from a mobile theater housed in the back of a nondescript white pickup truck. Broadcasting soundtracks discretely to the viewer’s car stereo, Superclogger aims to briefly halt the progression of chaos by temporarily drawing the audience out of the commute experience and placing them within an intimate space of engagement and performance that highlights their own individual presence within the broader structure of the traffic jam.

I think that phrase, “the relationship between individual will and collective control,” well sums up the driving experience these days. This could be the most exciting thing to happen in a white truck on L.A. freeways since, well, you know…

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Posted on Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 at 7:43 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Texting While (Not) Driving

This Ad Age report cites a substantial decline in young drivers (and driving), and chalks it up largely to the “digital revolution.” Perhaps, but conspicuously underplayed is graduated drivers licensing programs, which have made driving (solo, at any time) at age 16 or 17 a thing of the past in many states (with good reason).

(Flash of the headlights to Clive Thompson)

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Posted on Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 at 12:47 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Too We Tolerate Too Many Traffic Deaths?

Presumably with the Memorial Day weekend upon us (though I’ve cautioned against the “holiday traffic deaths story” before) The New York Times “Room for Debate” section has opened this question to a number of people, including myself. I won’t spoil the suspense, but you can read it here.

But that’s all I’ll say for now, as I’m about to (very safely) drive away for the weekend. Stay tuned on Tuesday, however, for the debut of “The Hive” project at Slate, to which I’ll be hoping you contribute.

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Posted on Friday, May 28th, 2010 at 9:40 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Motorway Sightseeing

Joe Moran writes about a book called What’s That Over There?, a travel guide for the English motorway system:

I hadn’t come across Noel’s book before but it forms part of a long if sporadic tradition of motorway sightseeing. Margaret Baker’s 1968 handbook Discovering M1 was the first ever ‘glove-compartment guide to the motorway and the places of interest that can be seen from it,’ written for car passengers and ‘arranged for easy assimilation at around 60mph’. It valiantly listed visual highlights like the radio aerials at Daventry, the granite rocks of Charnwood Forest and the medieval ridge-and-furrow fields near Crick. The vogue for motorway sightseeing enjoyed a brief revival more recently with the motorway sights guides written by Mike Jackson, a director of location shots for Antiques Roadshow, who got the idea for them while driving round the country with its then presenter, Michael Aspel. Jackson spent months travelling up and down the motorways, writing about landmarks like the Penrith factory where they make the dough balls for Domino’s pizzas and the globular salt barn on the M5 in Worcestershire known locally as the ‘Christmas pudding’.

According to Jackson’s M5 sights guide, it costs £1m a year to maintain a Moto service station, which means that each square metre of toilet area costs £2350 a year – and that’s at 2005 prices. Since the service stations are obliged by law to supply free toilets 24/7, you might think about this figure the next time you pause over the price of a Ginsters pasty in the service station shop. I am also indebted to Jackson for the information that traffic police on the M5 are rumoured to play a game called ‘motorway snooker’, which involves stopping a red car for speeding, then looking for another colour equivalent to the colours of snooker balls (ideally a black car, worth seven points) then another red, and so on until the highest break wins.

I think I’ve just figured out my summer vacation.

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Posted on Thursday, May 27th, 2010 at 8:40 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Car Diapers

Caleb Crain waxes lyrical on a device I’ve found tends to draw blank stares from drivers in other parts of the country: Car diapers (or call them what you will: Coupe Condoms, Grille Guards, or by their actual monikers, Bumper Badgers, etc.)

Another thing I’ve long meant to blog about: car diapers. I wonder whether they exist outside Park Slope. In how many American neighborhoods do parallel parking, overprotectiveness, and automobile vanity co-exist? The car diaper is a large sheet of rubber that is draped over a car’s rear fender in order to protect it from the scratches and scrapes incidental to parallel parking. They aren’t called car diapers, of course, by their purveyors. Indeed they seem to have sort of self-consciously aggressive names, like “Bumper Bully” and “De-Fender.” But car diapers is what they look like. Some are attached by shutting them half in and half out of the trunk, so they flop over the fender, usually with a cut-out so that the license plate remains visible. A driver rarely scrapes up another car’s rear fender while parallel parking, because one always has a clear view of the other car’s rear fender. It’s one’s own rear fender that one scrapes, by misjudging the distance behind. So a car diaper is a responsible and civic thing to own—an admission of one’s incontinence as a driver, or anyway, as a parallel parker. Still.

I often wonder why (most) cars actually lost their extruding bumpers to begin with (look at those big rubber bricks on old Volvos) — some push for imagined aerodynamicism on the part of car drivers I suppose.

But Caleb’s post raises another issue that I’ve long wondered about: Do we need a special word to describe that curious metaphysical condition by which someone purchases a new consumer bauble that is so delightful, so gleaming and unscathed and yet so preciously fragile, that one must subsequently sheath it in protective covering — which often tries itself, a la iPhone, to be itself distinctive or wonderful but always fall short of the original, hidden object — that masks its unscathed delightfulness, which can then only be retrieved in rare fugitive moments when one has unstripped the protection, inhaling the original aura, but with each of these exposures bringing the risk of new blemishes, new forms of decay, that will itself make the process of unsheathing it (and resheathing it) that less special, until eventually the impulse to cover has been lost completely.

[the above image is Dominic Wilcox' 'anti-theft' stickers, which preemptively degrade the consumer object to lessen its value]

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Posted on Friday, April 9th, 2010 at 8:18 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘A proper bastardised, chaved up Skippy mobile’

Car advert as classist social commentary. Think of it as an FSBO for the ASBO crowd. Reading it and the comments puts me in mind of the immortal David St. Hubbins: “It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.”

The ad is here.

(Thanks to the indefatigable Alan)

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Posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2010 at 7:34 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Country Driving

Photo by Tom Vanderbilt

I’ve only met one Westerner who had a Chinese driving license, but his story more or less echoed that of Peter Hessler in his fascinating new book Country Driving:

By the summer of 2001, when I applied to the Beijing Public Safety Traffic Bureau, I had lived in China for five years. During that time I had traveled passively by bus and plane, boat and train; I dozed across provinces and slept through towns. But sitting behind the wheel woke me up. That was happening everywhere: in Beijing alone, almost a thousand new drivers registered on average each day, the pioneers of a nationwide auto boom. Most of them came from the growing middle class, for whom a car represented mobility, prosperity, modernity. For me, it meant adventure. The questions of the written driver’s exam suggested a world where nothing could be taken for granted:

223. If you come to a road that has been flooded, you should
a) accelerate, so the motor doesn’t flood.
b) stop, examine the water to make sure it’s shallow, and drive across slowly.
c) find a pedestrian and make him cross ahead of you.

282. When approaching a railroad crossing, you should
a) accelerate and cross.
b) accelerate only if you see a train approaching.
c) slow down and make sure it’s safe before crossing.

Chinese applicants for a license were required to have a medical checkup, take the written exam, enroll in a technical course, and then complete a two-day driving test; but the process had been pared down for people who already held overseas certification. I took the foreigner’s test on a gray, muggy morning, the sky draped low over the city like a shroud of wet silk. The examiner was in his forties, and he wore white cotton driving gloves, the fingers stained by Red Pagoda Mountain cigarettes. He lit one up as soon as I entered the automobile. It was a Volkswagen Santana, the nation’s most popular passenger vehicle. When I touched the steering wheel my hands felt slick with sweat.

“Start the car,” the examiner said, and I turned the key. “Drive forward.”

A block of streets had been cordoned off expressly for the purpose of testing new drivers. It felt like a neighborhood waiting for life to begin: there weren’t any other cars, or bicycles, or people; not a single shop or makeshift stand lined the sidewalk. No tricycles loaded down with goods, no flatbed carts puttering behind two-stroke engines, no cabs darting like fish for a fare. Nobody was turning without signaling; nobody was stepping off a curb without looking. I had never seen such a peaceful street in Beijing, and in the years that followed I sometimes wished I had had time to savor it. But after I had gone about fifty yards the examiner spoke again.

“Pull over,” he said. “You can turn off the car.”

The examiner filled out forms, his pen moving efficiently. He had barely burned through a quarter of a Red Pagoda Mountain. One of the last things he said to me was, “You’re a very good driver.”

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Posted on Sunday, March 21st, 2010 at 8:02 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
1 Comment. Click here to leave a comment.

Driving While Bogan

As I’ll be going to Australia later in the year, I suppose it’s a good thing I was made aware of a bit of slang: Bogan. Apparently it’s a bit like a “chav” in the U.K. I don’t know how the term is actually received in Australia, but if any readers want to weigh in…

And, this, according to the website “Things Bogan Like,” is how a bogan drives:

While the bogan generally engages in few critically important activities and has accrued a lifetime of missed deadlines, when on the road it is in an urgent hurry. If delayed by a stop sign, it will charge through. If delayed by a line of traffic, it will seek to drive in the emergency lane. It will reach its destination a full 90 seconds earlier than the non-bogan, and it will consume that 90 seconds, along with 300 other seconds, to stake out a parking space that is 30 steps closer to Boost Juice.

However, the notoriously poor coping skills of the bogan make it susceptible to losing its cool entirely if it finds that the traffic conditions are not to its liking. A key problem of road-based bogans is that a car makes a bogan invincible. Encased in a 1500kg glass and steel shell, the bogan transforms from an irritation to a menace. It enforces its skewed value system and desire for the x-treme by speeding, running red lights, and burning rubber, disregarding other road rules as it sees fit. If someone does not let the bogan do these things as it wishes, the trouble starts.

Just as it will do in relation to free speech, the bogan sees itself as entitled to break any road rule, but everyone else is not allowed to at all. The bogan will even reserve the right to object to other road users driving safely and correctly. If someone merges into a lane in front of a bogan, the results will depend on a number of factors:

1. How badly it wants to go to the shopping centre or nightclub strip
2. Whether the bogan is intoxicated
3. The presence of tribal tattoos
4. Any other obstacles that the bogan has encountered that day
5. The presence of personalised number plates
6. Degree to which the offending motorist is perceived to be Asian

If the bogan’s anger becomes moderate, it will scream from inside its car, and make obscene gestures. It is unlikely to realise that the other person cannot hear its profanities from inside their own car, but this does not deter it from pursuing this action with vigour. If the anger level becomes high, the bogan will attempt to overtake the other car without indicating, expecting surrounding cars to part like Katie Price’s legs. If it is not allowed to re-enter its original lane, it will emerge from its car in a blind fury. The alpha road warrior bogan will attempt to lure the other driver from their car with an elaborate roadside war dance, intermittently spitting and kicking door panels. If this is not successful, it will eventually return to its car, do a burnout, and rocket off into the distance, which is usually the next traffic light 100m up the road.

(thanks Alex)

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Posted on Thursday, March 18th, 2010 at 8:12 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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It’s Called a Side-”Walk” for a Reason

658304 from Bikesafer on Vimeo.

Via Jeff Frings, who politely tries to educate a driver (who’s clearly trying to overcompensate in all kinds of ways) on traffic laws. Later he’ll tell his long-suffering wife about some “idiot” cyclist on the road who wouldn’t get out of his way. It leaves one to wonder what actual percentage of drivers out there have a grasp of, say, more than 50% of the traffic code.

[The gist of the conversation is cyclist points out to driver that he's blown a stop sign and almost hit him; driving tells him to get on the f***ing sidewalk where he "belongs." Cyclist points out that that's illegal. Driver threatens bodily harm. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.]

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Posted on Thursday, March 18th, 2010 at 7:54 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Birding While Driving

Photo by Wavy1/Flickr

To all the myriad distractions cataloged in the life of the modern driver — buzzing Blackberries, rogue McNuggets, squalling toddlers — I would like to suggest another: Birding while driving.

The twin gerunds, though mellifluous to the ears, jar the mind, like some wrong answer on an SAT test: Which of these is not like the other? Indeed, driving is, in many ways, inherently hostile to the life of birds and the activity of watching them. Roads sever and reduce landscapes, while the roar of traffic harms birds’ ability to breed. Driving is a fast-paced, necessarily fleeting endeavor that conquers space through time and distances a person from his environment. Birding is slow, quiet, contemplative, rooted in the natural life of a place. “Driving is not birding,” sternly counsel the authors of The Ardent Birdwatcher.

And yet there are moments when these two activities cannot help but conjoin. There is the sheer volume of roads in the world; one is rarely more than a mile away — as the crow flies — from a road. There’s the sheer amount of time in traffic, often on the way to some avian assignation. Then there is the puckish adaptability of birds to seemingly hostile environments, like the crows who drop nuts into traffic, watch as the cars crack them, then wait for the pedestrian walk signal to descend safely into the crosswalk and retrieve their bounty.

Certain birds flock to roads for roadkill, while New York City pigeons seem apt to congregate in the center of the street — where do those half-eaten bagels come from? — scattering at the precise moment a driver frets he is going to strike them (pigeons, it should be noted, see the world three times as fast as humans, so your 30 mph approach is slow motion to them). And as for the pair of osprey I recently spied, nesting in the highway sign gantry in the median strip on the busy approach to Sanibel Island, Florida, the road provided not only a domestic infrastructure but protection from would-be predators (not even squirrels can climb smooth steel poles).

I first became aware of the discrete pleasures, and not so subtle hazards, of birding while driving on a trip to Trinidad several years ago. I was on a trip with Barry Ramdass, an accomplished local guide, to the Nariva swamps, a birding hotspot in the center of the island. Every few miles or so, Ramdass, binoculars wedged in his Jeep’s cup-holder, would, in a sidelong glance, spy some minor disruption in a roadside grove of trees, or across a far plain, pull over to the shoulder, and point to a distant savannah hawk.

This ability confounded me at the time, but as my own birding prowess has grown, I have come to realize that spotting a bird on the road becomes as instinctual as spotting a traffic sign or a speed trap. Driving past a dead tree is a delicious temptation to scan for a raptor, while a bluebird house posted in a field triggers an involuntary twitch to wonder about its occupancy. An uncomfortable fact arises: The better the birder, the worse the driver. “Car birding,” notes the author of Down and Dirty Birding, is birding’s “dirtiest secret.”

David Gessner, who in his book Return of the Osprey admits to birding while driving proclivities, notes that “travel is a precarious point in the lives of both humans and birds.” Perhaps this shared sense of commuting — the word, we should remember, comes from the Latin commutare, “to change” —is the strange appeal of seeing a bird on the wing while my hand is on the wheel. I do not Twitter while driving, but I am hardly immune to the tweet.

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Posted on Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 at 3:14 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The ‘Mozart Effect’ and Teen Driving

Reading, via Tyler Cowen, about this controversial classical music behavioral nudge in the U.K. — act badly and you’ll get blasted with Brahms — put me in mind of a way to make things safer for teens (and everyone else) on the road. Since BPMs often seemed tied to RPMs when teens are at the wheel, how about using the car’s increasing electronic integration to hijack the stereo when aggressive driving is detected, pumping in some Sibelius or Chopin to attenuate the raging hormones? (one wonders more broadly about some kind of iTunes ‘genius’ system that measured surrounding traffic density, car speed, etc., and used it tailor musical selections — Satie for that frenetic rush hour scramble at the Holland Tunnel, Brian Eno for those epic tunnels in Norway (ok, wait that’s a bad idea), rousing anthems (e.g., the Pogues) for long, dark quiet roads.

Which reminds me of one last point: The curious power (both as narrative and sense-memory) a song can have in the context of a drive. I once almost drove off the road in rural Maine at night when I first heard the plaintive, haunting voice of Townes van Zandt singing Kathleen:

It’s plain to see, the sun won’t shine today
But I ain’t in the mood for sunshine anyway
Maybe I’ll go insane
I got to stop the pain
Or maybe I’ll go down to see Kathleen.

When I hear that song today I still recall a glowing white line, the dark outlines of tall trees lining the road, glittering moose eyes…

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Posted on Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 at 9:51 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
3 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Stop! In the Name of Kim Jong-il

The choreography of North Korean traffic control is staggeringly precise, and fascinatingly eerie (and I recommend playing the above clip without sound, to spare yourself the inane commentary). Interesting that the cops are women — could this be an anti-corruption measure, as in Mexico City? There are more cars than one might think (and even Minis!) — are they all party functionaries?

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Posted on Sunday, March 7th, 2010 at 9:05 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Bird, the Wave, and the Shaka

My latest Slate column is up, and the subject is the informal language of the road (and yes I know about the Australian ‘waggling pinkie,’ but for editing reasons, etc., it got cut). For space reasons I also didn’t get into the whole gamut of bicyclist/motorcyclist/pedestrian gestures — though I remember at one Brooklyn crosswalk I was turning right and a person about to enter the crosswalk did an elaborate bow/sweep of the hand to urge me through, to which my reply was to try to apologize for violating the right of way. Then there was a secondary round of strange gestures in response to the first. And then, of course, the driver behind me honked.

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Posted on Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 at 1:34 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Abu Dhabi Street Design Manual

Writing that “previous design guidance was influenced by documents such as the AASHTO Green Book, which is inappropriate for urban streets where modes of transport other than the automobile are present,” Nelson/Nygaard has made available its Abu Dhabi Street Design Manual, which provides guidance to “design streets that create a safe environment for all users; transition from a vehicle-trip based society to a multimodal society; introduce fine-grained street networks into the existing super-block pattern.”

It is, they suggest, “perhaps one of the most progressive in the world.”

Judge for yourself here.

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Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 at 10:10 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Safety Film of the Week

I’m always fascinated by the U.K. Highway’s Code — not just the sheer amount of material one must absorb for the exam, but the very idea of a national code, which eliminates the weird comparative quirks among state laws here — even though the roads, drivers, and traffic environments are essentially the same (those states where you can drive at 14, a relic of family farm life, even though in places like Iowa agribusiness has taken over and true farm kids are much fewer; or the patchwork quilt of texting/talking laws) — as well as different driver training regimens, not to mention those awkward moments where a driver with multiple DUIs in one state gets one in another state and goes unpunished. My sense too is that the Highway Code as a cultural concept looms larger in the U.K. than our driving laws and training regimen does here (it’s not something much considered once one has the license). In any case, thanks to Chris for the video tip.

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Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2009 at 11:20 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
3 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

American Idle

Photo by Pedals/Flickr

In my latest Slate column, I consider the drive-through.

One thing that struck me was the historical novelty of the form; McDonald’s didn’t begin to unroll them until the mid-1970s, and they now, rather shockingly, account for the majority of their restaurant business. It’s a subtle, yet indicative, symbol of how much American society has changed, driving-wise, in a few decades. At one moment, most children, like me, were walking to school, and while we may have driven to McDonald’s, we actually got out of the car to eat our meal (and something like McDonald’s, pre-drive-through, was then an occasional novelty, at least for me).

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Posted on Saturday, December 12th, 2009 at 1:26 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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No More Dashboard Dining

For some reason I’ve never really associated eating lunch while being stuffed behind your steering wheel in a car with freedom. But I may be wrong.

(via Wonkette)

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Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 at 9:54 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Pedestrian Crossing Behavior: Lemmings or the Lone Wolf?

I was walking down New York City’s Fifth Avenue yesterday (the windows at Bergdorf Goodman are a particular pleasure this year), which as usual around this time of year was incredibly crowded — I begin to feel less like a person than a permanent obstruction to someone’s snapshot. The corners were particularly bulging with people — for some reason the police were actually blocking pedestrian crossings with yellow tape at around 51st Street — and it’s always interesting to note the little patterns: The Europeans and out-of-towners tend to wait for signals, while the intrepid New Yorkers often sail through. And sometimes, one pedestrian’s bold move can fool others into thinking the signal has changed, when in reality there is a yellow taxi bearing down on the crosswalk. At times things can get so crowded that the mass essentially sort of spills into the street, perhaps triggered by some early crosser but now possessed of an energy all its own.

In any case, I was thinking of this when I came across a study by Tova Rosenbloom, “Crossing at a red light: Behaviour of individuals and groups,” in the journal Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour (and, by the way, the idea that this journal goes all the way to ‘F’ gives you an idea of how complex and wide-ranging the field is). In any case, Rosenbloom, looking at pedestrian behavior in Tel Aviv, came to a rather different finding than what I suspected might be the case based on my Fifth Avenue perambulations, and she offers a few reasons as to why this might be.

She writes:

The first hypothesis of the study was that more people would break the law (i.e. cross on a red light) while standing alone than people waiting with others on the curb. The findings of this study support this hypothesis. The more pedestrians present at the curb, the lower was the rate of people crossing on red. Two explanations may account for this pattern: one is theoretical while the other is pragmatic.

The theory of Social Control (Hirschi, 1969) describes the mechanism behind obedient behaviour as the motivation to be rewarded just for being conformist. Normal individuals have inner controllers that prevent them from breaking the law and therefore encourage them to behave in a normative fashion. The sanctions of society are greater deterrents for normative people than are formal sanctions (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1994).

Indeed, people who reach a crosswalk alone when the light is red are less concerned with social criticism and so break the law more easily, while those surrounded by other pedestrians waiting for the green light feel more committed to social order and to social norms and therefore tend to stick to social norms, although not all of them, of course. It should be clarified that it is the immediate social constraints that make people feel more committed to social order. In other words, a transient social state operates to engage pedestrian behaviour. This is also consistent with the social learning explanatory framework (Bandura, 1969).

This being true, this tendency might potentially have some beneficial implications. Hirschi (2004) assumes that strengthening the ties to conventional social institutions might increase the commitment of individuals to normative behaviour. Authorities might want to apply this principle by implementing public educational programs for increasing self-control and hence normative and safer behaviour.

This tendency does have exceptions however. Comprehensive research (Ben-Moshe, unpublished Master’s thesis, 2003) that examined the road crossing decisions of young children and adolescents (6, 9 and 13 year old boys and girls) revealed an opposite trend. Each participant standing with his/her peer group on a crosswalk was much more lax regarding risk-taking in crossing the street than the same participant standing alone. Thus, the mechanism of social facilitation ([Corston and Colman, 1996] and [Sanna and Shotland, 1990]) works differently when teenagers are involved. Support for this notion is found in other studies ([Christensen and Morrongiello, 1997] and [Miller and Byrnes, 1997]) which point to the adolescent tendency to take more risks in the presence of their peer group. Carsaro and Eder (1990) tried to explain that values such as social acceptance, social solidarity and popularity are much more considered among adolescents than among mature people.

An important perspective of road behaviour, such as pedestrians’ road crossing, is the cultural context of the society (e.g. Levine, Norenzayan, & Philbrick, 2001). The behavioural norms of society might be reflected, for example, in the tendency to walk alone or in groups (Rosenbloom et al., 2004).

The current study was conducted in an urban setting at a pedestrian crosswalk in the largest Israeli metropolis – Tel Aviv, which is not typified by any unique features that can be found in other regions in Israel where minorities lives (such as the ultra-orthodox citizens, for example, who walk together in large families and groups as documented by Rosenbloom et al., 2004). So, it can be predicted that individualism-collectivism, for example, could play an important role in explaining people’s behaviour. Sagy, Orr, and Bar-On (1999) found that religious students scored higher in a questionnaire than the secular students on items emphasizing collectivist orientation.

In addition, the decision to cross streets when the light is red is probably influenced by the traffic law associated with crossing on red. In Ireland, for example, crossing in red light for pedestrians is not a traffic violation but rather a warning for pedestrians to be careful while crossing the street. In Israel it is forbidden by law, and those who violate this law take the risk of being fined by the police (http://www.police.gov.il). In a way, the current study’s findings are in line with these norms since people usually do not intend to violate the laws but do control each other’s behaviour.

What then, could be the pragmatic explanation for crossing intersections on red when alone? From past experience, people know that the larger the group of people waiting on the curb, the shorter the waiting time is likely to be. In a quick ‘cost-benefit’ calculation they decide it is worth investing a few more seconds to be on the safe side. Here, our recommendation is to install more traffic lights that also indicate the time remaining for the light to change. Further research on this topic is recommended.

From a pragmatic point of view, large groups of pedestrians should have a stronger feeling of safety than individuals have, due to the “safety in numbers” effect (Harrell, 1991) that they feel when many other pedestrians are also crossing. One might assume that oncoming traffic is better able to see pedestrians and come to a stop when there are many of them grouped on the crosswalk or many of them beginning to cross on red. Consequently, there may be greater confidence that drivers would stop under these (crowd) conditions, eliminating the need for caution by the pedestrians.

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Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 at 9:38 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
5 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

End-of-Year Holiday Road Read Roundup

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:

Book Cover
1.) Joe Moran, On Roads. I’ve noted my interest in this book before, but suffice it to say it’s cracking cultural history of the U.K. motorway system, a must-buy for bitumen boffins everywhere.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

Book Cover
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.

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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.

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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.

8. Book Cover
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.

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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.

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Posted on Monday, December 7th, 2009 at 4:19 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
5 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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