Archive for June 11th, 2008

Traffic Reports

There’s one word that’s never used in this lengthy New York Times piece about the impact high-fuel prices are having in rural areas: Carpool. When will we stop treating driving to work alone as a constitutional right?

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From the FT comes this ardent defense of congestion charging, now coming to Manchester, England. Note the final line, a nice rejoinder to the typical red herring, raised in NYC and elsewhere, of congestion charging as a regressive tax. “The case for road pricing is clear: every driver on the road imposes a cost on others, through congestion, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of accidents. The attractions of a well designed scheme are the market mechanisms that encourage drivers to travel when road capacity is cheapest and most available. By paying more for longer journeys through heavily built-up areas, motorists are encouraged to find other, quieter routes to get around. A small response from drivers can greatly improve traffic flows. Since the rich drive more than the poor, road pricing is also progressive.”

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The LA Times has been running an excellent ongoing investigation into traffic. I was struck by these sentences in particular, about a driver stuck in traffic: “He loves Los Angeles, mostly. In the last few weeks alone, he’s seen a Latin American art exhibit at the L.A. County Museum of Art, a Murakami show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, an avant-garde dance performance at UCLA, and flamenco dancing at El Cid restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. Tonight, he’ll meet friends at Papa Cristo’s Greek restaurant in L.A. to dine on fried octopus and feta.” This raises the question: How could one live a place where all those things were possible without encountering traffic? To do all these things in a place without traffic, say, Montana, you’d likely eat up the same amount of time merely driving from one far-flung locale to another in search of these activities. Angelenos can use the metro system to get to some of these events, but even those trips take longer than those by car. Traffic, like congestion itself, is a relative term.

Posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 at 8:40 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The New York Times reports that South Carolina will become the first state in the U.S. to emblazon license plates with a Christian cross (and a stained glass window), along with the slogan “I Believe.” In related news, Nevada has become the first state to offer “I Want to Believe” license plates, perfect for cruising down the “extraterrestrial highway.” OK, that last bit is a joke, but if any entrepreneurial folks at the Silver State’s DMV are reading…

Apart from the church/state walls-come-tumblin’-down aspect of this, there’s some other things that bother me about this. The first is the fragmenting of civic identity into ever smaller, and more disparate, spheres — Florida, for example, has more than 100 logos one can emblazon on their plates. It isn’t enough to simply be a resident of the state, you have to be “resident of state with X affiliation.” The second is that we don’t really know how these sorts of things affect traffic. As the sociologist Norbert Schmidt-Relenberg argues, traffic, at least in anonymous environments like highways, is a case in which the “less its participants come into contact with each other and are compelled to interaction, the better it works: a system defined and approved in the reality by a principle of minimized contact.” Adding extraneous messages to license plates introduces noise into the system, reasons to interact beyond mere driving.

Of course, there may be a reason South Carolina drivers may look for a little faith-based road salvation. A recent study by Nationwide Mutual Insurance (albeit with very sketchy self-reported data) found the Palmetto State to lead the nation in texting while driving. And if you’re going to patently dangerous things like that, better to meet one’s maker, I suppose, with an appropriate calling card on one’s car.

Posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 at 7:59 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

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

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

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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

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 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

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



June 2008

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