Archive for September 26th, 2008


Here’s another in the ongoing series of unconventional traffic-calming treatments. Over at Cognitive Edge they’ve got photographs of a recent community project to put up so-called “scare-cars,” or traffic-calming scarecrows, in a small English village that apparently gets occasionally overrun thanks to sat-nav-enabled shortcut seekers. This taps into the idea that people slow for novel things, or when reminded they’re in a human place.

Bonus points for socio-economic realism: There has been a documented outmigration of “Polish plumbers” from England back to the more favorable climes of Poland.

(thanks to John Dodds)

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2008 at 2:06 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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This Takes Some Doing

From the BBC:

“Sao Paolo police who pulled over Armando Clemente da Silva were shocked to discover he had clocked up nearly 1,000 violations, local media report.

Mr da Silva had accumulated the fines for speeding and running red lights over a seven-year period.

The driver, 36, said he had not received any penalty tickets because he had been too busy to register his car.”

The driver, incidentally, owes close to two million dollars. The car is worth about $6500.

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2008 at 1:51 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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We Are Using Up Each Other’s Lives

I last read Martin Amis’ novel London Fields ages ago, before I ever started thinking about traffic. But this passage begs a revisit:

“Now — the streets, the traffic. We know that traffic reflects the temperaments of the great capitals (and here in a farewell flourish I invoke my world citizenship): the unsmiling triumphalism of Paris, the fury and despair of old New York, the cat-and-mouse audacity of Rome, the ragged murder of Cairo, the showboat longevity of Los Angeles, the industrial durance of Bombay or Delhi, where, four times a day, the cars lash the city in immovable chains. But here, in London — I just don’t get it.

They adore doubleparking. They do. This is true love — a love whose month is ever May. They park in the middle of the goddamned street. I turned into the All Saints Road — and it wasn’t a road any longer. It was a lot, a doubleparking lot. The traffic lights are barely more than decoration, like Christmas lights. You hit a red at the crossroads but you inch forward anyway, in the lock, into the headlock. You may even decide the time is ripe to get out and run an errand. Why? Why not? Everybody else does it. It seems clear to me, after five seconds’ thought,t hat if everybody does it then nobody gets around, nobody gets anywhere. But everybody does it because everybody does it. And here’s the other thing: hardly anyone seems to mind. At the crossroads the drunken youth drops out of his van and waddles into GoodFicks or Potato Love or the Butchers Arms, and the cars don’t mind. They just nudge and shove each other, the old heaps, and not angrily, in this intimacy of metal and rust and not getting anywhere.

That was more or less how it was ten years ago. That was more or less how it was ten days ago. Now, in the last little packet of time, it’s all changed. We have moved from purgatory to full inferno. And suddenly everybody minds. Even the gentler sex. And if plump mums scream over the grizzle of their strapped kids, if old ladies in old Morrises parturate with venom and smack freckled fists on the horn, then how are the men taking it? Four times in the last few days I have sat tight in the car, gridlocked under the low sun, with no way out, while jagged figures discover what the hard machine can do to the soft: what the hood of the car can do to the human nose and mouth, what the tyre-iron can do to the back of the human head. Traffic is a contest of human desire, a waiting game of human desire. You want to go there. I want to go here. And, just recently, something has gone wrong with traffic. Something has gone wrong with human desire.

I don’t get it. No — I do! Suddenly I do, though there’s no real reason (is there?) why anybody else should. In traffic, now, we are using up each other’s time, each other’s lives. We are using up each other’s lives.”

(Honk o’ the horn to The Monuments We Build).

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2008 at 1:48 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Ramping Up in Atlanta

One of the themes in Traffic is the difficulty individual drivers can have in understanding how the system as a whole functions. Ramp meters are a perfect example: Many drivers, particularly at the moment they are asked to pause at the ramp-meter light before joining the freeway, are under the impression that they make congestion worse than if the highway were left to its “natural” state.

But a recent example from Atlanta provides yet another example of how ramp meters generally help, not hurt, traffic flow. Drivers may have to wait briefly on a ramp, but this typically means a faster trip on the “main line.” The concept is in some ways similar to way “congestion windows” are used to manage things like Internet traffic, holding up bits of incoming data if the network is already crowded.

Atlanta, by way of introduction, home of some of the U.S. worse congestion, has embarked on a ramp-meter spree, with 70 new signals coming online. In a recent paper presented at the Institute for Transportation Engineers conference (by Marion G. Waters III at Gresham, Smith and Partners), I came across this curious example of “before and after” (the after is in the photo above):

“A completely unexpected event occurred in March 2008 to validate the benefits of the existing ramp meters in use in Atlanta and to encourage their use in a system of traffic management.

A tornado hit downtown Atlanta for the first time (or at least in a very long time). It damaged one ramp meter and virtually destroyed another one. This was two of the four ramp meters being operated as a traffic-adjusted system on southbound I-75/85 in the downtown area.

The results were dramatic. Congestion on the main line of the freeway was noticeably worse, and the ramp congestion at the adjacent ramps became worse because the main line was completely full. Mainline operating speeds dropped (peak hour operating speeds) and were measured to be lower by as much as 16 mph in the most congested hour.

When these ramp meters were restored to full actuated operation, the conditions were reversed, demonstrating the effectiveness and value of the ramp meters working together in a system along a segment of freeway.”

The report goes on to note that since the meters were turned on in June, “the first indications are that free flow was extended an additional 10–20 minutes.”

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2008 at 12:54 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

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

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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



September 2008

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