Archive for October 21st, 2008

Obsessive Traffic Photo Studies

Two recent entries have crossed my desk. One, from Martin Parr, who I interviewed some years back. Parr, who makes the banal seem lurid, and vice versa, turns his lens now on the humble parking space. Pictured at right is Mexico City, home of course to the famous “viene viene” boys, who hang around street corners and wave drivers into spots that they’ve secured with chairs, as pictured.

The description for Parking Spaces reads so:

“Between 2002 and 2007, Martin Parr photographed ‘the last parking space’ available in 41 countries – somewhere you could have parked your car, had you been there at the time. Using a compact camera, and driven by wanting to express “the individual frustration of finding somewhere to park, but on a global level”, this is the latest body of work in Martin’s methodical personal address to the issues of globalisation – the desire for a precious parking space being a banal unifier of the middle classes the world over.”

Meanwhile, the always interesting Mikael Colville-Andersen over at Copenhagenize has contributed Stripey Streetness, which, as the description notes:

“A splendid photo series about the zebra crossing as an instantly recognisable symbol in the urban landscape. 130 photographs from 10 countries celebrating that striped zone created in order to keep people out of harm’s way by providing safe passage across city streets. Painted bridges that guide the bustling masses of pedestrians through a city. The zebra crossing is not a destination it itself but it is an important tool in getting yourself from A to B. It funnels all types of people together into one space, for a few brief minutes of togetherness. We are strangers but while waiting for the light to change and for those dozen or so steps through the zone we are in a flock. This photo series shows city life and city people framed within the zebra crossing. People coming and going and waiting. All of them telling us stories with their body language. Wide strides or short steps. Hunched shoulders or head held high. The zebra crossing becomes a stage on which people around the world are brought together.”

Not sure if he’s got Shibuya in there…

Posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 5:06 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Strange History of Sight Lines

“Already in 1285 central government intervention decreed in the Statute of Winchester that a passage should be cleared for two hundred feet on each side of the road ‘so that their neither be dyke nor bush whereby a man may lurk to do hurt’ — a provision of sight-lines on a scale even dwarfing that of modern motorways.”

That’s from Sylvia Crowe’s The Landscape of Roads, 1960.

Posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 2:59 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Is There a Guiness Book Entry for Traffic Jams?

Bloomberg notes a colossal jam in Moscow:

Traffic jams paralyzed practically all the major arteries of the capital on Tuesday morning,” state broadcaster Vesti-24 reported. “The overall length of traffic jams in the capital at 9:45 a.m. exceeds 500 kilometers.”

It added:

“Sao Paulo, which is Brazil’s and Latin America’s largest city, with a notorious traffic problem, posted a record on May 9 when 266 kilometers of traffic was at a standstill, according to the state’s traffic department. That’s about half the figure in Moscow this morning.

Posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 2:37 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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“Stupidity Blamed for Road Deaths”

Apparently, they don’t mince words in Australia. Story here.

Posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 2:12 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Getting It Wrong in Montogomery County

As was recently reported in the Washington Post, Montgomery County, Md., is planning an overhaul of its “road code,” the sort of thing that seems like a bureaucratic footnote but then goes on to have major implications in the built environment.

Among the major issues, the newspaper reported:

The panel recommended that roads in urban areas be designed for speed limits of 30 to 40 mph, saying anything slower would be unrealistic and difficult for police to enforce. The panel also said trees should be planted farther from curbs on roads with 40 mph speed limits because of the danger they pose to motorists who hit them.

What strikes me in discussions like these is the weird disconnect between design and driver behavior. One of the reasons it can so often be difficult to enforce lower speed limits is that these limits are posted on roads that are intensely over-engineered. The supposed “fix,” as suggested above, is to assume that drivers are going to drive at a certain speed, and so to then rearrange the entire landscape — removing trees, etc. — to allow them to do so “safely.”

Of course, on the road “designed” for speed limits of 30 to 40 mph, they will inevitably drive faster. But then, of course, if someone crashes and kills a pedestrian or another driver, it’s an “accident,” it’s down to driver behavior; if they smash into a tree, it’s deemed poor traffic safety engineering. As the work of Eric Dumbaugh has found, looking at streets like the one above, at Stetson University in Florida, often the worst safety performance comes on the roads that are deemed “safe” by traffic engineers, while the best can come on tree-lined streets like the one above (which had no crashes and speeds below 30 mph during the five years he looked at it).

We consistently get urban speeds wrong in the U.S. In Germany, the land where speed is supposedly worshipped, the speed-limit free sections of the autobahn are contrasted by a mandatory, heavily enforced 30 KPH (that’s 18 mph, folks) limit in residential areas.

Another classic specter the article invokes is emergency response times. Any time a group seeks to lower speeds on a road, there are dark projections made of people being killed in fires because firefighters will be held up on traffic calmed streets. Well, for one, have you ever seen these vehicles on the way to an incident? They often don’t actually drive that much faster than anyone else — particularly since cars frequently don’t get out of the way in time — but I wonder if the lights and sirens and the panic they induce may make us overestimate their sense of urgency. In any case, studies have suggested that emergency-response teams are as likely to be help up by random traffic delays and the like as anything else.

But the larger issue is risk. As Reason magazine has pointed out, the risk of dying in a fire in the U.S. is roughly the same as drowning: In one year, 1 in 88,000, and, over a lifetime, 1 in 1100. The risk of dying in a car crash, according to the article, is 1 out of 6500 in a year. The risk of being killed while being a pedestrian? “A one-year risk of one in 48,500 and a lifetime risk of one in 625.”

Designing roads to meet some supposed emergency response criteria, for that dramatic last-second rescue, actually helps raise the risk of dying in a much more common way: In traffic.

Posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 8:41 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



October 2008

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