Archive for January 30th, 2009

Non-compliant Signage

Posted on Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 4:56 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Gas Prices Drop, So Does Driving

Via Mobilizing the Region:

How times have changed. As of today, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $1.85. This may be just a temporary drop, but it’s nevertheless relatively cheap to drive again.

And yet Americans are continuing to cut back on driving. According to just released figures from the Federal Highway Administration’s Traffic Volume Trends report, Americans drove almost 13 billion fewer miles in November of 2008 than in November 2007, a decline of 5.3 percent. That is the second biggest drop in driving of any month this year, and it came even as gas prices were falling to the $2 per gallon range.

Through the first eleven months of 2008, driving has fallen an astonishing 102 billion miles, a drop of 3.5 percent over the same period in 2007. Assuming that trend holds true through the end of the year, it would represent the biggest decline in driving since World War II.

Posted on Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 4:45 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Subway Reading

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ new 2009 “Pocket Guide to Transportation” is out and available here (as a pdf or a free hard-copy, that they’ll mail to you, courtesy of your tax dollars!).

It’s chock full of information, much of it rather depressing, like the attached chart, which is titled, “Transportation’s Share of U.S. Petroleum Use: 1975-2007.”

Note how the jump begins right around 1980, when Detroit really began to starting cranking up in earnest on the ‘light truck’ loophole (wiping out all the efficiency gains of the previous decades) the one that helped kill any impetus for innovation in Detroit and thus brings us to our current sorry state of affairs…

Posted on Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 4:06 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Model Behavior

Over a lunch I recently attended at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins, the talk turned briefly to the difficulty of modeling human behavior in large-scale evacuations of people in cars, as occurred during some of the recent hurricanes. “What happens when the driver turns around and sees a big black cloud in the sky?” as one person put it.

Of course, modeling routine traffic behavior presents myriad challenges of its own, which is probably why it is still such a robust activity. As Dirk Helbing notes in his article, “Traffic and related self-driving many-particle systems,” in Reviews of Modern Physics, “Altogether, researchers from engineering, mathematics, operations research, and physics have probably suggested more than 100 different traffic models, which cannot all be covered by this review.” (the article, by the way, is 75 pages long).

Some of these consider traffic flow as a kind of fluid behavior, some have looked at the behavior of “car following,” how one driver is “attracted” and “repulsed” by the person in front of them (which then laid the challenge of how to model a single driver, with no one ahead of him), others have delved into “cellular automata.” Some have tried to break driver behavior down into a complex range of attributes. But as Philip Ball notes in his excellent book Critical Mass, “the more complex the model, the harder it becomes to know what outcomes are in any sense ‘fundamental’ aspects of traffic flow, and which follow from the details of the rules.”

So while large-scale models can with some success predict, say, the formation of traffic jams, there’s an inherent amount of built-in “noise,” e.g., human behavior. For example, I have a bit of an aversion to driving right next to someone. If I’m cruising along at a comfortable speed, but then notice a car in the neighboring lane is unnervingly keeping the same speed, I will accelerate or decelerate, to have my own pocket of space. Are all drivers like this? If not, how many? How do you model something like that? (more…)

Posted on Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 2:10 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Agricultural Traffic Calming

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on a radical new traffic calming device potentially coming to my borough:

“It was also suggested that “barn-stands” be put in place at every intersection along Tillary, which would allow simultaneous crossing on all four sides and diagonal crossing from corner to corner — similar to what is permitted at Court and Montague streets in Downtown Brooklyn.”

What a lovely idea! Maybe even a petting zoo or two. There’s nothing nicer than a — wait, what’s a barn-stand? The stands inside a barn? A news-stand shaped liked a barn?

The writer actually misheard, in the style of “Kiss this Guy” and other misunderstood lyrics, a reference to a “Barnes Dance,” not a quaint Amish tradition but named for former NYC traffic commish Henry Barnes (though he invented the concept in Denver), and it refers to an “all-way pedestrian scramble” in which pedestrians briefly have right of way at all intersection crossings.

Still, I wouldn’t mind buying my NYT from a little red barn…

Posted on Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 8:46 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:

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage:

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency:

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau:

Order Traffic from:

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

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

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

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



January 2009

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