Archive for February 3rd, 2009

Not-in-Traffic Risk

There’s an old saw that says the only safe car is the one that never leaves the driveway, but a recent report from NHTSA highlights the danger that cars can pose even before they get into traffic.

The NiTS 2007 system provided information about an estimated 1,159 fatalities and 98,000 injuries that occurred in nontraffic crashes such as single-vehicle crashes on private roads, collisions with pedestrians on driveways, and two-vehicle crashes in parking facilities.”

All the sobering details are here.

Posted on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 at 5:09 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘It Was Just a Habit’

By simply installing feedback devices that alerted them to bad driving practices that diminished fuel efficiency, the city of Denver was able to improve MPG by 10% (remember, how you drive can be as influential as what you drive), reports the Los Angeles Times.

“Our fast starts and hard braking were virtually eliminated in the last six months,” he said. “This is about driver education and self-awareness — to make people more thoughtful.”

Juan Marsh, a field supervisor with Denver’s parks and recreation department, said he was surprised to learn about his driving habits — for example, how often he left his engine running while he visited a job site and spoke to a crew.

“It was just a habit,” Marsh said.

The feedback from his accelerometer “instantly made me conscious of those issues,” he said. “I just flat-out didn’t realize I was wasting fuel that way.”

I’m not sure if this was studied, but work by Green Road has found that, among drivers of fleet vehicles, those who had the best fuel economy in their driving also had the safest driving record.

(Horn honk to Planetizen)

Posted on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 at 4:54 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Black Budget

I sometimes suspect that China, for all the hue and cry of this being the “Chinese century” and how cities like Shanghai represent the future, is actually going to look obsolete and untenable in a number of decades (in a sort of Kunstlerian way, and the future really belongs to places like Denmark.

Via City Fix comes this interesting number:

“Last Thursday, the Danish government agreed to invest 94 billion kroner ($16 billion) to improve the nation’s roads, railways and bike lanes by 2020.

Traffic Minister Lars Barfoed was quoted by The Copenhagen Post as saying, “The shape of the agreement is clear: two-thirds green, one-third black,” meaning that most of the budget will go towards public transit infrastructure and the rest will be spent on asphalt road projects.

The U.S., by contrast, does things a little differently:

Government regulations and spending priorities have favored driving as the means of moving people and products since the Eisenhower administration and the advent of the Interstate Highway System. More than 80 percent of transit money from gas taxes supports highways and bridges, with the remainder, less than 20 percent, allocated for mass transit. Moreover, federal contributions to highway projects often cover more than 80 percent of the total construction costs, compared with only 50 percent of the typical cost for a transit system. Rail freight, which uses one-third as much energy per mile as trucking to ship a pound of cargo, has no federal funding at all.

In other news, Amsterdam residents on two-wheels have now eclipsed those on four.

People are using their bikes just a bit more than their cars, the figures from 2005-2007 show. Inhabitants of Amsterdam used their bikes .87 times per day during that time, while they used their cars .84 times a day. Amsterdam measured the traffic on its inner-city ring road, and found car trips falling nearly 15 percent since 1990, while bike trips during that same time period rose 36 percent.

One of the reasons: “restrictive parking practices enacted since the 1990’s.” Who says you need congestion pricing?

Posted on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 at 4:30 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Change I Can Believe In

Slate considers the oversized, typically egregious (try counting the number of empty cargo beds on these things, save the Costco run), inherently dangerous, fuel-guzzling — and, thankfully, slowly declining — Ford F-150:

“As prices spiked above $4 per gallon in May and June, the F-150 was overtaken on the monthly sales charts by a bunch of puny sedans with good fuel economy: the Toyota Corolla, Toyota Camry, and Honda Civic. With the 2008 F-150s failing to sell, Ford had to delay the launch of the 2009 model for two months while it pushed the previous year’s trucks off the lot at deep discounts, cutting into those $4,000-per-vehicle profit margins.”

Posted on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 at 4:20 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Why We Think White Stripes on the Highway Are Shorter Than They Really Are

In Traffic I mention one of the most common, and surprising, ways we are fooled by what we see on the road: White stripes. I was asked by one engineer to guess how long they are, and I was more than a bit off in my estimation.

It turns out I’m not alone. A fascinating new study, headed by Dennis Shaffer, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus and appearing in Perception & Psychophysics, asked a group of subjects to recall from memory — as well as look at a recreated “stripe” and during an actual drive — the length of the dashes. The most common answer was two feet — which is interesting considering the federal guideline calls for ten feet.

The finding holds implications for traffic safety. Each dashed line measures 10 feet, and the empty spaces in-between measure 30 feet. So every time a car passes a new dashed line, the car has traveled 40 feet. But in this study, people consistently judged the lines and the empty spaces to be the same size, claiming that both were two feet.

“This means that to most people, 40 feet looks like a lot less than 40 feet when they’re on the road,” Shaffer said. “People cover more ground than they think in a given period of time, so they are probably underestimating their speed.”

Interestingly, Shaffer began his pioneering research when the federal guideline was for fifteen feet, which has since shrunk. But no matter.

“Wherever the researchers went, they found all lines to be close to the federal guidelines of the time. In Arizona in 2000, for instance, some lines were 16 feet long instead of the expected 15.

But even back then — when the federal guideline was 15 feet — people still thought of lines as measuring only two feet.

What’s going on?

One possible explanation: as we drive, we look out far ahead the car for safety reasons, so the only lines we really see are faraway lines that look small.

Even though lines appear to expand as a car passes by, drivers can’t safely notice that effect. Rather, the first line we can comfortably look at while driving safely is some 120 feet ahead — the fourth line ahead on the road. So perhaps we think that all lines are as small in reality as that one faraway line appears to be.

But why are so many people consistently wrong, in exactly the same way?

As to why everyone’s estimates were consistent in every experiment, Shaffer suspects that the answer has something to do with how our brains perceive geometry. Engineers design roads, buildings, and public spaces using Euclidian geometry — the system of lines and angles first described by the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid. But this study and previous ones suggest that our brains perceive objects in a non-Euclidian way.

Might this cause a paradigm shift in the schools of highway engineering, a ‘non-Euclidian’ revolution? Maybe we shouldn’t use lines at all, and instead use random geometric patterns — Mandelbrotian fractals? — to delineate highway lines. In any case, the study is useful in quantifying what most engineers, and readers of Traffic, already know. Shaffer, meanwhile, carries on.

In the future, Shaffer will examine how people perceive the size of lines that are oriented at different angles — as if seen by a driver approaching a bend in a road — and how our perceptions affect our ability to judge the steepness of hills.

Posted on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 at 9:27 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.

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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



February 2009

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