Archive for February 10th, 2009

When Is a Stop Sign Not a Stop Sign

Reading this post about a law to allow cyclists to treat stop signs as a yield, something that invariably tends to raise ire among drivers (and some cyclists), reminded me of this post from a while ago — the video embedded there reminds us of the small fact that many drivers (at least in Kansas) already tend to treat “Stop” sign as a yield (at best).

And, in case you haven’t read it, after the jump I’ve posted the classic article (from Access magazine) by physicist Joel Fajans and Melanie Curry, “Why Cyclists Hate Stop Signs.”

(Horn honk to Richard)


Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 at 1:54 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Free Rider Problem

The BBC reports on the bumpy road for Paris’ Velib bike-sharing program.

The company which runs the scheme, JCDecaux, says it can no longer afford to operate the city-wide network.

Championed by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, the bikes were part of an attempt to “green” the capital.

Parisians took to them enthusiastically. But the bikes have suffered more than anticipated, company officials have said.

Hung from lamp posts, dumped in the River Seine, torched and broken into pieces, maintaining the network is proving expensive. Some have turned up in eastern Europe and Africa, according to press reports. \

The video below reveals the sort of users who were probably not part of the intended target audience.

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 at 11:08 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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I Respect Your Right to Drive Like a Maniac Down This Street, But…

Since so many drivers seem to lack any other kind, Needham, Massachusetts is hoping to appeal to their “emotional intelligence,” reports the Boston Globe.

As is so often the case, the community in question is trying to get people to drive more slowly on neighborhood streets with schools and children. The typical signage seems to do squat. As the story notes, “The idea is that seeing a child’s handwriting and drawing will make parents relate to the sign in a way they never would with an impersonal version.” In other words, it’s not the voice of the impersonal state, but a child — and how many SUVs loaded with parents’ own offspring are barreling down that road?

Interestingly, this idea did not stem from traffic engineers. Writs the Globe: “She said the novel approach came out of a conference she attended last year, when Daniel Pink, best-selling author of “A Whole New Mind,” talked about using so-called right-brain skills like empathy to communicate more effectively – and ultimately to be more successful.”

Pink himself “came upon the idea by accident while visiting a New York museum with his wife and three young children. The family took a break from touring to get something to eat at the museum cafeteria. ‘The line is just outrageously long,’ Pink recalled. ‘And I’m all stressed out about that because we don’t have a lot of time, and I don’t want to waste my time at this beautiful museum waiting for a grilled cheese sandwich.” Then he saw a sign that read, “Don’t worry. This line moves really quickly.’ Pink said he immediately felt much calmer and it made his entire experience at the museum better.’

This may all be a bit too soft for the New Yorker raised on “Don’t Even THINK of Parking Here” and its ilk. And I’m not sure about the legibility of those signs (then again, legibility is only half the issue). But I’m all for unconventional approaches, and this one seems an interesting parallel with the U.K.’s “road witch” trials and David Engwicht’s “intrigue and uncertainty” ethos, the idea that the “outdoor living room” of a residential street, one that shows signs of life, might be as or more effective than anonymous, disregarded signs. I’m also not sure about the ‘novelty effect,’ but in any case it will be interesting to see how it plays out (the town is trying the ’empathetic’ signage for other purposes, as well). I like the idea of simply posting images of huge sets of eyes with any traffic message, as psychological experiments have shown how eye contact (not necessarily “real” eye contact) improves cooperation.

Part of me can’t help but to look at those “child-like” signs, meant to engender feelings of empathy for the nearby children, and think they almost say more about the drivers. We often hear about how children are “unpredictable” and do things like cross at inappropriate moments, but to look at the behavior of drivers through these school areas it is they who seem to be behaving without the appropriate amount of control and risk-awareness. How can a person drive in such an environment without the understanding that they are in the presence of unpredictability? (of course, with issues of speed, one tends to only hear from drivers about how they feel they are traveling at a speed that is safe for them, without taking into account the ethical dimension of how their behavior raises the risks to others). To take the analogy further, how many “children” do we see out on the roads, hostile to being reigned in, thinking that parental rules don’t apply to them, selfish to the extreme (swap a toddler’s crying for the horn), angry when their toys are taken away (how dare you remove parking spots!).

What do y’all think — more carrot, less stick? Or the reverse? Or a whole new way of thinking about the problem?

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 at 10:13 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Drivers Go Off the Rails in Wales

The BBC reports on how the number of “near misses” at level train crossings in Wales from drivers who do not see, or willfully disregard the warning, is rising. The harrowing footage is here.

In the case shown, “the motorist admitted dangerous driving, claiming he did not see the flashing lights and failed to notice cars waiting at the crossing.” The article also notes that: “The court heard that his wife had been so traumatised by the experience that the couple had had to move to a nearby town.”

What’s interesting about the report is the stiffness of the fine, higher than many I’ve seen in the U.S. for negligent driving that did cause a crash (this was just a hair’s breadth away from that happening in this case, judging by the video). Of course, with train crossings, one driver’s action could jeopardize the lives of many more people than in a typical traffic scenario (not to mention granting themselves a likely death sentence).

The motorist was given 12 month suspended sentence and ordered to do 180 hours of community service. He was also disqualified from driving, made to take an extended test after 12 months and fined £722.

I’m all for increased driver responsibility but one wonders what design or “nudge” solution there might be for improving safety at these crossings.

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 at 8:34 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”
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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
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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
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Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
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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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