Archive for February 16th, 2009

Jack Martin on Hypermiling

Interesting road-trip with 2008 hyper-miling champion Jack Martin, particularly for his comments about trucks and bikes.

(Thanks Ed!)

Posted on Monday, February 16th, 2009 at 3:36 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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9/11 and the Subsequent Rise in Traffic Fatalities: More Exposure, or More Stress?

There have been a number of papers that have argued that have identified a post 9/11 uptick in traffic fatalities, theoretically based on a rise in driving, itself motivated by a fear/dread of flying (most notably, Gerd Gigerenzer, 2004, “Dread risk, September 11, and fatal traffic accidents,” in Psychological Science).

A new paper, “Driving Under the Influence (of Stress): Evidence of a Regional Increase in Impaired Driving and Traffic Fatalities After the September 11 Terrorist Attacks,” by Alexander J. Rothman, et al., also in Psychological Science, comes to a rather different conclusion.

“Although we confirmed that U.S. domestic air travel decreased significantly following September 11,” the authors write, “our analyses did not support the claim that there were notable increases in driving miles and in traffic fatalities across the United States after that date. In fact, total U.S. driving miles in the post-September months in 2001 did not differ significantly from total U.S. driving miles in the same months in 1999 and 2000, and the observed increase in total U.S. driving miles in October through December 2001 appears normative when examined within broader historical trends. The number of fatal traffic accidents in the United States did increase, albeit only marginally, in the 3 months following September 11, but there was no evidence of an overall increase in traffic fatalities.”

They did find one change amidst the data, however: “We did obtain evidence that the terrorist attacks had a systematic, but localized, effect on traffic fatalities.” The “localized” effect was on the Northeast, the region arguably the most directly impacted by the September 11th attacks. “Our analysis revealed a significant increase in traffic fatalities in the Northeast in the final 3 months of 2001.”

They continue: “To examine regional differences in traffic fatalities further, we used alcohol- or drug-related citations and reckless-driving citations as two behavioral indicators of psychological distress… [W]e found a significant increase in the number of alcohol- or drug-related citations issued in connection with such accidents during the last 3 months of 2001, but only in the Northeast. The concurrent regional increases in traffic fatalities and in alcohol- or drug-related citations lend support to our second hypothesis—namely, that behaviors impairing the quality of driving increased in those regions most affected by the terrorist attacks, and may have contributed to the observed elevation in percentage of traffic fatalities. This effect is consistent with other findings indicating that exposure to traumatic events is associated with an increased use of psychoactive substances, especially alcohol (e.g., Chilcoat & Menard, 2003; Pfefferbaum & Doughty, 2001)…”

Interestingly, they found the rate was the effect was highest in New York State, though they caution that “that meaningful operationalization of geographic proximity can be complicated and remains a task that is beyond the scope of this article.”

So, if correct, the study implies that it wasn’t a mere affect of people driving more miles to avoid airplane travel, but that their behavior on the road had in some way changed (one Israeli study found a similar increase in fatal crashes in the days following suicide bombings). My initial instinct was to think that a rise in drunk driving crashes might make sense from the perspective that more traffic enforcement officials were pulled off the roads and put into other duties in the wake of 9/11, although that wouldn’t necessarily explain the rise in citations. Another issue is to break down more specifically what kinds of roads people were driving on after 9/11, as Michael Sivak and Michael Flannagan have done, although, interestingly, this seems to potentially add weight to this study: Sivak and Flannagan found “the largest increase [in driving] occurred on local roads, not interstate highways that would be the main alternative to flying. Local roads, both urban and rural, accounted for 45 percent of the increase in traffic deaths.” Presumably, people swapping out flights for long-haul driving would be on those interstate highways, not local roads. As Rothman and his colleagues caution, “the rates of fatal traffic accidents, and hence fatalities, may have increased in the Northeast after the attacks as a result of more people driving in unfamiliar areas because of road closures and detours.”

Lastly, one can’t be certain that aggressive driving or impaired driving is a sign of “psychological distress.” Still, the pattern, localized in time and place, seems very real and suggestive.

(Horn honk to Shirl)

Posted on Monday, February 16th, 2009 at 3:24 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic in Numbers

If you’ve ever wanted to know what Harper’s Index has to say about traffic, look no further (the number refers to the date of publication, and the source is listed below each item).

12/86 Rank of drugs among the most pressing city problems cited by Washington, D.C., blacks: 1
Washingtonian magazine

Rank of traffic among the problems cited by Washington, D.C., whites: 1
Washingtonian magazine

1/88 Percentage change in alcohol-related U.S. traffic deaths in 1986: +7
Dr. Ralph Hingson, School of Public Health, Boston University

10/88 Estimated percentage of U.S. gasoline consumption that occurs during traffic jams: 4
U.S. Department of Transportation

8/88 Chances that a New York City traffic officer was assaulted on the job in 1987: 1 in 5
Department of Transportation (N.Y.C.)

9/88 Average fine in Bavaria, West Germany, for calling a traffic officer a damischer Bulle (stupid bull): $1,710
Franz Spelman, Time (Munich, West Germany)

For calling a traffic officer a Stinkstiefel (smelly boot): $51
Franz Spelman, Time (Munich, West Germany)

10/90 Percentage increase, since last year, in the number of traffic accidents in East Germany: 49
German Information Center (New York City)

2/90 Percentage change, since 1974, in the amount of commercial air traffic in the United States: +100
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration

Percentage change, since 1974, in the number of commercial airports in the United States: 0
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration

9/90 Rickshaws the city of Jakarta, Indonesia, has dumped into the ocean since 1985 to reduce traffic congestion: 100,000
The Australian (Sydney)

5/91 Size of one traffic jam in Tokyo last year, in miles: 84
Washington Report (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

12/95 Estimated amount of gasoline wasted in U.S. traffic jams each day, in gallons: 12,600,000
Texas Transportation Institute (College Station, Tex.)

6/95 Average speed of a car crossing midtown Manhattan during the day, in miles per hour: 5.3
Ruben Ramirez, New York City Department of Transportation

Maximum average speed in miles per hour that Manhattan’s traffic commissioner believes is achievable: 9
Ruben Ramirez, New York City Department of Transportation

1/98 Percentage change since 1982 in the average amount of time an American is delayed by traffic congestion: +95
The Campaign for Efficient Transportation (Washington)

9/98 Number of air-traffic controllers ordered to take a two-hour “refresher” course last spring: 10,000
Federal Aviation Administration (Washington)

9/98 Number of times last June that air-traffic controllers lost track of the altitude or speed of Air Force I or II: 4
Federal Aviation Administration (Washington)

6/99 Percentage change since 1990 in the number of U.S. traffic disputes in which one driver kills or injures another: +59
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (Washington)

11/00 Average annual number of traffic accidents in Iowa caused by low visibility due to corn stalks: 65
Iowa Department of Transportation (Ames)/Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)

2/00 Ratio of the number of Americans killed in traffic accidents in 1998 to the number killed by medical errors: 1:1
Institute of Medicine (Washington);

5/00 Rank of traffic accidents among the leading causes of death for on-duty U.S. police officers last year: 1
U.S. Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation

7/01 Estimated cost of fuel consumed in 1999 by U.S. drivers caught in traffic delays: $8,600,000,000
Texas Transportation Institute (College Station)

10/02 Number of traffic tickets issued in July by British Columbia police officers posing as squeegee men: 90
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Burnaby, B.C.)

8/03 Ratio of the estimated number of people killed worldwide by war last year to the number killed by traffic: 1:4
World Health Organization (Geneva)

6/05 Portion of the world’s motor vehicles that are in China: 1/17
World Business Council for Sustainable Development (Geneva)

Portion of the world’s annual traffic fatalities that are: 1/5
World Health Organization (Geneva)

7/05 Percentage of U.S. auto travel that occurs on two-lane roads: 28
The Road Information Program (Washington)

Percentage of traffic fatalities that do: 52
The Road Information Program (Washington)

11/06 Amount that U.S. embassy staff in London owe in unpaid traffic charges: $1,600,000
Transport for London

6/07 Portion of all Internet traffic today that is file sharing of music, films, and videos: 2/3
CacheLogic (Cambridge, England)

10/08 Percentage by which the average incidence of fires and traffic accidents on Fridays the 13th differs from that of other Fridays: –4
Centrum voor Verzekeringsstatistiek (The Hague, Netherlands)

7/08 Minimum number of U.S. cities that have shortened the yellow light on traffic signals to under the legal limit: 6
National Motorists Association (Waunakee, Wisc.)

9/08 Minutes that Minneapolis drivers can legally idle while not in traffic, per a new city ordinance: 3
Minneapolis Public Affairs

Posted on Monday, February 16th, 2009 at 10:50 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Are Traffic Problems Population Problems?

A while ago, someone asked me what we could do to solve traffic problems. I was feeling flippant, so I said: “Birth control.”

I was reminded of this in a recent flurry of articles about overpopulation (here, for example), something that was broached again with the sordidly surreal “octuplets” case.

But in the U.S., at least, not all the news is bad, as reported by the New York Times:

“And besides, they say, the birth rate in the United States is barely at the level needed to replace the population. Total fertility rate, which predicts the number of children an average woman will have in her lifetime, reached 2.1, considered replacement level, in 2006, but it was the first time it had been that high since 1971. A small percentage of large families, they say, is not enough to tip the balance.”

Given that we’ve added roughly 100 million people since 1968, one does have to wonder, however, about the link between a growing population (via births or immigration) and consistently rising travel times (NB: traffic is far down on my list of “things to be worried about by a growing population”). But looking at some research by Steven Polzin, at the University of South Florida, this relationship is not as simple as it might seem.

The first thing to note, as in the slide below, is that while population has been on the rise, it is far outpaced by “vehicle miles traveled.” It’s not just how many people we have, it’s how much they’re driving.

And while it is inherently true that larger families consume more resources, including miles traveled, there is something of an “economy of travel” as household size increases. Most interesting, though, for travel demographers is the increasing number of single-person households, as in the slide below.

Also of interest is the issue of rising income, and the decreasing cost of travel.

And there’s the people who didn’t have cars who increasingly seem to have one.

Polzin himself does not put population at the top of causal factors for the increase in VMT (and thus, relatedly, congestion); but instead, “trip frequency.”

It goes without saying that population plays some role in contributing to congestion. But what is arguably more critical is a number of demographic changes in the population itself, including the way it has chosen to live (non-walkable neighborhoods in far-flung suburbs, meaning more trips and longer trips — a trend that Richard Florida suggests may have reached its zenith in the current economic meltdown), declining walk-to-work and walk-to-school shares, increasing numbers of cars per household, higher shares of licensed teenage drivers, declining carpool participation rates, under-priced car travel, declining transit funding, etc. etc.

For an example of how things can be done differently, we can look no further than NYC, where a recent study found that between 2003 and 2007, even as the city continued to grow (economically and population-wise), vehicle traffic actually dropped. Granted, the subway cars have felt more crowded since the introduction of the Metrocard, but unlike vehicular traffic, an absolutely packed train travels at essentially the same speed as an empty one.

Posted on Monday, February 16th, 2009 at 10:36 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



February 2009

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