Archive for March 5th, 2009

Driving in the Cradle of Civilization

An excellent BBC dispatch from Iraq notes the return of traffic police to the capital. I liked these lines, which describe the capital after the US-led invasion:

Traffic signals and direction signs became museum pieces, fragments of a dead language.

You might see a 13-year-old boy driving a pick-up at high speed in the wrong lane, or a driver stopping his car in the middle of the road to chat to a friend.

Or you might pull over at the sound of an ambulance siren, only to find that someone had rigged one to a donkey cart. Of course, senior officials travelled in convoys at top speed in the wrong direction – and would be followed by a trail of madcap drivers trying to keep open this temporary gap in the congestion.

Baghdad has no parking restrictions. You could just pull up your car wherever you like. Something the car bombers used to good effect – you could drive right up to your target and no-one would stop you.

Posted on Thursday, March 5th, 2009 at 7:21 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘…and I want to paint it black…’

Speaking of traffic lights, apparently there’s a movement afoot to paint them black.

Reports The Birmingham News:

“Several states along the West Coast’s Sunbelt: California, Arizona and Nevada, use traffic signals encased in black housing to reduce glare, especially at sunrise or sunset. The black paint absorbs the sunlight instead of reflecting it back into the eyes of the driver.”

And a refreshingly frank assessment from the city’s engineer:

Birmingham Traffic Engineer Greg Dawkins said the black signal heads look better. “I found no compelling reason to keep the yellow, except that is the way it has always been done,” he said.

Posted on Thursday, March 5th, 2009 at 6:52 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Self-Organizing Behavior at W. Broadway and Grand

Reader Timothy writes in about the intersection of W. Broadway and Grand in Manhattan, “a notoriously noisy and difficult intersection.”

“This morning I watched for an hour while cars, trucks and pedestrians shared this space quietly…with civility!! little honking; no aggressive driving; no traffic cop.

Why? because the light was out.

No one had to speed up and honk to make the green light on time; no one honked or changed lanes to take advantage of the narrow window of time the light granted them. Everyone came to a stop, looked around, (wondering why the light was dead, and what they should do) and proceeded slowly thru.

Instead of a line of cars waiting for the light to change, alternate sides vying w/ each other for the few precious moments allowing them the right to pass thru….no one had to wait very long. And in fact the alternate sides traded back and forth, almost at a one-to-one ratio. No one had to wait, so no one got stuck in a line, so no one sped up, so no one honked, so there was no need for aggressive driving! even pedestrians got their due.

This is interesting (and hard to believe no one honked!), and I’ve heard things like before — newspaper accounts of how people felt, in blackouts and such, the traffic actually worked better. Or of how traffic police do a better job than lights (though the classic problem with police is coordinating intersections). Of course, it’s hard to really gauge things like flow from one’s own car, although sensing cooperative behavior is certainly possible. Whether it would last over a week or a month, instead of in a temporary situation, is another question. Still, one also hears, in those same blackouts, about the number of traffic accidents, and how they must be attributable to the blackout. Though this doesn’t explain the accidents on those days when the lights are functioning; but again, real data, as far as I can tell, is thin on the ground here.

Posted on Thursday, March 5th, 2009 at 6:45 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



March 2009

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