Archive for March 24th, 2009

Kiwi Kommuters in Krossing Kerfuffle, Khronikles Kent

Reader Kent (sorry about the headline, mate) writes in from New Zealand to comment on a quite controversial traffic rule, which seems as if it may be on the outs. As the image above shows, at uncontrolled intersections the car making a left turn (remember, they drive on the other side of the road, folks) must yield to an oncoming vehicle waiting to make a right turn across the intersection.

Judging by articles like this one, which clocked hundreds of violations at a single crossing, this is a law that is in serious conflict with the social norms.

The government is now looking into altering the law:

He said an initial analysis of a rule-change proposal in 2004 estimated it would mean at least eight to 24 fewer intersection casualty crashes a year.

Another ministry official confirmed later that the figure could be as high as 56 fewer injury crashes, yielding annual social cost savings of $12.8 million a year, if intersection safety improved as much as it did in Victoria after that Australian state reversed a similar rule in 1993.

Kent thought this practice might be called the “shortest radius” rule, and he speculates it had something to do with farm implements. He’s not sure where and when (and why) the practice began — any NZ engineers out there who can enlighten us?

The New Zealand Herald article notes this curious observation:

Left-turning drivers appeared to rely more on the whites of the eyes of those lining up in the opposing direction, rather than checking rear mirrors to see whether there were straight-heading vehicles behind to lend them cover.

Institution of Professional Engineers transport group chairman Bruce Conaghan believes it too risky to rely on left-turning traffic to predict the intentions of vehicles behind them, and says right-turning drivers have a far safer vantage point from which to judge when it is safe to go.

Maybe it’s late in the day here, and my head’s all turned round with this “wrong” side of the road stuff, but does this mean drivers can turn left on a multi-lane street from the lane not closest to the corner — i.e., so they’d be making a left turn across a stream of “inside lane” traffic that might be continuing straight from behind? That’s what I’m discerning from the quote above, but I may have it all wrong.

Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 5:09 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Mapping Traffic Laws

In the first of a series, the Insurers Institute for Highway Safety maps the dizzying patchwork of traffic laws across the country, starting with motorcycle/bicycle helmets (visit the actual site to activate the map).

I did not know there was a law on the NYC book that a passenger younger than one year old was not allowed (though I can’t say I’ve ever seen that law violated).

Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 4:43 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Boston Globe reports on a Cambridge mechanic who has installed his car’s steering wheel in the exact center of its dashboard.

I was particularly intrigued by this comment:

When he went to purchase car insurance he was told the premium would be $3,000 because the vehicle was so “unusual.” That was too steep for him, so he decided to keep the car strictly as a piece of spiritual artwork alongside dozens of other sculptures adorning his auto repair shop, Aladdin Auto Service.

How was this $3000 sum dreamed up? Are there actuarial tables for “unusual vehicles” — has someone calculated the average risk entailed by driving, say, a car that converts into a boat? Or is there a standard “nutty artist rate,” like for those goth hearses you sometimes see, or that “pedal car” that was in the news a while back? Come to think of it, I wonder what the insurance premium is for driving a right-side-drive car in the U.S.? Are those less safe because of the awkward fit with our roads, or does the driver increase his vigilance?

Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 4:33 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Where The Streets Have Too Many Lanes

In a piece in the The Oklahoman urban design guru Jeff Speck walks the streets of Oklahoma City and sees a traffic mirage:

“The jaw dropper for me is the city’s traffic count map,” Speck said. “If you walk the city, and you look at the streets, you would think because of the size of the streets that traffic is two to three times what is actually experienced. There is a shocking disconnect between the size and speediness of all of your downtown streets with a few rare exceptions…

…Speck showed the downtown street configurations to traffic engineers outside the state and their first response was to guess the street grid was set up for a downtown density and traffic volume comparable to Chicago or Manhattan.

They said this is a street network that will support three to four times the density it is handling,” Speck said. “Then you look at the traffic counts, and only a few carrying 10,000 a day. And 10,000 cars a day is easily handled by a two-lane road.”

I don’t know much about Oklahoma City (I’ve never been), but what’s with the highway-grade, six-laned streets? Is this is a relic of some oil boom? Was the city trying, through sheer boosterism and asphalt, to imagine itself as some Chicago of the plains? Evidently, it once had angled parking downtown; that, like two-way streets, were done away with by overzealous traffic engineers. It begs the question of when and how cities should downsize — or perhaps “rightsize,” to use that corporate euphemism of the 1980s.

(Via Planetizen)

Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 4:02 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The View from Down Under

After recently chatting with a journalist from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, I’ve got the country on my mind. I was interested to note that over the period from 1995 to 2004, total road deaths in Australia dropped 21%. In the U.S. over that same period, the number actually increased, by 2%.

Given that Australia and the U.S. have certain similar characteristics in roads and vehicles, the country is considered a particularly fruitful benchmark against the U.S. There are no doubt issues in terms of U.S. drivers having higher exposure, but measured in various ways (per person, per registered vehicle), the Australians logged much better performance over the same period.

Why? This DOT report, looking at the state of Victoria (as in the U.S., states can set their own road policies), cites the following as important, among other factors:

* Introduced a considerable number of traffic safety legislative and regulatory amendments to increase police powers, sharpen laws, and increase penalties. For example, a zero blood alcohol requirement was introduced for drivers in the first 3 years after licensing, the probationary license period was increased from 2 to 3 years, compulsory helmet wearing by bicyclists was introduced, the demerit points scheme was revised, and immediate license loss for all second and subsequent drunk-driver offenses was established.

* Introduced speed cameras as a method of speed limit enforcement.

* Increased random breath testing for the detection of alcohol-impaired drivers by a factor of at least five, to a point where (statistically) one in three Victorian drivers could be expected to be tested in any given year.

* Began a long-term program of public education to support specific safety initiatives and keep traffic safety in the public arena.

Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 12:32 pm 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:

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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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