Archive for June 2nd, 2009

From Insects to Interstates

If time permits I’ll be attending this entry at this year’s New York Science Festival (I’ve interviewed all three of the participants).

From Insects to Interstates

Friday, June 12, 2009, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM,
Kimmel Center, NYU

Can marching ants, schooling fish, and herding wildebeests teach us something about the morning commute? In a unique melding of mathematics, physics, and behavioral science, this program examines the creative and sometimes counterintuitive solutions to one of the modern world’s most annoying problems.

Iain Couzin

Iain Couzin is Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. He studies the actions and interactions that give rise to collective behavior — from marching ants and swarming locusts to flocking birds and crowds of people — and what we might learn from successful swarming.

Mitchell Joachim

Mitchell Joachim is on the faculty at Columbia University and Parsons School of Design. He is a partner in Terrefuge, a New York-based organization for philanthropic architecture and ecological design. His design of a compact, stackable “city car,” developed with the MIT Smart Cities Group, won the 2007 Time Magazine “Best Invention of the Year.”

Anna Nagurney

Anna Nagurney is the John F. Smith Memorial Professor in the Department of Finance and Operations Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focuses on congested transportation networks and their relationship within different systems ranging from the Internet to global supply chains to electric power generation and distribution networks.

Posted on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 at 5:29 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Geekiest Sentence I Read Today

“While in 1983 a pothole would need to be over 3 inches in depth and over 30 inches in
length to pose a rim damage threat to even a mini-compact vehicle, in 2006 holes as shallow as
1½ inches no more than 16 inches long could, in theory, cause rim damage.”

That’s from Influence of Road Surface Discontinuities on Safety: State of the Art Report, a new TRB circular.

The reason is “plus-size tire rims,” a form of road social signaling that basically says, “I’ve got money to spare on rims” that will soon need to be replaced.

“The principal disadvantages [of plus-size rims] are many and include cost, weight, fuel economy, ride quality and wet grip/snow traction, as well as indicate hydroplaning resistance. Perhaps more serious downsides include reduced load-carrying capacity at extremely low aspect ratio, a shift in the handling balance toward oversteer and a slight increase in rollover propensity. A further disadvantage is that the increased vertical stiffness of low aspect ratio tires means they act as shock transmitters rather than shock absorbers. Safety implications arise when a motorist will agree to replace a bent wheel that is no longer able to hold air, but will continue to use an injured tire since the damage is internal and not visible to the naked eye.” (Walter, J. Style Over Substance. Tire Technology International, March 2006.)

The authors also conclude, by the way, that potholes have little negative effect on road safety.

And one last thing: The vehicle brand above is now the property of an obscure Chinese company. Will they still be adorned with all those ultra-patriotic bumper stickers?

Posted on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 at 4:53 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Speed Trials

Reading this article about “intelligent speed adaptation” — or devices that limit speeds according to the posted speed of the road (imagine that!) — in Australia (where most of the ISA research is being conducted), I was curious about this phrase:

In cases of emergency there is an override system whereby the driver can either flick a switch or floor the accelerator to disable the safety device and put the car back in manual control.

The immediate question that springs to mind is how long can the device be disabled for? Would drivers not simply disable it for their entire trip? Is ISA meant to be a merely advisory technology, a bit of feedback to discourage speeding, or an actual enforcement mechanism? I tend to think the whole issue of hypothetical speeding for some emergency is a bit overblown (when compared to the potential safety benefits of ISA) — for something like crash avoidance, braking is typically just as valid a response. On the other hand, there are moments on Australian roads, as in the photo above, where a bit of speed might be desirable.

Posted on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 at 12:50 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:

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



June 2009

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