Archive for June 8th, 2009

Safety in Numbers: A Few More Numbers

On heels of some recent findings in NYC that the cycle fatality rate has declined, I came across this report from CTC with a few other interesting stats:

1. London has seen a 91% increase in cycling since 2000 and a 33% fall in cycle casualties since 1994-98. This means that cycling in the city is 2.9 times safer than it was previously.

2. The Netherlands has witnessed a 45% increase in cycling from 1980-2005 and a 58% decrease in cyclist fatalities.

3. Copenhagen, 1995-2006: 44% increase in cycling, 60% decrease in KSIs, with cycle to work modal share rising from 31% to 36%.5.

Posted on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 1:22 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Things I Didn’t Know

An empty truck takes twice as long to stop as a full one. From 55 mph, a cargo-laden, 80,000-pound truck requires more than the length of a football field to stop on dry pavement. But the stopping distance doubles for an empty truck under the same conditions. “The braking systems on big rigs require both friction and traction,” explains Durant. “With an empty trailer, the braking capacity diminishes, and you lose traction. The rig could begin to bounce, or it might jackknife.

The whole piece, which contains a few other survival tips for driving among big rigs, is here.

Posted on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 9:30 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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It’s (More Than Just) the Economy

There has been much written about the recent drops in traffic fatalities being a result of the bad economy, or the efforts of traffic safety campaigns (which, however laudatory, sometimes doesn’t explain the full picture; Massachusetts has the lowest seat-belt-wearing rate in the country and also, paradoxically, has the nation’s lowest per-mile fatality rate).

A new brief paper by Michael Sivak, “Mechanisms involved in the recent large reductions in US road fatalities,” published in the latest issue of Injury Prevention, makes the case, as shown in the above graph, that road fatalities have dropped more than miles driven, suggesting it’s more than a mere “exposure” issue. “The reduction in road fatalities,” he argues, “is the result of a change not only in the amount of driving, but also in the type of driving.”

What’s changed? While miles traveled have dropped across the board, rural miles driven — which are more dangerous than urban miles driven — have had a particularly steep drop (probably because rural incomes are lower and thus more affected by the economy/higher fuel prices). Sivak also suggests, though this is more logical supposition than empirical fact, that discretionary driving (e.g., the trips we don’t have to make) has been the first to go in the national mileage profile. Discretionary driving is riskier than things like commuting to work, Sivak notes, as it tends to be marked by “higher speeds, greater involvement of alcohol, and more night-time driving.”

In other words, while the recent drops in fatalities are to be welcomed, it does not necessarily follow that they would hold once the money (and fuel) started flowing again.

Posted on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 9:14 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Monday Morning Traffic

Some random things on a too-busy Monday morning:

I’m briefly quoted in this piece about the ins-and-outs of parallel parking.

I also show up briefly and (seemingly) unidentified in this Good Morning America piece about Iain Couzin and ant traffic.

More on the theoretical physics of traffic. “A traffic jam starts with two vehicles and keeps on growing,” says Morris Flynn of the University of Alberta.

Why you shouldn’t help direct traffic at a crash site or similar situation.

New Mexico five-year-old sentenced for not wearing seat belt.

Roadguy ponders: Are shopping-mall stop signs optional?

Black-market parking: “Rogue valets” exposed in Los Angeles

Posted on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 7:30 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Accidental Journalist (first in a series)

As this blog has noted before, the news media seems to go out of its way to avoid ascribing personal responsibility in any sort of traffic crash (I am now calling this segment ‘The Accidental Journalist’). I just came across this weird doozy of a sentence in this article, about a “problem” intersection in Georgia:

On Deans Bridge Road at Gordon Highway, rear-end accidents are occurring in the right-turn lanes.

Drivers are stopping at the yield sign and causing accidents for those not paying attention behind them. Mr. Cassell said officials are looking at correcting the problem with new lane striping.

Let me get this straight. Drivers are stopping at the yield sign, which they are required to do when there is approaching traffic, and thus “causing accidents” to the poor sods (or “causing accidents for,” in this article’s odd wording) behind them who are not, uh, paying attention. I propose this wording: Inattentive drivers are crashing into the unsuspecting behinds of law-abiding folk.

I’m also not sure how you fix rear-end crashes with lane striping, FWIW.

Posted on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 6:16 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:

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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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