Archive for June 16th, 2009

Perpetual Rest

The interstate system was created in 1956 as the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, and everything about it is perfectly uniform and federally mandated, right down to the width of the dotted white line. Rest areas, however, have been the holdout of states’ rights, most of them designed in a way that’s consistent throughout a state and different from those in the commonwealth next door. Codified in federal jargon as “safety rest areas,” they grew out of the fear that as millions of us took to the road cross-country for the first time, we’d need regular resting outposts to keep us from barreling into each other.

That’s from an excellent piece over at Good, the sort of story after my own heart — the social and design history of a curious piece of vernacular architecture (the highway rest stop) one that now seems in decline.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 at 12:53 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Slingshot Effect

Reader Brad writes in with a query:

I wondered if you could indulge me by trying to answer a question that has long puzzled me; I drive mostly on rural roads, and not infrequently must follow a slower car until the opportunity to pass occurs. Often, as I pass I notice the other car speeding up slightly — at least 5–8 mph it seems over its previous speed; almost a magnetic or slingshot effect. I have even noticed that at times I do it myself, involuntarily, as I am being passed! Is this a recognized phenomenon with its own name?

Has anyone else experienced this? One answer may be that the driver being passed has simply lost track of his speed, and being passed suddenly alerts them that they may be driving slowly; speeding up may be a sort of panic response. Another answer is that the sight of being passes awakens some competitive impulse, a version of the “territorial defense” mechanism theorized by Barry Ruback — even if the territory is abstract road space, and the person passing in this case is actually not competing for the same resource, given that they’re in the opposing lane. Or maybe they’re just playing chicken.

In Traffic I note a strange, somewhat related version of this phenomenon, which I call “passive-aggressive passing” — someone bullies you out of the left-lane, you dutifully get over, and they then pull in front of you, and drive slower than they were when they were on your tail. It’s as if all they wanted was to get you to pull over.

But I have no doubt there may be less than noble motives at work in these cases. I myself am guilty of doing something like the following: I will be driving along (in say the middle lane) when I notice someone coming at a high speed on the right side. It seems as if their intent is to cut in front of me, in the small space I have left between myself and the vehicle in front of me. Annoyed by this person’s behavior — the idea that they may pass close to me at a high speed, perhaps forcing me to brake — I have at times slightly accelerated, so that I move closer to the vehicle that is ahead of them in their own lane. The result is that they must hit the brakes, and try something else.

Immature? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s simply pro-social altruistic punishmenthomo reciprocans.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 at 8:10 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Contention Pricing

Peter Gordon debates Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times on the federal-funded pilot project to introduce congestion (variable HOT) pricing to local freeways in L.A.

Rutten notes it’s not true congestion pricing:

Oddly enough, no solo drivers will be admitted when average speeds in the new high-occupancy toll lanes fall below 45 miles per hour. That’s to keep them from getting clogged, but the result is that there will be congestion pricing — except when the highways are most congested.

Gordon notes that, responding to the inequity claim, that Angelenos, in essence, already pay a congestion charge. It’s called time (which equals money).

First, if price does not ration road space, something else will. This means that heavy traffic on roads and highways that aren’t priced is a given. It is the default rationing mechanism. Anything made available without charge is quickly crowded. None of this is a matter of ideology, as Rutten seems to think.

The Times itself largely agrees with Gordon.

Most highway improvements are paid for with state and federal taxes on gasoline. This is an extremely regressive tax, not only because rich and poor alike pay the same amount, but because poor people typically can’t afford modern gas-sipping vehicles — there are a lot more Priuses in Santa Monica than in South L.A. Congestion pricing, though, imposes a user fee; only the people who use toll lanes pay the cost, and the people who use them tend to have higher incomes. It’s hard to imagine a fairer system.

In truth, low-income commuters stand to benefit a great deal from L.A.’s experiment. Only 25% of the project’s budget will be spent on developing the new toll lanes; the bulk of the money will pay for public-transit improvements, including the purchase of 57 new express buses traveling the affected routes. And by law, the money from the tolls must be spent on transit or carpool improvements in the same corridor where the funds were generated.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 at 7:49 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:

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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



June 2009

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