Archive for September 15th, 2009


My latest Slate column considers transportation from an iPhone-centric point of view, with an eye toward ways apps might change the experience for the better. I’d be curious to hear what I left out (I omitted some things for space) or things that are in the works, or apps you’d like to see, etc.

Posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 3:55 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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My Airport Reading

Thanks to all who came last night to the great event at the beautiful K.C. library. I passed the time this morning at the airport (nary a moving walkway in sight!) reading Roundabouts of Kansas City, which celebrates circular yield-entry intersection control in the Show-Me state and neighboring Kansas and now takes pride of place on my roundabout shelf, right next to Roundabouts of Great Britain.

Thanks to Brian for the book and Kyle for the BBQ.

Posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 3:50 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Let the Car Drive

Robert Scoble talks to Ford’s Steve Kozak about radar-based collision warning systems and adaptive cruise control. One big question is how willing drivers will be to stay within the parameters that the car’s computers say is the safe following distance; human drivers regularly go past those thresholds, in part because of overconfidence and in part because the average driver doesn’t have a clue as to what the car’s actual stopping distance is (unlike the precise radar and algorithms). Then there’s the issue that most of us don’t have to conduct full-on emergency braking on an everyday basis. I’m also still not sure how these systems avoid the “off-ramp problem” — at the moment you should be braking, the cruise control, sensing no cars ahead, may accelerate to your desired speed. Does anyone have any experience with this? On balance though I’d say, if commercial aviation is any guide, these systems can’t help but improve safety, given the natural perceptual limitations (and psychological quirks) of humans.

(thanks Peter)

Posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 6:26 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Nothing to Sneeze At

Here’s a curious reminder of the dangers of moving at speed in a car: Simply sneezing — closing your eyes for a second — can get you into trouble.

Posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 5:58 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Strange Dynamics of Airport Walkways

Given that I’m always talking about how traffic can skew our sense of time and perception, I was fascinated by a recent article in the New Scientist that was interested in a simple question: Do the moving walkways at airports actually move people any faster?

Manoj Srinivasan, a locomotion researcher at Princeton University, created two mathematical models of how people travel on such walkways (Chaos, DOI: 10.1063/1.3141428). In the first, he assumed people walk in a way that minimises the energy they expend, a standard theory in locomotion research. In the second, he assumed people walk in a way that best makes sense of the signals relayed from their eyes and legs.

Srinivasan’s models predict that when a person steps onto a moving walkway, they slow their foot speed by about half the speed of the walkway. This suggests that our desires to conserve energy and to resolve the conflict between visual cues and leg muscle signals – your eyes tell you that you are going faster than your legs are taking you – slow us down so that our total speed is only slightly greater than it would have been on regular ground.

This may save energy, but even under ideal conditions of no congestion and no baggage a walkway only makes a small difference in travel time – about 11 seconds for a 100-metre stretch.

Now, granted, this is only a model. But as someone who spends a lot of time in airports, and loves the idea of moving walkways but not often the reality (more on that in a sec), I feel as if there’s something to this. And trying to save travel time at the airport can be a futile, as with traffic: You may blaze down the moving walkway, only to be caught up in a bottleneck at security or the exit doors. And then there’s the reason I so often don’t get on in the first place: I don’t want to have to barge past the people who are simply standing on the walkway, actually going more slowly than normal walking speed (and there’s always a little hiccup of people getting off and on). This is the escalator problem: The technology was designed to move more people more quickly, by augmenting their normal motion, not simply ferrying passive passengers.

But the model above actually has an empirical counterpart, notes the magazine.

The findings help to explain earlier work by Seth Young, now at Ohio State University, who observed travellers at San Francisco and Cleveland airports slowing down on moving walkways, though not as drastically as Srinivasan’s model suggests (Transportation Research Record, DOI: 10.3141/1674-03).

If there is no congestion, people on travelators are marginally faster than on normal ground. However, Young found that the odds that other travellers will block the way are such that on average, it takes longer to get from A to B on a moving walkway.

“Moving walkways are the only form of transportation that actually slow people down,” says Young.

Posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 5:54 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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I had a whirlwind day in Portland, Ore., on Friday, beginning with chirpy morning TV, then a chat with Mayor Sam Adams (who is fantastically engaged and forward-thinking on transportation), followed by a talk, then a panel discussion, then a bike to and from dinner with Jeff Mapes (Pedaling Revolution), planner and soon-to-be author Mia Birk, and Greg Raisman, with the city’s Bureau of Transportation (check out his more comprehensive tour of Portland cycling facilities here).

I made an offhand remark during the talk that when I first began researching Traffic, I would talk to U.S. transpo people about things I had seen there, and I would get a standard refrain: Well, that might work in the Netherlands, but it would never work in the United States. But in the last year or so, I now feel like I’m hearing a new version of that: Well, that might work in Portland, but it would never work in the U.S. Maybe down the road, there will be one last city, holding out, saying, well that might work in Las Vegas, but it would never work here.

In any case, Portland really does have the feel of some kind of transportation theme park — or a multi-modal mecca — with its aerial and city trams, its expanding light rail, its real-time transit tracking iPhone apps, and its impressive 8% — yes, 8% — cycling mode share (with zero fatalities last year). I saw a parking enforcement officer on two wheels, and an item in the local city magazine noted that banks offer special bike financing. The morning I left, the city was kicking off its new Green Line, part of a strategy to reduce the percentage of students commuting to Portland State University — from 1996 to 2009, the share of students driving alone to school has dropped from 44% to 25%.

It was quite striking to be out on a beautiful late summer Friday night and see cyclists everywhere, from neighborhood streets to busier arterials to the “floating bridge” along the river, with “bike corrals” jammed outside of local businesses and half the pedestrians seeming to clutch a helmet. I quickly had to adjust my New York City mentality, and I tried, with Mapes and company, not to violate signals. Given that I was suffering from an insomnia-and-jet-lagged kind of fugue state, I should have at this point been exhausted, but the whole effect was exhilarating. Here’s a short photo tour — via iPhone, hence the quality.

Posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 5:25 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



September 2009

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