Archive for March, 2010

‘The ever lasting scorcher, bent like a hoop, and with sunken cheeks’

You know who you are.

But seriously, this etymological foray into the history of the word chauffeur has me, well, stoked.

Posted on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 at 2:27 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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What say you? Will you yield, and this avoid?

Sorry, one of my favorite bits from Henry V. But reader Matt writes in with a confusing (at least to him, and to me upon first glance) yield situation at an intersection in Pennsylvania (Google Map it at: “matsonford road, west conshohocken pa.” Given the mixed messages of the signage, what sayest thou, readers — will you yield?

Matt lays out the scenario below:

Posted on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 at 2:22 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Vortex Junction

When I saw the headline, I thought it was referring to where the Santa Monica freeway intersects with the 405, but alas, it’s a novel interchange configuration, suitable for the Slough-ey, office-park-ey, pedestrian-free places of the world, perhaps some kind of next-century CFI.

(thanks Phil)

Posted on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 at 2:12 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Streets of San Francisco

Next up for Streetfilms: Ray Kelly?

Posted on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 at 2:04 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Safety Film of the Week

(Thanks Alan)

Posted on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 at 1:59 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Mathematical Theorem Suggests Humans Really Are Sheep

As any Traffic reader knows I have a jones for “collective animal mobility.” I recently across an interesting paper, “Traffic and the visual perception of space,” by Petr Šeba, a physicist with the University of Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic.

As he notes:

During the attempt to line up into a dense traffic people have necessarily to share a limited space under turbulent conditions. From the statistical point view it generally leads to a probability distribution of the distances between the traffic objects (cars or pedestrians). But the problem is not restricted on humans. It comes up again when we try to describe the statistics of distances between perching birds or moving sheep herd. Our aim is to demonstrate that the spacing distribution is generic and independent on the nature of the object considered. We show that this fact is based on the unconscious perception of space that people share with the animals.

Here’s how it was done:

In order to verify this hypothesis we organized a simple experiment with pedestrians in a narrow corridor. Using two light gates we measured their velocity and the time interval that elapsed between two subsequent walkers. This enables us to reconstruct the mutual distances and evaluate the distance probability density. The same device and method was used also for a sheep herd moving through an aisle between two near yards. The third source of data are cars moving on a highway in a dense traffic. The velocity and time stamps of the individual cars were obtained by induction loops placed below the roadway.

The probability distribution of distances between objects in all these cases was essentially the same (suggesting, according to the author, a universal mechanism for estimating time-to-collision and its avoidance). Something to consider in those long holiday security lines at the airport.

Posted on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 at 8:11 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Incidents of Insect Aerial Travel

There were only a few flies and wasps in that first trap at Tallulah. But over the next five years, the researchers flew more than 1,300 sorties from the Louisiana airstrip and captured tens of thousands more insects at altitudes ranging from 20 to 15,000 feet. They generated a long series of charts and tables, cataloguing individual insects of 700 named species according to the height at which they were collected, time of day, wind speed and direction, temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, dew point, and many other physical variables. They already knew something about long-distance dispersal. They had heard about the butterflies, gnats, water striders, leaf bugs, booklice, and katydids sighted hundreds of miles out on the open ocean; about the aphids that Captain William Parry had encountered on ice floes during his polar expedition of 1828; and about those other aphids that, in 1925, made the 800-mile journey across the frigid, windswept Barents Sea between the Kola Peninsula, in Russia, and Spitsbergen, off Norway, in just twenty-four hours. Still, they were taken aback by the enormous quantities of animals they were discovering in the air above Louisiana and unashamedly astonished by the heights at which they found them. All of a sudden, it seemed, the heavens had opened.

That’s from Hugh Raffles’ new and absolutely delightful book, Insectopedia, which happily joins May Berenbaum, et al, on my entomology shelves.

Posted on Saturday, March 27th, 2010 at 4:51 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Where’s the Densest Road Network in the World?

Not where you’d expect: Rural Finland.

More at Books from Finland, via the always reliable Things:

The Finnish model of forestry has been hailed as an economic success story, but it has also caused large-scale devastation of natural forests and huge greenhouse gas emissions from forests, forest soils and peatlands in many different parts of the world, from Finland to Brazil and Indonesia.

Why have Finns, an ancient forest people, been so eager to export clear-cutting to other parts of the world?

Posted on Friday, March 26th, 2010 at 6:50 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Another Guy Named Tom Interested in Traffic

Via Ryan Oakley I was reminded of this clip from MI:3, which I’ve used in a few talks to some amusement. Does this sort of thing ever happen to, say, Bruce Schaller?

Posted on Thursday, March 25th, 2010 at 8:47 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Honks and Consciousness

Via Nudge, a fascinating article about trying to prevent railway crossing deaths (by pedestrians) using a variety of behavioral cues intended to counter perceptual biases and guide decision-making:

From all this research, Shroff identified three major decision-making principles in operation on the Wadala tracks. “One is a combination of the Leibowitz Hypothesis and the Looming Effect. Large objects appear to move slower than small objects, and people can’t judge their speed,” she says. “Another is the Cocktail Party Effect: The brain isn’t wired to follow two conversations, or do two activities simultaneously. If there are two trains on adjacent tracks, you’ll register one, but not the other.” The third is simply a flight response—a tendency to run, which minimizes good judgement.

To each of these principles, Final Mile tailored a specific “intervention”. A few hundred metres from the Wadala station, Krishnamurthy points to sequences of railway sleepers painted a bright yellow. “That helps your brain get a better idea of distances and how fast a train is covering them, which helps you judge its speed,” he says.

Shortly thereafter, a gaggle of schoolchildren, absorbed in conversation, crosses the tracks, prime material for the Cocktail Party Effect. “So we installed whistle boards just around the bend, telling the motormen to honk,” Krishnamurthy says. Even the honk is carefully calibrated: Two short, rapid honks instead of one long one, because that intrudes into a listener’s consciousness much more effectively.

The first few whistle signs that Final Mile put up—regulation boards made of metal— were promptly stolen. “So we had to create a signboard out of something not worth stealing,” Krishnamurthy laughs. “We had to do an intervention on the intervention!”

At the station itself, Krishnamurthy points to the final intervention—a three-panel photo of a rather alarmed man being gradually run over by a locomotive. This morbid frieze is positioned exactly at the two points where the temptation to cross is powerful, designed to subtly counter the flight response.
“It’s intended to elicit an appropriate emotional memory,” Krishnamurthy says. “We look to faces to figure out situations, so his face is central. We repeated the image, because it catches the eye. And it has to be life-size, not larger than life, because it shouldn’t intrude into the conscious. It should work at an unconscious level.”

Posted on Thursday, March 25th, 2010 at 7:36 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Live Dense or Die

An interesting point of departure from this graph that’s been making the rounds of the U.S. packed into one Brooklyn-style New Hampshire is one I’ve mentioned before, via the work of Brian Pijanowski:

If the percentage of parking lot area in the county (0.44%) is scaled to the area occupied by the conterminous United States, the entire states of Connecticut, and Massachusetts (12,550 + 20,305 = 32,855 km2 ) would be paved over with parking lots.

To put this another way: The American parking lot currently consumes much more space than the entire country’s population would if it were scaled to Brooklyn-style density.

Hello neighbor!

Posted on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 at 6:19 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Transportation Economics in World of Warcraft

I came across this line in William Sims Bainbridge’s new book, The Warcraft Civilization, on the social sciences of the virtual World of Warcraft:

Some long-distance travel is free, using the public ship, zeppelin, or teleportation systems. But much flight from point to point has moderate costs. Maxrohn found that a nonstop flight from Light’s Hope Chapel in Eastern Plaguelands to Nethergarde Keep in the Blasted Lands costs thirty-one silvers and fifty nine coppers. However, it is possible to fly from Light’s Hope to Stormwind for nine silvers and sixty-three coppers, and from Stormwind to Nethergarde for seven silvers and forty-seven coppers. Thus, stopping at Stormwind saves fourteen silvers and forty-nine coppers, or slightly over 45 percent.

It’s intriguing that this rather echoes the market for using frequent-flier points — i.e., it will cost you less for a flight with stops. This raises all kinds of interesting questions: What dynamics account for the pricing (e.g., does greater network traffic increase the cost of travel) and the network disequilibrium? Why would anyone pay to travel if one can teleport for free (a question for Patricia Mokhtarian)? Is there a Kayak-type application for analyzing the costs of travel, or is it all trial and error? Do people interact on the public ships and zeppelins? Is private flight much faster than the public options (presumably teleportation is instantaneous), and is there a “last mile” or connectivity problem with the public options (so to speak)? And lastly: Are there any travel externalities in World of Warcraft?

Posted on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 at 12:34 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Key to Countering Turbulence: More Turbulence

Via today’s New York Times:

At relatively slow rates of flow, turbulence is intermittent — it’s pushed along, Dr. Hof said, by smooth-flowing fluid behind it. By studying flows in a special glass pipe and modeling them on a computer, Dr. Hof and his colleagues realized that introducing an eddy into this smooth-flowing zone would eliminate the turbulence in front of it. “One turbulent eddy kills the other,” he said. As long as the pipe is straight, the flow should then remain smooth.

One wonders about any potential analogies to traffic here — the not quite perfect comparison that springs to my mind is the work, via people like Dirk Helbing and Serge Hoogendoorn, that shows in pedestrian escape modeling that introducing an obstacle into an exit opening actually improves the rate of discharge.

Any hardcore flow/sim types have any thoughts?

Posted on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 at 10:58 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Winter Cycling in the Netherlands

Kids these days.

Via David Hembrow.

Posted on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 at 10:27 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Twitter Traffic

For those who have requested or otherwise been interested, I’m now further larding the datasphere via Twitter.

I won’t promise any epiphanies, but you can follow here should you desire (and this will likely serve as a transition space to the next book — no, it’s not underway yet!)

Posted on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 at 10:18 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Unintentional Acceleration

I’m slow to get to this, but this incredible case of a sideways high-speed shunt in the U.K. is about as dramatic a case you can imagine of how divorced a motorist can be from the world around him.

Via the BBC:

In a bid to release her vehicle, she said she pulled on the handbrake and flashed her hazard lights to try to catch the driver’s attention, as well as that of other road users, but she said it took the lorry driver nearly a minute to notice her.

When he did he was “all over the place”, Mrs Williams said, and finally managed to bring both vehicles to a stop on the hard shoulder.

Posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2010 at 2:00 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Komanoff on the C-Charge

Charles Komanoff reports from Gauangzhou:

With double-digit rises in car ownership and the city’s relentless expansion outpacing even the rapid provision of transit, the idea of charging a toll to drive into Guangzhou’s city center is gaining traction. The rationale is clear: drivers who pay only for their own lost time but not for the time their trips take from other drivers have little incentive to prioritize trips by car.

Singapore, London and Stockholm have been using congestion pricing for 35, 7 and 3 years, respectively, and the meeting featured detailed reports on how these cities overcame the political hurdles and improved traffic dramatically through tolling. Nevertheless, a congestion pricing plan proposed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg died in the state legislature in 2008. In my talk, I drew these lessons for Guangzhou from New York’s failure:

• To succeed politically, congestion pricing must produce dramatic increases in travel speeds — at least 15 percent — in the charging zone. (The Bloomberg plan promised only a 7 percent gain.)

• The toll must align benefits with costs. In New York, a hefty taxi surcharge — on the entire fare, not just the “drop” — would ensure that residents of Manhattan, who use taxis rather than private cars, paid their fare share.

• Transit improvements financed by the toll revenues must be instituted ahead of time, and fare reductions guaranteed.

The stance of the domestic transportation experts here has been one of cautious interest: appreciation of congestion pricing as a virtually fail-safe tool, tempered by awareness that politics leaves little room for error in designing the toll, choosing the tolling technology, and marketing the program.

Posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2010 at 1:33 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘A proper bastardised, chaved up Skippy mobile’

Car advert as classist social commentary. Think of it as an FSBO for the ASBO crowd. Reading it and the comments puts me in mind of the immortal David St. Hubbins: “It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.”

The ad is here.

(Thanks to the indefatigable Alan)

Posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2010 at 7:34 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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More on Highways Into Runways

A few things came in after my Slate column on planes landing on roads.

Reader Craig advises on a crowdsourced, Google Map-driven application he has started called Emergency Runways, which informs pilots of potential landing spots. He notes he’s in conversation with some GPS companies to put “vetted” runways into systems, so pilots could press something like a “nearest” button in the event of a forced landing.

And on a stranger, more grim note, a jogger was killed on the beach in South Carolina by a plane making an emergency landing (the pilot’s window was covered in oil).

“There’s no noise,” said aviation expert Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the National Transportation Safety Board. “So the jogger, with his ear buds in, and the plane without an engine, you’re basically a stealth aircraft. Who would expect to look up?”

Posted on Sunday, March 21st, 2010 at 8:33 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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High Speed Google Map Chase

Satellite Car Chase from Honest Directors on Vimeo.

The budget for the aerial perspective move chase scene just went down dramatically.

(thanks Alan)

Posted on Sunday, March 21st, 2010 at 8:21 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



March 2010

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