Archive for April, 2010

Hulot Hulot!

As a Jacques Tati devotee, how could I resist (for my daughter, of course!) the book pictured above, which comes to me via Velorution?

My visit to French also yielded this Tati treasure, a compilation of soundtracks (actually you can get this too at

Commandez vite!

Posted on Wednesday, April 7th, 2010 at 7:38 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Edge Effects and Driving Behavior

An interesting study in the March Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, ”
Electronic records of undesirable driving events,” by Oren Musicant, Hillel Bar-Geraa, and Edna Schechtman, used real-time driving event recorders to study 117,195 trips made by 109 drivers. One curious finding was a sort of ‘edge effect’ — there were more aggressive events recorded at the beginnings and ends of journeys.

We observed meaningful differences between trip edges and middle trip events frequencies. This unexpected phenomenon was found to be repeated for trips with different characteristics of duration, time of day, day of the week and for males and females. One possible explanation can be related to non-defensive driving in familiar places (Rosenbloom, Perlman, & Shahar, 2007) “near home,” which probably affects EF (event frequency) and real safety in a similar manner. Another possible explanation is that the first and last couple of driving minutes are more likely to be in urban areas, therefore having more potential for executing undesired driving events as sharp turning and braking (traffic signals). The correlation between EF and safety (accidents) may be different in urban and non-urban environments.

I’d speculate some combination thereof — and this doesn’t bode well for the idea that people would drive more carefully in their own neighborhoods.

Posted on Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 at 9:05 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Yielding on Yield

In New Jersey, you now have to come to a complete stop, rather than simply “yield,” when pedestrians are in the crosswalk.


New Jersey has one of the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities in the country, with 27 percent of auto fatalities in 2008 involving pedestrians, almost twice the national rate, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Must be all those jaywalking pedestrians, no? Not quite. Rather drivers, and this will surprise no readers of this blog, seemed to show a shocking disregard — or complete lack of knowledge — of the actual law.

Last year, Cherry Hill police set up crosswalk stings, in which officers, in some cases pushing baby strollers, would step out into a crosswalk as cars approached. Over six days, officers handed out 249 tickets and arrested one man who became irate when cited by police, Rann said.

“People would just drive right around the carriage,” he said. “It’s a matter of handing out more tickets. It gets the word out, and people start to comply.”

Another dispatch notes:

A potentially controversial part of the law says that if a driver hits a pedestrian in a crosswalk, the presumption of fault lies with the driver for not taking “due care” for the safety of the pedestrian.

What’s controversial to my mind in this case is presuming fault on anyone but the driver.

Posted on Monday, April 5th, 2010 at 5:07 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Asymmetric Information on I-95

In a footnote to Traffic, MIT’s Moshe Ben-Akiva discusses the varying strategies of dynamic tolling:

“You may want to charge people for time they actually save. That will mean if congestion builds up on the tolled road you reduce the price. On the other hand, you want to maintain a certain level of speed on the toll-road. If congestion builds up you want to increase the toll so as to not have stop-and-go traffic on the tolled road. There is some confusion going on right now as to what strategy is best.”

it seems that confusion is still out there, based on this dispatch from the Miami Herald.

Traffic engineers assumed high tolls would deter drivers from using express lanes. Wrong.

Many drivers, like Perkovich, assume high tolls mean the toll-free lanes are clogged. Could be true, but the tolls rise mainly due to the number of drivers willing to pay a toll.

Perhaps it’s not easy to make these decisions at high speed in a split second. Perhaps there’s some weird signaling effect going on in which higher prices lead to higher demand (for reasons of perceived quality or some other factor). Maybe the tolls aren’t high enough to deter drivers. Maybe the problem would vanish if drivers were given a more precise sense of time savings (as far as I know they are not). But South Florida drivers are not the first to be undeterred by higher tolls.

Before HOT lanes were launched on an I-10 commuter highway serving the Houston area, the Texas Transportation Institute based at Texas A & M University made an extensive study of driver attitudes and beliefs.

As many as 20 percent of the participants in several focus groups incorrectly interpreted the HOT lane toll as an index of traffic congestion in the free lanes, said Susan Chrysler, an institute research psychologist.

“Even after I showed them a video that explained it, they still misunderstood it,” Chrysler said. In Florida, DOT has responded with a crash public information campaign. A prominent message on the Express Lane website,, clearly explains the system. And SunPass holders recently received a special mailing with the same message: higher tolls may mean a slower ride.

The market is still working, though perhaps not as rationally as might be hoped.

Despite the misunderstanding, the Express Lanes are easing traffic. Santana says the toll lanes are maintaining a comfortable 16 mile-an-hour speed advantage over the free lanes. A typical $2.50 to $3.00 rush hour toll usually buys a 45-mph drive between South Broward and downtown Miami, according to DOT data.

Posted on Friday, April 2nd, 2010 at 2:22 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Yes, Virginia, San Diego is East of Reno

My latest Slate column examines our cognitive biases in maps, routing, and travel.

The north-south imbalance is just one of any number of ways we rearrange objective time and space in our heads. There are the famous examples of geographical distortion, for example, in which people routinely assume that Rome is farther south than Philadelphia or that San Diego is west of Reno (when in both cases the opposite is true). Or take a simple trip into town: Studies have found that people tend to find the inbound trip to be shorter than the outbound trip, while a journey down a street with more intersections will seem to be longer than one with fewer (and not simply because of traffic lights).

Our state of mind on any trip can influence not just our perceptions of time but of geography itself. As Dennis Proffit, et al., write in the wonderfully titled study “Seeing Mountains in Mole Hills,” in Psychological Science, “hills appear steeper when we are fatigued, encumbered by a heavy backpack, out of shape, old and in declining health”—and this is not some vague feeling, but an actual shift in our estimates of degrees of inclination. Transit planners have a rule of thumb that waiting for transit seems to take three times as long as travel itself. And then, looming over everything, is Vierordt’s Law, which, applied to commuting, roughly states: People will mentally lengthen short commutes and shorten long commutes.

Posted on Thursday, April 1st, 2010 at 5:25 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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In Our Time

The always essential In Our Time is particularly good this week: A two-parter about cities. I particularly enjoyed historian Julia Merritt talking about the historical emergence of the sedan chair and how it served to isolate its riders from the public sphere, a foreshadowing of automobility and its civic discontents.

Posted on Thursday, April 1st, 2010 at 7:39 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Predictably Irrational Parking Politics

One of the challenges in rationally implementing higher parking fees for periods of higher occupancy is the instinctive feeling, typically by merchants, that this will hurt their business. I’m all for the plight of the small merchant but, as per John Van Horn’s usual line of thinking (e.g., this post), there’s usually a problem with this: 1.) Charging more for places where parking is dear helps create more parking, and more customers; and 2.) Those same small merchants are often the ones occupying the parking that scarce parking. This latter observation is drawn from many sources, including what’s right in front of me: The white Lexus that the guys at the pork store across the street tend to park there for hours on end (they drive in from one of the islands, Staten or Long).

This usual dynamic was on display in an article about (no) Park Slope’s recent “Smart Parking” demonstration program, as reported by my local rag:

Schaller had come to the meeting seeking feedback on the Park Smart program, which hiked parking fees last April as part of an effort to reduce traffic and create turnover at parking spots on Fifth Avenue between Sackett and Third streets, and on Seventh Avenue from Lincoln Place to Sixth Street.

But the feedback from the roughly 25 people in attendance was near-unanimous: “Don’t raise the fee!”

“Merchants are suffering,” said Irene Lo Re, the director of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District. “I’ve never seen a year as bad as 2009. People change their behavior over a couple of dollars — are you going to completely push us out of business?”

Couple of problems here. Merchants are suffering, indeed, but so is everyone else: There’s a recession on. Second is that given that driving in New York City is a decidedly luxury endeavor (I’ll send you my insurance bill), people driving cars shouldn’t be worrying about spending an extra 50 cents to park at peak hours — and if they are, they need to examine their finances a bit more carefully. Lastly, another way to look at this is that many people, myself included, go out of their way to avoid Park Slope for any kind of consuming activity, precisely because there is never anywhere to park.

Given all the opposition (or at least the 25 people), the program must have failed, no?

Still, Lo Re had to admit that the numbers did show that Park Smart had improved available parking in the neighborhood, thereby opening spaces for more potential customers.

A study by the city compared parking behavior before the program was implemented and November — and found that people parked for five minutes less on Fifth Avenue and nine minutes less on Seventh Avenue.

Success equals failure — only in parking.

Posted on Thursday, April 1st, 2010 at 7:31 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



April 2010

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