Pallets, my boy. Pallets.
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Pallets, my boy. Pallets.
On the off chance you missed, me and some other fuzzy headed Jane Jacobs types, a tenured suburbanite urbanist or two, as well as a few random tar-breathing asphalt heads, discuss, in the paper of record, the idea of bringing some European-style traffic demand management to U.S. shores. The pyrotechnics are to be found here.
As someone with an interest in traffic, and a more casual interest in operations research, I was curious about the order history on a recent item from Apple I had purchased. As you will note from the illustration above, the item was shipped from FedEx’s Memphis hub to Newark, where it then made its way to Brooklyn, where I live. But the item wasn’t delivered. Why? The reason given explains everything, yet explains nothing: “Package not due for delivery.” OK. So it wasn’t due for delivery. But couldn’t FedEx have delivered it anyway, given that it was in my home borough?
No. The item then went back to Newark, only to finally be shipped, once again, to Brooklyn, where it finally arrived on my doorstep. Now, I’m no OR genius, and there may be some variant of the Traveling Salesman Problem, or some intricacy of routing and logistics that I’m missing here, but why, for an industry always trying to root out inefficiencies (e.g. UPS’ famous ‘left-turn’ software), would it send my product on an extra round trip, bloating its inventory for a few more days? Perhaps some reader can enlighten me.
My latest Slate column investigates a topic many of you have weighed in on here: Winter dibs.
Thanks to the voluminous response from blog readers that I received in light of the earlier query on this blog, I’ve expanded the thoughts on rear-in parking into my latest Slate column, in case you haven’t seen it.
My latest Slate column looks at two transportation forms, the monorail and the streetcar, each with their supporters and each with their detractors, and how time’s arrow seems to have inverted somewhere along the way:
What’s interesting about Disney World and Disneyland is not merely the range of transportation options, but the mixture of new and old modes they represent. These varied ways to get around reflect biographer Neal Gabler’s observation that Walt Disney was “at once a nostalgist and a futurist, a conservative and visionary.” One imagines he would have been equally happy riding the retro trolley on Main Street as whisking through Tomorrowland in an ultramodern monorail.
But there is something else to note here. The monorail—which must have looked to Disney and the world like the transportation of the future in the 1950s—is now, to many, considered a historical footnote, a relic of World Expos or, at best, an automated ride between airport terminals. America’s highest-profile monorail project, the expansion of Seattle’s line, was plagued by cost overruns and funding gaps, and was finally dissolved in 2005 (costing taxpayers $125 million). The Las Vegas monorail has filed for bankruptcy. At the same time, those retro streetcars, which Disney himself rode in Kansas City in the early 20th century and which must have seemed to him part of a vanishing past, are returning (or may soon return) to any number of American cities, including Washington, D.C.; Cincinnati’ Tucson; Atlanta; Dallas; St. Louis; and Salt Lake City.
So the future we thought we were going to get somehow seems antiquated, while the past looks increasingly, well, futuristic. Why is the trolley ascendant as the monorail declines?
[P.S. I do realize a fair number of people prefer buses to either of these options, but for space it was cut. An original line read: “Light-rail supporters — and transportation people, whether for reasons of funding, fandom, or something else, and even if they’re working toward similar goals, tend to cleave into camps (a third group, the bus people, find their vessel of choice superior to both the light-rail and monorails) — counter with a battery of well-practiced rejoinders…”]
Reading an enthusiastic account of bicycling in New York City from this 1879 (!) article from the New York Times, I was curious about the reference to the sort of wonder skate referred to as a possible rival to the personal rapid transit offered by the bike. It almost sounds like a proto-roller blade. Anyone know what this is, have any references, etc.?
High-speed driver in Israel arrested via Facebook evidence.
I wonder if the statute of limitations has run out on Claude Lelouch, whose famous ride is below.
Igor Sikorsky was nothing if not optimistic about the idea of a personal helicopter for everyone (an idea that should now send any reasonable person to the brink of terror) in this 1942 article in The Atlantic.
A question certain to trouble you is this: With hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of helicopters flying in all directions at once, what about sky congestion and air traffic problems?
This problem has been foreseen and already a certain amount of planning has been done. While air traffic problems will not be at all comparable to what we now have with the motorcar, there must certainly be one-way air lanes within the limits and in the neighborhood of big centers of population. There will be “slow” and “fast” altitudes and you will choose the one that suits your temperament. Naturally, all helicopter highways will be at a safe distance from the airplane levels.
All helicopters, of course, will remain at a reasonable altitude over thickly populated centers. But there need be no such “flight plan ” as airplanes now must often submit to before undertaking a long journey. Helicopter owners will fly at will, bound only by their common sense and some general traffic rules which are easily obeyed in the vast reaches of the sky.
Nor will the strict physical examination that now might prohibit many thousands from flying an airplane be necessary. A person who can drive an automobile can fly a helicopter; and a man or woman with middle-aged reflexes is just as safe in one as in the other because the helicopter, as a rule, is always moving slowly when close to the ground. The helicopter owner will have to pass no stricter examination than is—or should be—necessary for driving a motorcar. He should not be color-blind, his vision should be normal with or without glasses. A man or woman with a heart ailment should not drive a helicopter—nor an automobile.
Reading the various stories recently about driving on beaches, as vexing for safety reasons as environmental and simple quality of life factors, I couldn’t help but think back to Edward Abbey’s classic reproach, in Desert Solitaire, to those tourists who traveled via car in the national park at which he was stationed. I know Abbey the man is something of a thorny subject but the book is one of those rare titles that leaves an incendiary impression, the date and place of first reading forever fixed in one’s mind.
What can I tell them? Sealed in their metallic shells like mollusks on wheels, how can I pry the people free? The auto as tin can, the park ranger as opener. Look here, I want to say, for godsake folks get out of them there machines, take off those fucking sunglasses and unpeel both eyeballs, look around; throw away those goddamned idiotic cameras! For chrissake folks what is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare? Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth, split a couple of big toenails, draw blood! Why not? Jesus Christ, lady, roll that window down! You can’t see the desert if you can’t smell it! Dusty! Of course it’s dusty – this is Utah! But it’s good dust, good red Utahn dust, rich in iron, rich in irony. Turn that motor off. Get out of that piece of iron and stretch your varicose veins, take off your brassiere and get some hot sun on your old wrinkled dugs! You sir, squinting at the map with your radiator boiling over and your fuel pump vapor-locked, crawl out of that shiny hunk of GM junk and take a walk – yes, leave the old lady and those squawling brats behind for a while, turn your back on them and take a long quiet walk straight into the canyons, get lost for a while, come back when you damn well feel like it, it’ll do you and her and them a world of good. Give the kids a break too, let them out of the car, let them go scrambling over the rocks hunting for rattlesnakes and scorpions and anthills – yes sir, let them out, turn them loose; how dare you imprison little children in your goddamned upholstered horseless hearse? Yes sir, yes madam, I entreat you, get out of those motorized wheelchairs, get off your foam rubber backsides, stand up straight like men! like women! like human beings! and walk – walk – WALK upon our sweet and blessed land!
Just a quick note to point to this profile of Donald Redelmeier, who appears in Traffic, posted in the New York Times.
Sheer brilliance in the ending:
The idea came to him one day in a hallway at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, where he had stopped to admire a century’s worth of class photos showing mostly white men.
“Some people might say, ‘What an old boys’ network,’ ” Dr. Redelmeier said. “But I thought, ‘My goodness, what a homogeneous population, akin to identical white mice, which thereby controls for all sorts of differences.’ ” Thus was born another Redelmeier classic.
Via The Register, a VW designer talks about self-driving cars:
Huhnke said that his group wanted to find out if drivers passengers in autonomous cars would feel safe: “If you have an autonomous car driving … do you trust your car? Do you really press the autopilot button and let the car drive you at 60 miles per hour?” So they conducted a study — and were surprised by the results.
“We created a car with a second steering wheel in the rear where the driver couldn’t see it,” he told his audience. “He or she pressed the autopilot button and thought the machine would really drive without human help. Someone drove in the rear seat without being recognized by her or him. Well, you couldn’t imagine: after a few seconds, they already took the newspaper and read the news articles. So they trusted already the machine, which was great.”
Huhnke’s group then pushed its luck: “We also initialized some emergency situations: ‘So please, go back to your steering wheel and take over, we need some help from you,’ and they did it. They put the newspaper back, and just controlled the car through the situation. Then what did they do? Immediately press the button and start it again — it was really amazing.”
The question, of course, from a human factors point of view, is how quickly the car can alert drivers to a particular emergency (and what the warning will be; either a vague “emergency” or the exact diagnosis), and how quickly they can respond (and whether it’s the correct response) after they’ve been “out of the loop.” Would a texting driver with eyes and mind off-road be able to respond to a path intrusion warning that comes just as the car detects it?
I’ve been traveling a lot the last week (currently doing the “milk run” to Australia), hence the lack of updates here, but here’s a few of the myriad things that have come across the transom (apart from those I’ve posted on Twitter):
A reminder of my own piece on Slate about London Transport posters.
A “safer” way to text and drive (as a thought exercise try replacing the word “texting” with drinking as you listen to this).
Endlessly hypnotic: Bicycle rush hour in Copenhagen.
Adam Greenfield ponders the complexity of bus networks. (“You know I believe that cities are connection machines, networks of potential subject to Metcalfe’s law. What this means in the abstract is that the total value of an urban network rises as the square of the number of nodes connected to it. What this means in human terms is that a situation in which people are too intimidated to ride the bus (or walk down the street, or leave the apartment) is a sorrow compounded. Again: everything they could offer the network that is the city is lost. And everything we take for granted about the possibilities and promise of great urban places is foreclosed to them.)
How about an “ignition interlock” for habitual speeders in Australia?
The always good Carl Bialik on “traffic math.” (and I liked this bit: Nicholas Taylor, a research fellow at the consulting company Transport Research Laboratory in Wokingham, England, says that adding road capacity can be effective if it isn’t perceived as adding capacity. Opening a highway’s shoulder to traffic during peak hours appears to work, Mr. Taylor says, because it is “not seen as a whole new provision of the road. There’s a psychological element to it.”)
I have a short essay (accompanied by some excellent images) on the “traffic island” — that curious embankment of legally murky space carved from urban traffic channels, on which all manner of species dwell, from certain varieties of ants to political agitators, — in the current islands-themed issue of Cabinet. It’s not available online, but Cabinet is one of those journals you really want to hold in your hand, not your iPad.
“Where are we exactly — are we near the island?”
‘The “island” — is that what you call it?
“The traffic island. The patch of waste ground below the motorway. Are we near there?”
J.G. Ballard, Concrete Island
The comments section on Slate yields a number of further examples, including this one:
As long as you’re talking about movies that denigrate bicyclists, you should mention the ’90’s film “In and Out” in which Kevin Kline plays a guy who everyone knows is gay except himself. It’s generally quite a funny and genial movie, but they do make a point of showing him as the only bicyclist in town, which seems a way of saying that his bicycling is yet one more piece of evidence (like his love of Bette Midler and somewhat flamboyant hand gestures) that “proves” he really is gay. Even though he appears to live in a small town where bicycling would be a perfectly reasonable way of getting around.
I was intrigued by Hoboken’s Corner Cars program — essentially a Zipcar style car-sharing program, albeit with even more direct car access — as I had written a bit about here before, so when New York Times “City Critic” Ariel Kaminer said she was going to check it out, I gladly hopped along for the ride (and, maybe it was just lucky timing or something, but I traveled by subway/PATH train from Brooklyn to Hoboken and was there shockingly quickly, even in this age of diminishing service, with no need to brave the city’s legendarily bad parking, pay the tolls, risk my life to NYC’s quantifiably substandard drivers — three cheers for transit!). One interesting question raised by the article (and please note that’s the NYT identifying me as a “traffic expert,” not me — though who isn’t a traffic expert in this town?) is the psychic hurdle of getting people to move past car ownership (in an area, ironically, where many people rent their houses):
There is another obstacle to car sharing in New York, perhaps the biggest of all. Given the paucity of street parking, the expense of garage parking, the traffic, the insurance costs and the toll to vehicle and psyche, New York car owners who aren’t motivated by true need must be motivated by some very strong force of will. So strong, perhaps, that it is impervious to reason. Is there any dollars-and-cents argument that could persuade New York’s discretionary drivers to give up their cars?
“I asked that question back when I was in city government in the ’70s and ’80s,” said Sam Schwartz, the transportation engineer who was once New York’s deputy commissioner of transportation. “In the ’80s we did several focus groups and we tried to find out what made them drive. And a very common theme is that they felt they were smarter than the people down in the tube. They’re the Brahmins. They deserve it.” He added, “I never heard of it anywhere else.”
Not to mention the endowment effect; i.e., once people own something, they feel it’s more valuable than before (even if, of course, the very value plummets the moment you drive the new car off the lot). One question for such programs, and the reason some people buy a car to begin with, is the issue of peak demand for weekends — it’s hard for a spontaneous lets-go-apple-picking trip when all the cars have been rented weeks in advance. And I’m not sure what to do about the alternate-side problem. That’s as intractable as the sabbath, or some force of nature.
Getting local for a moment, very local, as I’m right off Van Brunt at the moment, this article — about a lack of crosswalks on Van Brunt Street — is a bit odd.
The only crosswalks that span the increasingly busy Van Brunt Street are at Sullivan, Wolcott and Bowne streets. That leaves about a half-mile stretch with no absolutely crosswalks, that familiar cross-hatching pattern that alerts drivers of that pedestrians are likely to be present.
In other parts of the country, drivers may actually stop at marked crosswalks — as the law actually requires — but in NYC, marked crosswalks (sans stop sign or traffic light) are quite rare; probably because no driver actually stops at them, which is my experience on Van Brunt. They certainly don’t seem to influence driver behavior, based on the ridiculous approach speeds of outer-borough drivers headed to Fairway.
I’m not a fan of putting in traffic signals for the sake of it, but that seems to me the only chance of bringing some order — and chances for non-harried pedestrian crossing — to Van Brunt, which by rough calculation must be one of the longest — and most populated — streets in NYC, with hardly any traffic signals.
There is the suggestion that poetry is underrepresented on this blog. Hence I give you:
by Charles Bukowski
the drivers of automobiles
have very little recourse or
when upset with
they often give him the
I have seen two adult
florid of face
giving each other the
well, we all know what
this means, it’s no
still, this gesture is
so overused it has
lost most of its
some of the men who give
the FINGER are captains of
industry, city councilmen,
accountants and/or the just plain
it is their favorite
people will never admit
that they drive
the FINGER is their
I see grown men
FINGERING each other
throughout the day.
it gives me pause.
when I consider
the state of our cities,
the state of our states,
the state of our country,
I begin to
the FINGER is a mind-
we are the FINGERERS.
we give it
to each other.
we give it coming and
we don’t know how
else to respond.
what a hell of a way
“The Finger” by Charles Bukowski, from Bone Palace Ballet. © Black
Sparrow Press, 2002
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 Slate.com Transport column to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: email@example.com.
For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
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Order Traffic from:
For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.
April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.
May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
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)
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas
September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Honda R&D Americas
San Diego, CA
October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Texas Transportation Forum
(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
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Wednesday, September 22
Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Wisconsin Dells, WI
Wednesday, October 20
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California
Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto
February 22, 2013
March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA
September 26, 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI