Archive for the ‘Pedestrians’ Category

The Invisible Hand

David Williams of the Telegraph gives a prototype vehicle equipped with Intelligent Speed Adaptation (what used to be known as a “governor”) a spin through London. The car limits speed to whatever the limit is on the segment — typically 30 mph.

This line struck me:

Like most motorists I want to be law-abiding. Up until now I’d believed I was. But this clever car exposes such self-delusions. Normally I try to keep to 30mph in town but in reality I must have been doing nearer 40 as I never drive this slowly.

Someone recently asked me, “why do people speed?” There’s no short answer to that question (I’ve got 250-page reports tackling the question), but one possibility that must be considered, in light of the above sentences, is that: They actually don’t know how fast they are going. Any number of studies have shown how drivers, particularly when the feedback is noisy — i.e., they’re sitting high up from the road, the car cabin is ultra quiet (or the radio loud), the road is very wide — routinely underestimate their speed.

As we’ve banged on here about many times before, these minor differences in urban speed, while inconsequential and almost imperceptible for the driver, can be of dramatic importance for the pedestrian or cyclist struck by a vehicle.

Posted on Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 8:30 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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More on the Geography of Danger

This map, of bicycle crashes in Toronto, was mentioned in the comments to the original post. And then there’s Transportation Alternatives’ invaluable crash maps. Projects like this loom on the horizon. I’d be curious to know what others are out there.

The potential impact GIS (and real-time mapping) has for traffic safety (among other things) seems great, particularly as we can add sophistication to the layers: Time of day, exposure data, road characteristics, etc. Some of this requires hard coding, but I’m wondering what other information could be gleaned from mobile phones and the like. The obvious source of interest would be something like pedestrian volumes and walking speeds, as recorded by iPhones and the like; too many pedestrians moving too slowly up Fifth Avenue — extend the walk signal! But other uses can be imagined as well; “dwell time,” the amount of time pedestrians spend in public areas, could be measured, for example. Or how quickly pedestrians cross streets (this could be part of a larger Christian Nold-style “bio-mapping project” to measure particularly unpleasant intersections and the like). Vibration-sensitive PDAs could monitor potholes on streets and in bike lanes. Sensors could detect “honks” and a “honk map” could be created, with targeted police enforcement and selective traffic engineering solutions. Credit cards could be synced up with MetroCards or EZPasses to determine how much economic activity in the city each form of transportation brings. Data on red-light running from camera-equipped intersections could be fed anonymously to in-car GPS systems, as well as those on the personal devices of pedestrians. The possibilities are legion.

One of the myriad problems with mapping risk is that the numbers, particularly when exposure data is absent, can lack explanatory power. Oh, there were no pedestrians struck this year on the F.D.R. Drive — this obviously does not imply a street that is safe for pedestrians. And while I do feel, like Pascal, that most of man’s unhappiness comes from not being able to simply stay quietly in his room, one must leave the house, and overhyping everyday dangers can be its own form of danger.

An interesting phenomenon in terms of risk and the built environment is that what we perceive as risky is not always the place where the risk actually lies (and it’s an interesting question as to whether this misperception itself leads to the risk profile). An interesting study at the University of North Carolina looked at students’ perceptions of pedestrian risk on campus versus perception and found that the two did not always correlate. The study found all sorts of curious detail, as charted in the image below (which shows a relatively equal distribution of crashes but certainly not an equal distribution of risk perception); e.g., there were more crashes near places like the stadium than people believed there were (there are certain biases to be careful of; proximity to a building in general increases the reporting of crashes, which may throw off the actual risk profile).

Posted on Monday, March 23rd, 2009 at 5:50 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Safe Routes to Soccer

I have a pet theory that roughly 20% of the increase in vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. over the past few decades can be traced to organized youth soccer.

This post, from a blog called freerangekids, adds some evidence:

My 10-year-old son wanted the chance to walk from our house to soccer practice behind an elementary school about 1/3 mile from our house. He had walked in our neighborhood a number of times with the family and we have driven the route to practice who knows how many times. It was broad daylight – 5:00 pm. I had to be at the field myself 15 minutes after practice started, so I gave him my cell phone and told him I would be there to check that he made it and sent him off. He got 3 blocks and a police car intercepted him. The police came to my house — after I had left — and spoke with my younger children (who were home with Grandma). They then found me at the soccer field and proceeded to tell me how I could be charged with child endangerment. They said they had gotten “hundreds” of calls to 911 about him walking. Now, I know bad things can happen and I wasn’t flippant about letting him go and not checking up, but come on. I live in a small town in Mississippi. To be perfectly honest, I’m much more concerned about letting him attend a birthday party sleepover next Friday, but I’m guessing the police wouldn’t be at my house if I chose to let him go (which I probably won’t).

As someone who walked to school every day, rode a bike unhelmeted all over the ‘burbs, etc., this makes me feel like an grouchy old-timer.

(Horn honk to boingboing)

Posted on Friday, March 20th, 2009 at 9:46 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Crossing the Road in Britain

In this somewhat interesting BBC piece, ostensibly about plans to bring pedestrian countdown lights to London but about pedestrian behavior more generally, this passage rankled me:

For drivers, there are warning signs, lights, zigzagged lines and colour codes, all telling drivers to be careful, that people may be crossing ahead.

But sometimes drivers become so inured to this street “furniture” they forget to look for people crossing — they forget what it’s there for. And a 1970 study by the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal looking at San Diego accidents found incidents were twice as likely at “marked crossings” as unmarked crossings.

Why? Pedestrians lose a sense of personal responsibility – they think that because they are at an official crossing, they don’t need to look where they are going. And then they step out into oncoming traffic.

First of all, is a 1970 study really the best reference? That study, by Bruce Herms, crops up a lot in the literature — but so do charges that its findings were not valid, or have not always been reported properly. And the idea of pedestrians losing their sense of “personal responsibility,” while having certain grains of truth, is overshadowed by the larger safety issue, as actually measured, of cars not stopping at marked crosswalks, as required by law. Haven’t they lost their sense of personal responsibility? There are other issues; what I call the “Frogger effect”: On marked crosswalks that stretch across more than two lanes, one driver may stop, encouraging the pedestrian to cross, but the driver in the next lane does not stop, and does not see the pedestrian, who may be in a blind spot caused by the stopped vehicle.

As an aside, if you can get your hands on it, Joe Moran’s piece, “Crossing the Road in Britain,” in The Historical Journal, is a fascinating piece of cultural history.

As a further aside I’ve always enjoyed this bit of marked crosswalk behavior.

Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 10:22 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Two Roads Diverged

Newsweek surveys NYC’s new pilot project for Broadway (with a nice nod to Traffic).

When it comes to New York traffic, Broadway has long been identified as a key culprit. In 1811, urban planners laid out Manhattan’s grid of north-south avenues met by east-west streets, an efficient system of right angles. But those mapmakers left Broadway slicing diagonally through the city, and it’s caused havoc ever since. “Every time Broadway cuts through the grid, it delays traffic,” says Janette Sadik-Khan, New York’s transportation commissioner. It’s especially bad at Times Square, where drivers on Broadway and Seventh Avenue meet heavy crosstown traffic—along with 356,000 daily pedestrians.

Up in Boston, a different idea is being floated: Reopening Downtown Crossing to cars.

Indeed, Downtown Crossing remains one of the last vestiges of a largely discredited idea, the American pedestrian mall, which municipal planners once believed would help cities compete with proliferating suburban malls. In the 1970s, at least 220 cities closed downtown thoroughfares, paved them with bricks or cobbles and waited for them to take hold as urban destinations. Since then, all but about two dozen have reopened the malls to traffic, as planners, developers, and municipal officials came to believe that the lack of cars had an effect opposite of what they had intended, driving away shoppers, stifling businesses, and making streets at night seem barren and forlorn.

Posted on Monday, March 2nd, 2009 at 8:56 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘Shared Space’ in San Francisco

Via Streetsblog SF comes news of an innovative ‘pedestrian priority’ proposal for Jefferson Street at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Based on shared space or woonerfs, the plan calls for removing traditional traffic demarcations, such as the separation between streetbed and sidewalk, and slowing vehicle movement on the streets by making conditions less familiar for motorists. With 85,000 daily pedestrians and only 5,000 vehicles, 30 percent of which transportation consultants Nelson Nygaard estimated were cruising for parking or passing through, the proposal will use design elements to prioritize the street’s majority users. High visibility pavers will be used to demarcate pedestrian “safe” zones beyond existing sidewalks, and trees, benches, and street furniture will break up the street and create loose divisions meant to exclude vehicles while encouraging pedestrians to use the whole street for crossing, strolling, or standing…

…Because many of the design elements in the Jefferson Street vision are new for the city, agencies have tried to adapt their design standards for the innovative street. The Mayor’s Office of Disabilities has been working with Lighthouse for the Blind and other disabilities advocacy groups to come up with solutions for visually impaired street users that meet ADA guidelines and also account for street’s with less rigid divisions between elements. Central delineators, or slightly raised and beveled street pavers, such as those used successfully in the UK for similar shared streets, will likely define the boundary between pedestrian safe zones on the street and sections where cars will drive. A slightly raised curb will be installed beside the proposed streetcar lines once those are built.

Other treatments Planning hopes to implement are reduced speed limits of 5-10 mph, significantly lower than the minimum city speed limit of 25 mph, elimination of jaywalking regulations, and flexible traffic control devices like retractable bollards and gates.

Posted on Thursday, February 19th, 2009 at 9:35 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Abbey Road Observational Traffic Study

A time-lapse video of the world’s most famous zebra crossing (done for a band’s video), with some unusual, if predictable, pedestrian behavior. Driver compliance seems good (they must be used to it by now, and luckily the street is only two lanes), and I’m not sure if the guy at 1:34 is trying to generate Engwichtian “interest and intrigue” and calm traffic or what.

(Via Kottke)

Posted on Thursday, February 19th, 2009 at 9:13 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Unsafe Routes to School

There is a strange sort of consensus in this tragic tale from Atlanta of a child killed as he was crossing in front of his school that somehow, lack of traffic signals is the underlying problem.

Traffic signals, however, despite our fetishistic belief in them, are not a safety device per se: They are a means for directing traffic flow. To the extent they actually get drivers to stop (for fear of being struck by another car), they have an ancillary benefit for pedestrians. But they also encourage drivers to look up away from the street, and to accelerate towards an intersection (potentially crowded with pedestrians) so as to not miss a light. They may also raise a false sense of security amongst pedestrians.

But as the story notes, there was no shortage of warning here:

A crossing guard was on duty and had carried a stop sign into the street, and other vehicles had stopped, police spokeswoman Mekka Parish said.

What’s more,

Road signs warn drivers they are approaching the school crosswalk. Ogilvie’s car was southbound. Drivers coming from the north pass a flashing school zone sign on a roadside post and a sign warning, “Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk” before traveling over a small hill just north of the school.

Exactly how many more warnings this driver needed (no word if they were on a phone or similarly distracted) before realizing they were in an area with crossing schoolchildren is unknown — and why, having missed all these other signs, this driver would magically stop for a traffic light (more than 3000 people a year are killed by people who don’t), is beyond me. At what point do we treat the issue of driver responsibility, instead of cursing the absence of a set of colored lights in the sky or some bit of road engineering?

The piece skirts around the real issue: Driver speeds (from experience people in the Atlanta region treat small neighborhood streets as high-speed shortcuts). It could have also noted the much greater likelihood of a pedestrian dying when struck by an SUV, rather than a car.

Posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 at 5:27 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Plight of the North American Biped

I like the deadpan, nature-doc (or is it Ken Burns?) feel of this piece by B.C. Brown.

Posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 at 4:33 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘Shared Space’ Comes to Montgomery, Alabama

In an article in the latest Scientific American, titled “Removing Roads and Traffic Lights Speeds Urban Travel,” (concepts which are well familiar round here), I was intrigued to see a reference to a so-called “shared space” (a.k.a. “livable streets,” etc.) project in Montgomery, Alabama. In brief, the project entailed turning the city’s languishing ‘Court Square’ (pictured above) from a conventional signalized intersection to a cobble-stoned urban ‘plaza,’ with fewer obvious forms of traffic control. While these projects are becoming common in Europe, they can still be a hard sell stateside. So I got in touch with Chris Conway, an engineer with the city, to see how it had happened. Here’s what he told me:

“The project began as just a way to reopen an area closed during urban renewal in the 70’s, and bring our Court Square fountain into focus as the anchor of Capitol Hill. The urban renewal had essentially killed all commerce in the area it had intended to enhance.

In an effort to “renew the renewal”, we began looking at a concept to reopen Court Square as it had originally functioned. This was more or less a traditional roundabout around our historic Court Square fountain. Plans were drawn to implement the roundabout, but it just so happened that Dover/Kohl and Partners had just been engaged to do our downtown master plan at the same time.

[as a brief interjection, this serendipitous event is similar to the way one of Hans Monderman’s first traffic calming experiments unfolded in the Netherlands, as described in Traffic]

We asked their traffic engineers, Hall Planning and Engineering to review the roundabout. Again, as it so happened, Rick Hall (who describes himself as a “reformed” traffic engineer) was in Paris when he received the plans and was inspired to recommend a European style plaza for the space.

[another brief interjection: Should someone form an ‘Institute of Reformed Traffic Engineers’?]

This caused a quick redesign essentially scrapping the original plans. Rick’s concept was to remove all traditional traffic control letting drivers “intuitively” navigate the space in an attempt to make the space more than just a traffic control device, but a thriving “marketplace” that could serve the many functions it had once enjoyed. This was a low volume but historically attractive area, so although his ideas were “outside the box”, they were well received by our leadership.

The key points of Hall’s design, says Conway, were:

Lack of traditional traffic markings and control, forcing drivers to be more alert and aware at eye level with other users of the space – other motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.

Use of Belgian cobbles as a roadway surface to give a rumble effect to drivers as they moved through the space – again in an attempt to make them intuitively move slower.

No raised curbing within the plaza to accommodate street closings for fairs, marching bands for parades, and easy pedestrian navigation.

This wasn’t without some controversy, he notes. “Our traffic engineers were uncomfortable with the lack of “direction” given to motorists. Our drivers were also thought to be too unfamiliar with such a “complicated” intersection. There were fears that drivers would be going the wrong way and chaos would result.”

Hall, for its part, describes the lack of markings as a kind of symbiotic relationship. As they note on their website: “HPE designers assured the city that a design speed of 25 mph would make explicit pavement markings, or guide lines, unnecessary. The lack of extensive markings would, in fact, help manage the vehicle speeds to the pedestrian friendly 20 to 25 mph range. Rough pavement texture and traffic enforcement will also help manage vehicle speeds.”

And the safety? “Drivers for the most part act as Rick predicted they would. The occasional driver goes the wrong way, but since the plaza is wide open and the speeds are so low, no accidents have resulted. There has actually not been a single accident involving vehicles or pedestrians due to the plaza concept.

We have had one intoxicated driver drive his Hummer straight into the fountain at 3am claiming he never even saw the always well lit 30′ fountain. No injuries other than our wrought iron fence and his Hummer damage.”

As Monderman once told me, similarly about a drunken driver, “there’s not a street that can cope with that problem.” And blog readers will of course know of Hummer drivers’ particular aversion to pesky things like laws.

I’ve not been to Montgomery, and I don’t know what the space was like before, but judging by the historic photo below, it almost seems like ‘back to the future,’ an era before the passenger vehicle had monopolized or helped destroy every last inch of urban space. As Monderman put it, “when you want people to behave in a village, you have to build a village.” Montgomery’s project suggests that design and context can be strong enough to guide proper driving behavior — and it doesn’t hurt to design places that actually want to make you leave your car.

Posted on Thursday, January 29th, 2009 at 3:53 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Latest iPhone App: Crosswalk Warning

A new study in Accident Analysis & Prevention by Jack Nasar, Peter Hecht and Richard Wener finds that pedestrians on mobile phones were less aware of their surroundings and crossed streets less safely (curiously, a sample using iPods seemed less distracted, leading the authors to speculate “perhaps listening to music is a different kind of distraction than listening to words”).

The authors wonder if a technological fix might be appropriate. “Perhaps, the mobile phone or i-pod could alert pedestrians they were approaching a crosswalk or that a car is approaching.” This raises new questions. “If so, would the pedestrian notice and heed the warning?”

Posted on Monday, January 19th, 2009 at 9:20 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Pedestrian Feedback

From a fascinating exchange between Carlo Ratti and Steve Strogatz in the new issue of Seed, I found this bit particularly curious:

“SS: What I’m worried about is exactly what you put your finger on, feedback loops. In the world of dynamical systems, from a mathematical standpoint, feedback loops, especially in complex systems, can be really scary. Because of their unintended consequences. They can create all the beauty and richness in the world around us as well as unforeseen horrors. Just to take a super simple example of what I’m thinking of here, look at the Millennium Bridge in London: one of the world’s thinnest foot bridges and a very elegant structure. All the architects agreed that it was gorgeous, but it looked like it wanted to vibrate, like it was practically a guitar string strung across the Thames River. And on opening day when people walked across the bridge it wobbled a little bit. Which then fed to the people, and made them tend to synchronize their footfalls with the bridge’s motion, which made the bridge’s motion worse. None of this was supposed to happen. This was not built in.”

Posted on Thursday, January 8th, 2009 at 5:45 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Crosswalk Psychology

Cognitive Daily is running (until today) an interesting poll that shows a variety of situations with pedestrians in or near the crosswalks, and asks the user in which conditions they would be likely to stop. This picks up on a theme of a number of previous applied psychology experiments, which I described in the book, that reveal how we tend to comply with traffic laws rather situationally — rather than obeying them whole-cloth, in any condition (researchers have, for example, tested people who appeared to be blind, with a white cane, versus others, and found higher yielding rates; similar studies have been done with eye-contact, gender, among other variables).

Give it a try.

[p.s.: If that street is really marked for 45 mph, that’s really high for a residential area with pedestrians].

Posted on Thursday, December 4th, 2008 at 8:44 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Quieting the Ring Road: Shared Space Hits it Big in Ashford

One of the most ambitious “shared space” projects to date, and one that bears careful study, has been unveiled in the English city of Ashford. In a striking departure from what we normally associate with the concept of “road improvements,” the county council has spent some 13 million pounds to “break up” the old one-way, high-speed ring road circling (and strangling, some say) the city and convert it into a series of two-way, narrower, slower (20 mph) “quality streets” — largely free of aesthetically displeasing and typically ignored traffic signage.

As the after (above) and before (below) photos show, the changes are meant to improve pedestrian access to the town center, which had been curtailed by the old “concrete collar,” as one politician dubbed the ring road. New road treatments have been put in, the sidewalks (or pavements, as the English say) have been widened (they are now wider than the actual roads), and typical traffic infrastructure, from the humblest sign to the brightest traffic signals have been removed. As the county’s website puts it, the “shared space” project (whose consultants include Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who appears in Traffic), “seeks to change the ‘mental maps’ that drivers create and alert them to a different environment in which pedestrians and cyclists have equal priority. The keys to this are low speeds, a narrow carriageway and the removal of the typical visual clues for drivers, such as information signs and pedestrian guard railing.”

The press, rather than talk about, say, how the project might make the town a more livable place, has focused on one aspect: The provocative stance towards traffic interactions on the new road. The Times wrote: “Drivers no longer have the right of way on the ring road in Ashford, Kent, and have to negotiate their way across junctions, with no signs or lines to guide them. All road users, whether travelling on foot, by bicycle, car or bus, have equal priority and must use eye contact to decide who goes first.” This is the same sort of thing that has been successfully deployed everywhere from London to Sweden, and happens in more informal environments like parking lots, but still elicits an inherent suspicion, as we seem to treat drivers as a group as a class beyond behavioral change, beyond the capability of reacting to shifting hazards, beyond the ability to act civilized. The paper quotes Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA: “Those streets will be reverting to the law of the jungle. There will be road rage, collisions and chaos because no one knows who has priority.”

To which I might only say that road rage, collisions, and chaos, in my experience, occur as much, if not more, on the roads in which the priority — and everything else, including the majority of space — quite clearly belong to cars (my nearby Brooklyn example is Atlantic Avenue, a perennially promising street calling out for a renaissance but which reminds chronically hampered by a vast gulf of routinely speeding traffic down its six lanes; crashes, involving both vehicles and pedestrians, are frequent). The high incidence of pedestrians struck (with the right of way) by cars turning on “their” green light is proof enough that signals themselves only go so far and may in fact heighten danger. Of course, the issue goes far beyond design: Beginning with more thorough education for drivers and ending with much stiffer penalties for violating fundamental traffic laws.

I hope to make it to Ashford to see some of this first-hand, but in the meantime, there’s loads of information at the Kent County Council’s site. Also work a look is the “Lost O” website, after the vanished ring road, which details a set of public artworks (including Montreal’s excellent Roadsworth) that were unveiled on the build-up to the project — to the typical alarm, scorn, and consternation of shrill outlets like the Daily Mail.

Posted on Monday, December 1st, 2008 at 2:09 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Twice the Volume, One Third the Space

From Jan Gehl’s new report on New York City (via Streetsblog), this graph nicely depicts the typical (mis)allocation of New York City’s public space. We need hardly point out the glaring gap in negative externalities as well.

Posted on Monday, November 17th, 2008 at 1:59 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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(mis)Leading Pedestrian Interval

I just came across an article in the ITE Journal that speaks to some of the difficulties transportation engineers face in trying to manage and provide for varying modes of travel, particularly in environments where one mode dominates.

The article, “Trial Implementation of a Leading Pedestrian Interval: Lessons Learned,” by Sarah M.L. Hubbard, Darcy M. Bullock, and John H. Thai, describes the installation of an LPI (that’s where pedestrians get the “Walk Man” a bit before drivers get the green, so that “peds” can establish their presence in the crosswalk, and also be more visible) in Anaheim, California, near Disneyland.

While LPIs, at least in urban environments, have been found to be beneficial to pedestrians, at this location, the authors found, “the incidence of pedestrian compromise on the curb was found to be higher with the LPI signal timing than with concurrent signal timing for both low right-turn demand and high right-turn demand conditions.” In other words, things got worse for pedestrians with the LPI.

The culprit, they found, seemed to be the ability for drivers to make a right turn on red (yes, the only cultural advantage of California). “Drivers waiting to turn right at the red light are often watching for a gap in the oncoming traffic and may be unaware that the adjacent pedestrians have a WALK indication.” (One could get rid of the ROTR, of course, but that would, as the authors note, may cut right-turn capacity and could “actually reduce the service for pedestrians if drivers tend to accept smaller gaps between pedestrians and drive more aggressively as the v/c ratio for the right-turn movement increases” — in other words, the idiot factor may go up).

What goes unsaid here, but what I think is a more general underlying factor, is the sort of larger modal blindness that seems to occur in more suburbanized areas, like the one in which the trial was conducted. Judging by the photos in the article, the major flow street has at least four lanes in each direction, and presumably some rather high speeds. The overwhelming feel of such environments is that they are made for cars; and indeed are filled with cars, to the extent that drivers become rather programmed to looking out for the things that are important to them as drivers — lights, stripes, other cars. Pedestrians waiting to cross at a major intersections may be the victims of a kind of blindness by the drivers — either an actual kind of “attentional blindness” (they’re not looking for pedestrians so they don’t see pedestrians), or a kind of cultural blindness by which pedestrians are marginalized, and lose the rights that have been extended to them (though the number of “crosswalk” stings going across in urban areas across the U.S. should reveal this is by no means a suburban problem). I’ve noticed in Manhattan that some of the worst places to navigate on foot are near any of the bridge or tunnel entrances — either vehicles are still used to being in less pedestrian heavy environments, or their proximity to “escaping from New York” leads to a kind of animalistic imperative in which the only consideration becomes getting that many inches closer to the tunnel — woe to the person who has to cross on foot in one of these situations.

Posted on Monday, November 17th, 2008 at 1:44 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Is what Mary Roach suggested my book should have been called, and every time I read a story like this one, the point is driven home.

Detailing a police sting operation in Montclair, N.J., to reduce the number of pedestrians killed in crosswalks as they legally go about their walking (the most common way pedestrians are killed in NYC and apparently parts of N.J.), the story notes:

During the operation, dubbed Cops in Crosswalks, the percentage of motorists who stopped rose from 11 percent in June to 49 percent in August, and more than 800 drivers received $100 traffic-violation tickets, said Sgt. Daniel Pronti, of the Montclair Police Department.

“Most people who committed the violations weren’t even aware they committed a violation,” Sergeant Pronti said. “We learned that education was key to our ultimate goal of making people feel safe.”

Uh, I actually thought the education was supposed to happen before the drivers got their license. And we wonder why Europeans think our driving tests are a joke.

Posted on Tuesday, November 11th, 2008 at 3:52 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Democracy in Action

I was intrigued by this story of how Newark, N.J., is installing a number of count-down signals at key intersections, and also lengthening crossing times.

“Part of the reason for the evaluation throughout town is the persistence of resident Shari Gaston, who has been coming to meetings for months to complain about the safety of crossing the street.”

And there’s a poetic justice to the way it’s going down:

Monday at Newark City Council committee meetings, Service Director Kathleen Barch intends to request $7,500 from the funds collected from enforcement of handicap parking to pay for 16 countdown overlay crosswalk lights for four downtown intersections.

Posted on Tuesday, November 11th, 2008 at 3:43 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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A Scary Holiday for Pedestrians

Halloween presents one of the classic cases of risk misperception. Growing up, like most kids, I lived in terror of the vaporous threat of razor-bladed apples and butcher-knife wielding escapees from local insane asylums. But the real threat was right there in the road. As the Center for Disease Control has found in a much-referenced study, “the number of childhood pedestrian deaths increased fourfold among children on Halloween evenings when compared with all other evenings.” It’s not hard to imagine the reasons: Children clad in dark costumes, etc. Or, perhaps more to the point, drivers (perhaps liquored up) moving at improper speeds through residential neighborhoods. And pedestrians of all ages (but especially children) tend to have little idea of just how far away the driver of a car can see them (they tend to think it’s twice as far as it really is) — so maybe you should chuck out the Ninja costumes.

Trick-or-treating through New Jersey a few Halloweens ago with my nephews, I was appalled to notice a number of children simply being ferried from house to house in cavernous SUVs, which then sat idling as the children rang the doorbell and received their corn-syrup-ey treats. In true L.A. Story fashion, the behemoths would then literally drive a few dozen feet to the next house. Thus enters the classic cycle: The roads are perceived to be more dangerous, so more parents drive their kids, thus raising the very same risk.

The U.K.’s Ted Dewan and friends had an interesting method for reducing the Halloween risk: Staging a quite ghoulish mock crash on their street to calm (or frighten?) traffic.

Posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008 at 7:24 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Pedestrian Safety, Circa 1924

Via the fantastic Shorpy — a wonderful time-suck if there ever was one — I was intrigued by this image of a jazz-age automobile ‘cowcatcher.’ Risible though the image may seem, it does suggest an interesting lost history of sorts, as the car business, for most of the following decades, paid no attention whatsoever to the idea of mitigating pedestrian injury in car design.

Posted on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008 at 8:06 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:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
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



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