Archive for August 17th, 2008

The Traffic Guru

Just a quick alert that my Wilson Quarterly essay on Hans Monderman is now available online. I’ve also posted the text after the jump, but I always recommend checking out the WQ site in general.


Posted on Sunday, August 17th, 2008 at 10:27 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Natural Traffic Calming

In the New York Times Maura Casey writes about a tree in the middle of the road in her Connecticut town:

“Sometime, decades ago, town officials decided to pave around the tree instead of cutting it down for the convenience of cars despite the fact that it probably made more sense to remove it while widening the road. But it was a perfectly good tree, and someone argued, successfully, that it be left alone. In a world with little tolerance for eccentricity, it is hard to imagine that decision being made today.”

There’s absolutely no reason residential streets, like the one pictured above, shouldn’t have trees in the middle of the road. Apart from the aesthetic contribution, they’re great natural traffic calming devices. Yes, you have to slow down to navigate around them, yes they reduce the “sight distance” of whatever lays beyond (hence you have to slow down), and yes they are a crash “hazard” — if you act in a hazardous way.

Unfortunately, in too many places in America, someone would come along at a speed they shouldn’t be going — or maybe they’re otherwise “impaired” — and they smack into the tree, fatally or otherwise. The town, worried about safety and lawsuits, etc., calls for “improvements” to be made to the street — beginning with cutting down the offending tree as a “safety measure.” Of course, on the new widened, standardized road, speeds will thus increase, shifting the hazard from the drivers of cars to the residents of the neighborhood themselves. Idiot-proofed streets tend to breed idiotic behavior.

Those neighbors, grown tired of cars whizzing down their streets, may even turn to their own solution, as a group of residents in Seattle did (thanks to James Callan for the tip) when they bought speed bumps at Costco and installed them on their own streets in an effort to stop people from driving at speeds approaching 50 mph. This didn’t sit well with the Seattle DOT, who had the non-complying, offending devices removed. The kicker comes in the final line: “The city has already allocated $15,000 to the neighborhood, which can be used for traffic signs.”

Signs, as any number of studies have shown, are essentially useless at slowing drivers. That $15,000 would be better spent on a planting a tree or two — in the middle of the road.

Posted on Sunday, August 17th, 2008 at 10:13 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



August 2008

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