Archive for September 2nd, 2008

Make Magazine-style DIY Traffic Hack

In the ongoing series of local residents’ efforts to slow traffic in their neighborhoods, I bring you this fake speed camera, installed by a dentist in Hamburg.

Said the dentist: “This street leads to school and kindergarten. But it does not seem to interest the drivers. The limit is 60, but despite this they are always racing.”

The report notes the curious detail that because “Kaps’ fake speed radar does not emit a light which might endanger traffic, he has not broken the law.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 2:38 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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This Just In From the “Depends How You Look at It Department”

One of the hallmarks of sensationalist papers like the New York Post is that the purported thesis of a story, loudly trumpeted in a headline, often seems undermined by the story itself. The case in point here is “Anger at Mike the Road Hog; Pedestrian Islands Drive Motorists Nuts,” (below the jump) about the new pedestrian space on Broadway in Manhattan.

The paper cites precisely two people who claim the project is a disaster; an “office worker” and a 24-year-old “Jersey commuter.” Of course, the Post could have simply wandered up to cars stopped at lights and asked the opinions of other motorists. They predictably would have bemoaned traffic, questioned the idea of taking away road space, etc. — and basically said the opposite of what people sitting in the new plaza would have said (not that they polled any of those). But the newspaper seemed content with a couple of random miffed types.

And, of course, nowhere does the Post bring up the uncomfortable fact that drivers on Broadway are the minority of street users, despite taking up a majority of the space, or even raise the question of to what extent Manhattan should be designed to make the lives of Jersey car commuters easier.

The piece then goes on to cite two people who think the pedestrian plaza is just fine: A shopkeeper and the head of the local Business Improvement District, two people who presumably have a greater stake in the actual lifeblood of the neighborhood. Throw in the DOT commish who gave the go-ahead to the project and it seems like a majority of the people in the story actually support the project.

Not that you’d know that from the headline, which makes Mayor Mike out to be a traffic tyrant rather than civic hero, and paints the whole thing as a misguided folly. There’s also a few gratuitous mentions of “road-rage inducing” projects like the Ninth Avenue cycle lane, etc. This road rage would presumably not extend to the many numbers of new cyclists in the city who are taking advantage of these facilities.

And for what it’s worth, for the guy who thinks the plaza will be a waste of space during the winter (space which could be better given over to tourists in cars coming to look at the Christmas Tree), he should get himself to Copenhagen, where, thanks to outdoor heaters and the like, the city has an almost year-round outdoor cafe culture.


Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 7:55 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Of Tea Kettles and Traffic Lights

Reading Stefan Klein’s hugely entertaining and informative Time: A User’s Guide yesterday, I came across this traffic-related tidbit:

“Where do you have a longer wait: At a red light, when you’ve just missed the green — or in your kitchen, waiting for an electric kettle to boil water for a cup of tea? If you think that boiling water takes more time, you’re mistaken: both require an average of ninety seconds.”

This comparison intrigued me for several reasons. The first is that one rarely sees “traffic time” compared to other moments of time from everyday life. What other mundane acts of life could theoretically be performed in the time stuck at the lights?

The second is that very fact that we wouldn’t think of the time we spend at a light as being equal to waiting for tea; this in itself reminded me of studies I had seen in which people underestimated the amount of time it would take to drive somewhere, and overestimated the amount of time it would take by another mode. Traffic is a very time-skewing activity in general. When we’re moving along at a good clip, we tend not to notice any time signals (except for “on the hour” announcements on radio and the like); when we’re stuck in heavy traffic, aware of every vehicle passing us, we’re more aware to minor moments of progress and change and thus, as Klein argues, these trivial things add up to “a perceived time that seems much longer than what our watches tell us.” Which is why watched kettles, of course, take longer to boil.

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 7:01 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:

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For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau:

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Traffic UK
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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



September 2008

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