Archive for September 29th, 2008

Traffic Light Neurosis

When I came across this line on the website for Time, for a moment I assumed it must be another article talking about Shared Space, Hans Monderman, etc.:

“Since it scrapped its traffic light system four years ago, busy, industrial Bayonne, N.J. has had a substantial decrease in traffic mishaps.”

Then I looked at the date of the article: 1938.

I’m not sure what Bayonne replaced its lights with —anyone know? — perhaps early traffic circles.

In any case, the rest of the article has some enduring implications for contemporary traffic:

“No scientist has explained why. But last week, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Cincinnati Physician Howard D. Fabing examined the behavior of the average motorist, found that traffic lights caused conditioned reflexes which made him as dithery as one of Russian Physiologist I.P. Pavlov’s famous third-degreed dogs.

One of Professor Pavlov’s dogs was taught that a circular light flashed on a screen meant food, that an elliptical light meant none. Then the ellipse was gradually rounded out until it was nearly circular, but no food. This psychological double-cross sent the dog into a nervous state called traumatic neurosis, from which he had to be rescued by rest and daily rectal instillations of bromides. An obedient motorist is conditioned to stop at a red light, to proceed at a green. But Dr. Fabing’s research marked the green as a treacherous come-on, since often just when a motorist steps on the accelerator the green light changes to red, so that his right foot must jump for the brake. Soon most motorists develop what Dr. Fabing calls an “anxiety neurosis in miniature,” mainly centred in an uncertain right foot, but with other noticeable effects. On himself, Dr. Fabing noted “a quickening of my pulse by 25 beats … a pilomotor [hair-on-end] response on my forearms, a dryness of the mouth, a sudden excessive sweating of the palms a feeling of epigastric distress.”

Not willing to suggest abolition of traffic lights, which most safety experts agree are necessary in heavy traffic, Dr. Fabing called attention to several patented, non-confusing systems. His recommendation: a clock-dial light with a rotating hand swinging from a green section at the top to a yellow caution light at the quarter-hour position, to a red section at the bottom, to another yellow caution light at the three-quarter-hour position— the hand always showing by its position how much green or red time remains.”

Posted on Monday, September 29th, 2008 at 12:09 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Wheels of Fortune

Which Asian vehicle manufacturer is on track for its best-ever year?

Giant, the Taiwanese bicycle manufacturer, notes The Economist. Supply is so short in its home market that Giant buyers put money down months ahead of receiving their wheels.

Posted on Monday, September 29th, 2008 at 8:25 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
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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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