Archive for October 31st, 2008

How Do You Say ‘My Bad’ in Welsh?

This is priceless. The bit in Welsh there, rather than translating the traffic info in English, is actually an “out of office” auto reply that made it in by error.

What went wrong?

All official road signs in Wales are bilingual, so the local authority e-mailed its in-house translation service for the Welsh version of: “No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only” The reply duly came back and officials set the wheels in motion to create the large sign in both languages.”

Posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008 at 1:02 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Ten Things You Should Know About New York City Traffic

I’m back at home and my thoughts turn to local traffic. And so continuing in the “Ten Things” series of my utterly unscientific, sample-size-of-one observations and picked-up-pieces of trivia:

1. The nation’s worst bottleneck is in the Bronx. According to INRIX, the exit 4B segment (.30 miles) of the Cross-Bronx Expressway is congested 94 hours a week. The average speed when congested is 9 mph. (the average New Yorker walks 3.4 mph).

2. The clearance phase here is about 1.7 seconds (e.g., when one set of lights turn red, the others will go green approximately that much later).

3. Access-a-Ride drivers are the worst in the city — I’m not sure if this is because they’re put on a too-tight schedule or they’re just trying to increase their numbers of passengers. Empty school buses are a close second, followed by off-duty ambulance drivers.

4. Smokers, and people on cell-phones, walk more slowly than other New Yorkers (4.17 f/s and 4.20 f/s, respectively, versus an average of 4.28 f/s for all pedestrians).

5. Every third car in Brooklyn has North Carolina license plates (insurance fraud, anyone?)

6. New York is the only major U.S. city without residential parking permits (see item #5).

7. The only thing harder than trying to park a car in NYC is trying to park a bike.

8. Bloomberg deserves reelection for his Janette Sadik-Khan appointment alone.

9. After a decade of investigation I still do not know the fastest approach lane on the massive funnel-like, ten-lanes-to-two entrance to the Holland Tunnel (once you’re past the tolls, on the Jersey side). The outside lanes sometimes seem better to me; not sure if this correlates to say, rice moving through a funnel.

10. New York City is home to the world’s first traffic circle, Columbus Circle, designed by William Phelps Eno (note, however, there is a countering claim that the ‘carrefour a gyration’ in Paris, by Eugene Henard, deserves the prize). Also note this has nothing to do with the modern roundabout, of which NYC has none.

Your further suggestions are welcome.

Posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008 at 8:05 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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“Maximum Capacity” in Lowell, Mass.

I’m not quite sure what that phrase means in this article, particularly if, as the article also states, people are doing 55 mph right through the heart of town (which would indicate plenty of road capacity), but is it me or does Lowell, Mass., based on this article, appear to be on the verge of getting things wrong in fixing their traffic problems?

Note this paragraph:

“For the next four years, MassHighway has slated $42 million in projects to improve Lowell intersections, including traffic signal improvements, bridge betterments and replacements, realigning the intersections, and the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the busy downtown thoroughfare, Thorndike Street .”

A pedestrian bridge? Why does this retrograde idea, imported from the anti-urban totalizing fantasies of modernist architects and itself a symbol of a decline of a place, still enchant traffic people? Well, actually it doesn’t much anymore, except in the developing world. How about a boulevard? A road diet? I dunno, a roundabout (if left turn crashes are as big as they say)? I don’t know Lowell or that street — anyone care to weigh in?

Posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008 at 7:48 am 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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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:

Order Traffic from:

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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



October 2008

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