Archive for January 14th, 2009

Unhealthy Excuses

Via David Hembrow, I love these Dutch traffic education cards, each of which, as Hembrow translates, presents a reason kids might give to try to cadge a lift from their parents (and why they shouldn’t):

“1. The car is much quicker (by design in this country, cycling within town is generally quicker than driving).
2. My bag is much too heavy.
3. It’s too far (“Dad, do you know how far that walk is ? It’s 50000 centimetres!”)
4. It’s raining (“I just can’t wear this rain jacket”).”

Contrast this to the U.S., where many schools will not discharge a kid without a parent/driver there to pick them up.

Posted on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 6:01 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Get Yourself Seen

It’s a U.K. spot, circa 1976, but the singers sound very American, as funky but perhaps less psychedelic than the Kroft Supershow…

Posted on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 5:45 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Enigma of Arrivals

Yesterday morning found me at a TRB panel, “Building the 21st Century Transportation System,” moderated by NYC’s own Janette Sadik-Khan. There were a number of interesting details offered — e.g., that J.S.K. had played rugby at Occidental College (she was abroad the year Barack Obama was there) a good skill set I think for navigating Gotham politics; or that Portlanders drive 4 fewer miles per day than other places in the U.S.; or that Seattle is high on the safety benefits of “advanced stop bars” — but one small anecdote that caught my attention in particular was offered by Fred Hansen, of Portland’s Tri-Met.

Talking about the city’s “Transit Tracker” program, which allows people to get real-time info on bus arrivals via their cell phones, Hansen mentioned a study that had been done in the U.K. of a similar program. What was noteworthy was that people using the service felt that the bus service itself had improved, that more buses were running, that they were running closer to schedule, even though none of this was empirically true.

I have a particular interest in the fluid nature of time, and the way travel, queuing, and even routing can play additive and subtractive games with this. Paco Underhill, for example, notes that people who wait in airport lines overestimate the time they waited by some 50 percent. I’ve also seen it noted that a train trip with a transfer feels longer to people than it really is, that people overestimate the time it will take to walk somewhere and underestimate the time it will take to drive somewhere. Of course, one of the masters of managing time is Disney, with its posted wait times (just posting the time makes it feel shorter for people) at queues, wait times which are then inflated — so the payoff at the end is even better: That wasn’t long at all!

The lesson here, I suppose, is that perception can be just as important as reality in crafting the “customer experience,” a lesson that applies as much to public transit as it does to the Magic Kingdom.

Posted on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 5:00 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Researcher Needed

Via John Adams:

“John Adams and (even older – positively venerable) Mayer Hillman are looking for a younger enthusiast to carry on a research project that Mayer and Anne Whalley began at the Policy Studies Institute. In 1971, they conducted a survey of English children’s independent mobility – how they got to school, visited friends and so on, whether they were allowed to get about and use public transport on their own and, if they owned a bicycle, to ride it on public roads, and how they spent the weekend previous to the survey. Parents also were involved by completing a questionnaire about the age up to which they imposed personal mobility restrictions on their children, and the reasons for doing so.

These surveys were repeated in the same schools in 1990 (published as One False Move … and available online at This follow-up study disclosed a dramatic loss of children’s independence over the previous 19 years. For instance, in 1971, 80% of 7 and 8-year old children got to school unaccompanied by an adult but by 1990 this proportion had fallen to 9%. With the collaboration of John Whitelegg, then at the Wuppertal Institute, matching surveys to provide a cultural comparison were conducted in West Germany. This revealed that, compared with the English, children there enjoyed a significantly higher level of independence.

Now, close on 20 years later, we think it would be instructive to conduct the surveys again to produce a 40-year review and to extend the comparison to other European countries to widen understanding of the influence of culture. The study would be an opportunity to chronicle the changes in children’s independent mobility and the possible relationship this has had with their physical and emotional development. It would also help to explain the social significance of children’s loss of what could be described as a right and enable lessons to be learned from wider international comparisons with the experience, behaviour and attitudes of children and parents in other countries…

…Anyone tempted, please contact Mayer in the first instance at”

Posted on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 3:16 pm 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:

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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



January 2009

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