“A Dead Man Has No Right of Way”

That’s apparently a road warning sign in Lagos, Nigeria, from an interesting post on traffic, and other things.

We were a slave to our first real traffic jam today. It wasn’t so much that it took us three hours to get somewhere. It was more that there was a T intersection in a major road that was packed with cars, and our taxi driver was trying to make a left, across traffic, while everyone else seemed to be attempting a left in all 360 degrees. There was a small divider that was meant to guide people coming and going along where the base of the T met the top, one side to keep people coming, one side for those going. That’s what became the circle of traffic snarl. And there we sat for probably a half hour, millimetering our way into the smallest crevices between cars, as motorcycles squeezed through in all directions, street hawkers offered prepaid cellphone cards, candies, wallets, DVDs, whatever as they weaved their way between every car. Drivers began yelling at other drivers. Everyone looked kind of mad about the whole thing. As our car finally pointed in the direction of the turn, that was when I noticed that someone in an SUV had decided to drive against traffic along the wrong side of the base of T, which made it almost impossible, somehow, for anyone to pass a car in any direction. The pieces had all fit perfectly together, and no one could move. Had I not been paying attention in the moments up to this, and just had this single moment to draw information from, it would have been impossible for me to actually gauge which direction any car should have been going, based on a traffic pattern. This was what total chaos actually looks like. And just when it couldn’t get any more intense, police officers appeared from the other side of cars in front of us, yelling, waving big machine guns in the air, angry at the snarled traffic. One in particular was shouting “these drivers, look how they drive!” There was a moment when I had to remind myself that a lot of yelling goes on in places like Nigeria that doesn’t necessarily mean anything worse is around the corner. Like the two men yelling viciously at each other next to the car earlier that day, as we waited our way through another jam on the highway—you could just tell that, no matter how much they yelled, there weren’t going to be punches. In America, this would have looked like punches were coming. So, as the police were yelling and waving their guns, I had to take a deep breath and convince myself this was just like that earlier shouting match. No worries, right? Right?

This entry was posted on Friday, January 16th, 2009 at 8:36 am and is filed under Cars, Cities, Traffic Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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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



January 2009

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