Archive for April 24th, 2009

Things I Didn’t Know

Via The Infrastructurist:

“A commonly cited statistic is that a 70 ton tractor trailer does as much damage to a roadway as 10,000 passenger cars.”

Could this be true? Roughly calculating that a 70-ton trailer would be 20 times the weight of the average car, it seems a mismatch, to say the least, that the damage done by the truck would be 10,000 times greater. Unless there is some serious non-linear action going on, some threshold of massive deterioration which trucks routinely cross — but then one wonders if the economics wouldn’t shake out towards building stronger roads, or making trucks smaller. One also wonders why tolls for trucks would be that much higher.

Anyone see any real data?

Posted on Friday, April 24th, 2009 at 4:53 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Ahem Signal

Reader Jesse asks a question about a situation that occurs regularly in traffic:

I saw a car today stuck behind an SUV. The car wanted to turn right at a red light, but the SUV was sitting there waiting for the green.

It was obvious that the car wanted to turn right, he had his signal on, he would creep up a few inches every now and then, and he was making moves to creep by the SUV, but did not have enough room. And I thought, I’m sure if the driver of the car could politely ask to get by the SUV would let him. But with his other methods of communicating failing (turn signal, creeping), the only thing left would be honking.

Honking is pushy. I thought, what if there were other audible signals? Something less pushy that sounded more like an ‘excuse me’ than a “HEY!” Has anything like that been attempted or marketed?

While I know of other alternative signaling systems that have been tried, I’m not aware of anything on this order. Of course, with existing horns, there’s a certain range of expression — the quick tap generally means something different, or is expressed differently at least — than the long blast.

But it is difficult to send a precise message with a horn, and if the person doesn’t understand what they are being asked to do, confusion and perhaps hostility will ensue. One reason this sort of thing is easier dealt with outside the car is that we can gesture with our eyes – we have white sclera in our eyes precisely for this reason, some have theorized — and indicate what we are asking of a person and boost the chances for cooperation.

This raises another point; in New York City, as no doubt elsewhere, we could use a quieter, secondary horn — sort of an “ahem signal” — for reminding people to move when the light has turned green. Sure, there’s the headlight flash option, but that assumes the driver ahead is looking in the rear-view mirror. Of course, when I see the person ahead is on a phone, the loud blast comes in quite handy.

Posted on Friday, April 24th, 2009 at 4:33 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Public Roads Are Not Private Places

I was struck by this passage, from a piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books, about Google’s Street View:

The Information Commissioner’s Office and the Metropolitan Police Commission in 2008 both concluded that Street View didn’t breach any privacy or security rules, and it was on that basis that the company went ahead with the project in the UK. (Street View has also been launched in France, but since it’s illegal under French law to publish photographs of private citizens without their permission, I have no idea how they’ve got away with it.) It’s difficult to say exactly why Street View seems to be crossing a line: after all, people’s addresses are freely available via the electoral register. Adding a photo of someone’s house doesn’t compromise their privacy any further. So the sense of invaded privacy is finally hard to defend.

He also notes that how you feel about Street View is a function of one’s age:

It’s been causing some controversy since its launch here, and from the non-scientific sample tests I’ve been running, it constitutes a Rorschach test of people’s attitudes to privacy and modernity. Most people my age and older instinctively dislike it. There seems to be something fundamentally not right about total strangers on the other side of the planet being able to look at a picture of my house. Younger users don’t see the problem: but then their attitudes to privacy are hard to understand, across the digital generation gap. The briefest look at Facebook or MySpace or Twitter shows a fundamental shift in how guarded people are about their private information: the younger generation really doesn’t seem to care.

But I was curious about this concept in light of the supposed debate over red-light cameras and the like, one aspect of which is said to be “privacy.” But just as it is acceptable for Google to send its cars down public streets to take pictures of those streets, and whatever happens to be occurring at that time, I see no reason why it is not acceptable for law-enforcement to photograph cars using that street in an illegal fashion.

As the IIHS puts it, “Driving is a regulated activity on public roads. By obtaining a license, a motorist agrees to abide by certain rules, such as to obey traffic signals. Neither the law nor common sense suggests drivers should not be observed on the road or have their violations documented. Red light camera systems can be designed to photograph only a vehicle’s rear license plate, not vehicle occupants, depending on local law. Only vehicles driven by motorists who violate the law are photographed.”

The only real difference I can see between a speed camera and a police officer holding a radar gun is that the latter will capture many fewer violators. We can also reframe the issue from the point of view of the potential victim of a traffic law violator — how has one person’s “privacy” infringed upon their rights?

Posted on Friday, April 24th, 2009 at 3:25 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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A Safer Way

An interesting new report from the U.K.’s Department for Transport, titled “A Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World,” notes that the country, which already has among the safest roads in the world and has cut fatalities by 18%, is aiming to reduce road casualties by a further one-third by 2020. As the chart above shows, the U.S. is in rather a different group of company (this measure is, albeit, per 100,000 persons so does not account for miles driven, but still…)

One part of the strategy is an increase in “self-enforcing” 20 MPH speed zones in urban areas (London now has more than 700, it notes).

Research suggests that pedestrians struck at 30 mph have about a 1 in 5 chance of being killed. At 20 mph the chance of a pedestrian dying is 1 in 40. In order to improve safety on the streets where we live, we will amend our guidance on speed limits, recommending that highway authorities, over time, introduce 20 mph zones or limits into streets that are primarily residential in nature and which are not part of any major through route. Similarly, we will encourage local authorities to consider introducing 20 mph limits or zones in town or city streets, such as around schools, shops, markets, playgrounds and other areas where pedestrian and cyclist movements are high.

The DFT will also be studying what speed reductions are theoretically possible without engineering treatments:

We will, however, also research the effect on speeds and casualties of wide‑area, un‑engineered 20 mph zones. As introduced in Portsmouth and proposed for a number of other cities, these are implemented through 20 mph signs alone. Our previous evidence shows that these have the effect of reducing speeds by 1–2 mph (as opposed to engineered zones, which can reduce speeds to near 20 mph) and are therefore most suited to roads where average speeds are already low. We will, however, re‑examine this issue in the light of the evidence provided by our forthcoming research.

Interestingly, the U.K. has already seen substantial speed reductions on local streets — whether this is due to enforcement, engineering, or education (or a bit of all three) is unclear.

The percentage of vehicles that exceed the speed limit on 30 mph roads was lower in every vehicle category in 2007 than it was ten years earlier (Figure 7.1). The improvement is particularly marked for cars, for which the percentage exceeding the speed limit in 1996 was about three‑quarters. This fell to just under half in 2007.

The implication of this goes beyond safety.

Not only do these zones make our streets safer, but they also have potential to reduce pollution and improve public health by encouraging walking and cycling. The limited evidence gathered to date suggests that people walk and cycle more in areas subject to 20 mph zones. We believe that these road safety measures will have the effect of enhancing both public safety and public perception of safety, so encouraging more walking and cycling.

Posted on Friday, April 24th, 2009 at 11:25 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.

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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



April 2009

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