Archive for August 10th, 2009

Stop Making Sense

I was delighted to come across this bit on the blog Alternatives to Valium, as the writer visits with the former lead singer of the Talking Heads (and transportation writer) David Byrne:

And this, really, is the essence of David Byrne. He could, we may assume, afford to take a taxi, but, armed with his free maps from the London Cycle Campaign, he chooses to bike it, even when his journey involves an encounter with the Elephant and Castle roundabout. “Oh my God! Yes. I’ve heard that roundabouts are good for traffic, better than stoplights. Some guy [Tom Vanderbilt] has a book out called Traffic; there was a study, and there are fewer accidents on roundabouts than traffic lights because on roundabouts, it’s so precarious, you have to really be aware, and stop texting on your cellphone. Whereas with stoplights, people feel like the light does the job for them. So they’ll pull out when it turns green, and not think that someone else may have missed the light.”

The ‘some guy,’ to me, was rather perfect; it’s cooler in a way than actually being name-checked because a.) this shows that David Byrne doesn’t actually know me, and this isn’t just log-rolling and b.) the ideas are preceding me, which is the way it should be. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this really captures my feelings on roundabouts 100%, but it’s good enough.

After I wrote the roundabouts piece recently in Slate, there was a lot of chatter about pedestrian safety, and how some people don’t feel comfortable crossing at roundabout intersections. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that roundabouts can be as safe, if not safer, for pedestrians than conventional intersections for some of the same reasons they are for drivers. And one reason that might not have been considered is how they use space. To wit, the photos below, which come from Asheville, North Carolina, which has converted a number of downtown intersections, like those pictured on College Street, to roundabouts.

Here’s the before:

And here’s the after (not the most current ‘after,’ mind you, and not the very same location, but you get the general drift):

One thing that roundabouts do away with is the need for a dedicated left-turn lane. Left-turn lanes — there are generally two — have the consequence of making intersections wider. If there’s one iron law of pedestrian safety, it’s that the more lanes you have to cross, the less safe it is (for a number of reasons). Instead of things like left-turn lanes, you can fill the space with planted medians, which are not only more aesthetically pleasing, making the downtown seem more like a downtown than a stretch of asphalt, but provide safer crossings for pedestrians. Looking at the two images above, it’s instantly clear which one you’d rather walk across, traffic lights or not (and incidentally, there have been no pedestrian crashes at these intersections since 2005, the city’s head traffic engineer informs me).

Posted on Monday, August 10th, 2009 at 3:16 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘Less Demanding Than Avoiding Them on the Road’

James Fallows with some interesting comparative thoughts on air crashes, and ground crashes, vis a vis this weekend’s events:

To someone with no experience controlling cars or trucks, it would seem incredible that drivers could whiz past each other in opposite directions on a two-lane road and not have head-on collisions all the time. They’re so close to each other! How can it possibly be safe? Isn’t anyone in control? And in fact, tens of thousands of people do die in road crashes each year. But since most people know about cars, they understand how drivers can watch out for other vehicles, how two-way traffic can usually be safe, and what kind of mistake, misjudgment, recklessness, or sheer bad luck can lead to a head-on crash.

But when it comes to aviation, relatively few people have first-hand experience steering planes or watching out for other aerial traffic. And because air disasters, when they happen, are so gruesome, it’s natural for most people to think: they’re so close to each other! How can it possibly be safe? Isn’t anyone in control? In fact, avoiding collisions in the air is, in terms of sheer reflexes required, less demanding than avoiding them on the road. (Landing an airplane is more demanding than most aspects of driving; simply flying an airplane is not.) If you lose attention for five seconds in a car, you can be in serious trouble. In airplanes there’s usually a lot more time to see what’s coming toward you and decide how to avoid a problem. It’s more like operating a boat in a harbor than like driving a car on a road. This may be why Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who has trained extensively as a helicopter and airplane pilot (his certificate info here) — struck the calmest note in the NYT story. He said, essentially: this is a terrible tragedy, and while we have to look for causes, it doesn’t mean we have to go crazy or shut everything down. More or less the way car drivers respond after a road tragedy.

Posted on Monday, August 10th, 2009 at 8:48 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



August 2009

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