Archive for the ‘Traffic Enforcement’ Category

3-Way Street

3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.


Posted on Monday, June 6th, 2011 at 8:58 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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When Is a Wheelchair a Pedestrian and When Is It a Vehicle?

Via the St. Petersburg Times, an emerging gray area in traffic law involving a fatal crash between a scooter and a motorized wheelchair, also known as “mobility scooters”:

If considered a pedestrian, a charge could be as simple as jaywalking. If he was operating a vehicle, it could be as serious as reckless driving.

The decision could boil down to the size of the wheelchair motor.

“There’s issues in there about wattage, horsepower, things like that,” St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said. “Speed is also a factor. They want to get to a point where they have a comfort level.”

The case could have repercussions in a city where motorized wheelchairs, also known as mobility scooters, are common on streets and sidewalks.

People operating wheelchairs typically are considered pedestrians. But because Kurczaba’s wheelchair is motorized, police said they will examine the accident in greater detail before considering whether charges should be filed.

(HT to Shirl)

Posted on Friday, December 3rd, 2010 at 1:22 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Twenty’s Plenty

For those looking to explain why the U.K. has made comparatively greater advances in traffic safety than the U.S. over the last few decades, urban speed zones are one good place to look.

An article recently published in the British Medical Journal, “Effect of 20 mph traffic speed zones on road injuries in London, 1986-2006: controlled interrupted time series analysis,” by Chris Grundy, et al., notes that “the introduction of 20 mph zones was associated with a 41.9% (95% confidence interval 36.0% to 47.8%) reduction in road casualties, after adjustment for underlying time trends.”

The reduction, they also note, was greatest for young children — which brings up the point that it’s not merely children’s risk-taking behavior responsible for their deaths as pedestrians, that addressing driver’s behavior can make a difference — and mattered more for KIAs (killed or serious injuries) than for minor injuries. They also report that “there was no evidence of casualty migration to areas adjacent to 20 mph zones, where casualties also fell slightly by an average of 8.0% (4.4% to 11.5%).” Perhaps driving more slowly on one set of streets even had a carry-over effect. The reductions are impressive and seem beyond what might be explained by some other factor, such as a reduction in pedestrian volumes over that same time period (although other factors, like the presence of enforcement cameras, need to be kept in mind).

About now is where someone usually complains that putting up 20 mph signs is ineffective and won’t change driver behavior. But we’re not talking about mere signage here, we’re talking “self-enforcing roads,” with a variety of engineering and design measures, and as the authors write, some evidence “suggests that the self enforcing 20 mph zones are effective in reducing traffic speeds to an average of 17 mph, an average reduction of 9 mph.”

The benefit wasn’t merely for pedestrians. “A somewhat counterintuitive observation,” they write, “is the apparently large reduction in injuries to car occupants.”

And not surprisingly, given their findings, the authors argue for extending, where justified, the 20 mph zone throughout London, and other metropolitan regions. Which isn’t necessarily an easy task, as Shanthi Ameratunga notes in a reply, also worth reading. “Giving provincial or local agencies the authority to reduce national speed limits is an important step in achieving this vision. Yet the 2009 global survey on road safety reported that only 29% of 174 participating countries set speed limits of 50 km an hour or below on urban roads and allowed local authorities to reduce national speed limits. These findings probably reflect both the lack of evidence on cost effective speed management strategies in low income and middle income countries, and the reticence of most governments to enforce laws that limit driving speeds, possibly because of perceived public opposition.”

But progress is being made, at least in the U.K.

Posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 at 9:41 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The $600 Speeding Ticket

Around 1909, a speeding ticket was a price proposition in today’s terms, notes the Boston Globe:

Speeding fines were enormous, starting at $25 – the equivalent of $600 today, according to the scholarly website

Of course, no one had a speedometer in his car to know how fast he was going. Nor did the police have any way to record speeds, or patrol cars to catch violators – though they probably could have tracked them down.

Posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 at 9:50 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Questions We Should Ask

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Advocates for a new law argue that families of those killed or maimed deserve greater sense of justice than a traffic ticket brings. However, a conviction for negligent driving doesn’t carry much steeper punishment. Typically, a first-time offender gets probation or a deferred sentence.

“Do they need an automatic license suspension or do they need driver retraining. These are the questions that we should ask,” Hiller said. He noted that people who don’t control their vicious dogs face more criminal culpability than drivers for negligence behind the wheel.

New York’s own traffic justice symposium is coming up — details here.

Posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 at 9:42 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Passengers of Drunk Drivers: Victims or Accomplices?

The Shanghai Daily notes that Chinese police are considering a plan to charge the passengers of drunk drivers:

CHINA has already mounted a massive crackdown on drunk drivers and is now considering even tougher legislation, including a clause that will penalize passengers who aid and abet offenders.

The nation’s police authority is seeking public opinion on a draft that outlines this proposal.
According to the draft, passengers in the same vehicle as a drunk driver will be fined if it is deemed they did not make all reasonable efforts to stop the offender from getting behind the wheel.

As the draft has not classified the type of vehicle covered by the clause, some commuters have expressed concerns about whether they will be held accountable if a bus driver is under the influence of alcohol. Xu Yuan, a Shanghai architect, said the regulation was senseless as passengers were likely to have no idea about whether their bus driver had been drinking. Zhan Yan, a Shanghai student, thought the draft was reasonable if the passenger was a relative or close friend of the driver.

The proposal seeks to increase penalties on drunk drivers, including detention and life-long driving-license bans for multiple offenders. Drunk drivers involved in fatal accidents deemed as manslaughter face up to seven years’ jail instead of three years at present.

Drunk drivers in Shanghai already face the maximum penalties allowed by law. They could also be charged with the crime of “endangering public security by dangerous means,” which has happened in two cases in Chengdu, in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, and Foshan, in the southern Guangdong Province. Sun Weiming, who killed four people while drunk driving in Chengdu last December, has been jailed for life. Drunk driver Li Jingquan, who killed two people on September 16, 2006, in Foshan, was also imprisoned for life.
The national blitz from mid-August was sparked by an increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

Posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 at 7:56 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Geography of Traffic Tickets

Where you get pulled over in Chicago and environs influences your chances of getting a ticket.

The next step for a proper study would be to correlate each jurisdiction’s traffic safety rates with ticketing rates, as with the study by Thomas Stratmann and Michael Makowsky.

Posted on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 at 8:40 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Via the BBC:

There has been traffic chaos in two Paris suburbs after their feuding mayors declared the same busy road one-way, but in opposite directions.

Posted on Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 at 12:36 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Kafka at the DMV

Via the Detroit News:

Ferndale — After pulling over a reportedly stolen car early Wednesday morning, police discovered that the driver, Renee Lashon Beavers, 33, of Detroit, had been issued 45 license suspensions from the Michigan Secretary of State.

“Actually, she has never had a driver’s license from us,” said SOS spokesman Fred Woodhams. “She definitely has a record with us, but we show that she’s never had a license.”

According to the SOS, it is possible to receive driving suspensions without ever having acquired a valid driver’s license.

Posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2009 at 3:17 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The U.S. is still not paying congestion charging fees in London, reports the Guardian.

“TfL and the UK government are agreed that the congestion charge is a charge for a service and not a tax, which means that diplomats are not exempt from payment. All staff at the American embassy should pay it, in the same way as British officials pay road tolls in the United States. TfL continues to engage directly with those embassies that refuse to pay in order to increase compliance with the scheme by diplomats.”

Posted on Monday, August 24th, 2009 at 8:00 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Catch-22 in Virginia

A good article in the Washington Post unpacks some of the vagaries of laws prohibiting texting and cell-phone use while driving. My favorite passage, concerning Virginia, notes:

The law makes texting a secondary offense, so an officer has to stop a driver for some other reason before writing a texting citation. In court, the driver can say he was dialing a phone call, which is legal, or using his phone’s GPS function, which is legal. Short of getting texting records from a phone company, which isn’t allowed because the crime is a misdemeanor, an officer has no way to prove a driver was texting.

If the law seems laughable, the fine is a real joke: $20.

Maryland’s forthcoming law, by contrast, sets the fine at $500.

Posted on Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 at 7:16 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Emotionally Intelligent Bollards

One of the most universal, and seemingly intractable, problems in the world of traffic is controlling drivers’ speeds on local streets, particularly those with children present. The latest approach, in Leicester, England, combines hardcore traffic engineering — steel bollards — with a more humanistic side: They literally look like small children standing on the side of the road.

There is, admittedly, a bit of a Village of the Damned look to the bollards — and yet also something rather cheerful, something like foosball players — but perhaps, echoing Daniel Pink’s “emotionally intelligent signage” proposal, they may trigger some instinctual response, reminding drivers of the presence of humans (and, after all, studies have shown that images of humans, particularly human eyes, can be as persuasive as real humans).

Not surprisingly, the locals are a bit divided.

Sylvia Thomas, who lives in nearby Greenhill Road, said: “I can’t see the point of them. If they are there to calm traffic they don’t work, because one has already been knocked over.

“They are quite strange.”

Helen Evans, 44, from Knighton, said: “They look great. I think they’re cute – and hopefully they will make people drive more carefully and remember there are children around here.”

As to the first commenter, rather than viewing it a failed solution, the idea that one has already been knocked down might simply demonstrate the extent of the problem. And the bollards are merely one part of a wider strategy, including striping and a new 20 mph speed limit.

From another story came this comment:

The RAC told Sky News Online that there was a risk “the statues will become a distraction with drivers focusing on them rather than the road ahead.”

One way to deal with that issue would be to put a few in the road. But of course there’s also the issue that real pedestrians will become a distraction — do we ban them from roadsides? Do we strip any sign of life from city streets so drivers will not have their precious roads obscured, their perilous attention (probably already compromised by their phone) fractured any further?

In any case, I’ll be curious to hear of any before/after speed comparisons.

Posted on Sunday, August 16th, 2009 at 10:21 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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No Phones In School Zones

I’m currently in Texas, and just heard an item on the radio about a curious new law: That it’s illegal to use a (hand-held) cell phone in a “school zone.”

And, as an article by Ben Wear (who was on my panel back at the Texas Book Festival last year) in the Statesman notes, cities like Austin now have to (or don’t, it’s still a bit up in the air) post signs alerting drivers to the presence of this law, otherwise police cannot enforce.

Robert Spillar, the City of Austin’s transportation director, said the city has not set aside money for the signs. Nonetheless, it will begin installing them this fall, starting with elementary schools. It could take two years to get them all up, he said.

“I don’t see how we can not put them up,” Spillar said. He said he isn’t sure the mere presence of signs will change driver behavior, and said some sort of education program might be necessary to get the message across. “It’s an unfunded mandate that has our backs against the wall. We can’t enforce it if the signs aren’t up.”

This is the first I’d heard of such a particular distinction being made in a particular zone, and I’m having trouble seeing the reasoning, or the safety impact. The first thought that jumps to mind is that a driver on a cell-phone is hardly likely to pick out a “no cell-phone” sign, much less expeditiously hang up their call as they approach. The second is that signs warning of “school zones” themselves, while a bit better — particularly when backed up flashing lights — than the ubiquitous (and absolutely ineffectual) “Slow Children” signs that are not officially recognized by engineers, tend to be little regarded as well, at least based on various tests in which drivers were still found to be routinely exceeding the speed limit; typically it’s the parent bringing their kids to the very same school. The entire concept of “School Zones” is a bit wanting, really, prone to driver and legal confusion, not to mention that it raises that eternal question: One is supposed to drive slowly and attentively on this stretch past a school, but it’s then OK to accelerate to higher speed a block later (a block on which there may be just as many children)?

And then, on the cell phone issue, we’re again making odd distinctions: We’re admitting that cell phones are a hazard to use when driving around groups of children at schools, but somehow OK when driving among groups of pedestrians or cyclists or children on the blocks in front of their homes — or in fact every other car on the road? And that it’s OK for drivers to zip past schools while talking on their hands-free-not-brain-free unit?

And then there’s the aesthetic blight of all the extra signage — more signs for drivers to ignore — not to mention all the money going to put the signs up, just so a law can be enforced; it seems rather ridiculous that if a state law is passed declaring it illegal to use cell phones in a school zone, one would have to expensively repeat that statement at every already marked school zone. After all, we don’t feel the need to erect signs announcing that driving while impaired is illegal, in school zones or anywhere else.

As always, any experiences or technical clarifications welcome.

Posted on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 at 5:14 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Goosegate, Resolved

For those of you eagerly following this story, justice has been rendered.

Now that the legal flap has died down, no word yet if all the parties involved have been invited to talk through their differences over a beer at the White House (though the geese would sure enjoy that lawn).

And the cynic in me can’t help concluding this guy was facing more legal trouble than have drivers who have struck cyclists or pedestrians, for example.

Posted on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 at 7:18 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘Jay’-Walking (or Goose-Stepping?)

A Virginia man helps birds cross the road, gets traffic fine, notes the Washington Post.

“They were walking like gentlemen,” Vamosi said, upright and confident. “Like the Beatles on ‘Abbey Road.’ “

The law notes that “pedestrians shall not carelessly or maliciously interfere with the orderly passage of vehicles” (as if that last phrase can actually apply to Fairfax County traffic). No word on whether this applies to avian pedestrians.

I say the trooper’s response should have been: No harm, no fowl.

Posted on Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 at 1:59 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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No One at the Wheel

Transportation Alternatives has released an important new report, titled “No One at the Wheel,” which I’ll be commenting upon further once I’ve had the chance to read it in its entirety. But the above graphic hints at some of the noteworthy and troubling findings.

Posted on Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 at 1:23 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Sign of the Cross

I was driving in Montana yesterday, down highway 85 (returning home from the excellent Driving Assessment conference), about as psychically far from Brooklyn as you can get (though there was actually plenty of traffic, due to some federal-stimulus-driven construction work-zones), on a stretch that, as a sign informed me, was part of a 26-mile “Accident Reduction Project.”

Montana, as I mention in Traffic, has the highest per-mile-driven fatal crash rate in the country, and it’s not hard to see why: Many high-speed undivided two-lane roads (and every vehicle seemed to be an incredibly large pickup truck), one of the country’s highest drinking-and-driving rates (Montana was one of the last state to pass a no-open-container law), extreme weather conditions (hinted at by the little turn-outs with “Chain Up” signs), dark roads, moose and other animals, long emergency response times — the list goes on. Driving yesterday, I wondered about the actual contribution of the incredible scenery itself (I imagined a highway patrolman coding a crash, ‘Improper Lookout Due to Stunning Natural Rock Formation’) to unsafe driving; more than once, gazing at the nearby rushing rapids, I was brought back to reality by the center-line rumble strips, a feature I haven’t seen (or felt) that much elsewhere.

A prevalent feature of that staggeringly expansive landscape are the white memorial crosses, which I saw often at rather severe curves, but also on quite innocuous stretches of road. Montana is one of the few states that actively permits, indeed encourages (since the program’s inception, in 1953), the placing of these crosses (by local American Legion posts). As this source notes:

The program is intended as a highway safety not a memorial program. Still, many families place wreaths or other decorations on the white crosses, which may be considered a memorial to a loved one lost in an accident. Obstruction of the white marker with these decorations defeats the purpose of the safety program. Attaching them below the cross on the metal pole is acceptable. The white markers serve as a public service message, reminding drivers to “Please Drive Carefully.” They are a sobering reminder of a fatal traffic accident, a place where a human being lost his/her life.

The American Legion’s Fatality Markers can be found within the borders of Montana, along state and federal highways, secondary and forest service roads and even city streets. One white marker is erected for each traffic fatality. The markers are made of 4″ metal and painted white. They are mounted on metal poles painted red. Each white marker is 12″ wide and 16″ long. The white marker is supposed to be 4 to 5 feet above the ground to improve visibility and aid in road maintenance.

I don’t know what effect, if any, the crosses actually have on road safety in the state, or how such a thing could reasonably be measured, but in general it seems better to me to announce the hazard than to not announce it. But I was struck by this note:

Not all highway fatalities are marked. Not all of the 134 American Legion Posts in Montana
currently participate in the program. Some areas of Montana do not have a local American Legion Post. Because of these two reasons many stretches of Montana highways do not have fatality markers where a fatal accident has occurred. Also, when a highway is reconstructed and corrects what may have been the cause of the fatality, all markers are removed.

I was curious about that last bit. Granted, I saw some crosses at high curves that were guard-rail deficient, to say the least. But the given the complexity of crashes, the multiple chains of causation in which environmental factors are often only one determinant, does engineering itself eliminate the future risk of another fatality? I can see doing this in the case where a victim’s family might request its removal, but I wonder if removing the crosses (and I’m not sure where this has been done, or how many times) sends the wrong message — e.g., this curve has been reduced, signed, etc., so we don’t need to worry about the human factors of speed, impairment, etc.

Posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 at 10:40 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Supreme Court: Accidents During Crimes Are Still Crimes

I found this New York Times piece, on a recent High Court ruling of a gun that accidentally discharged during a robbery, noteworthy in light of recent discussions here and elsewhere of the often slippery interplay between the word “accident” and criminal behavior on the road. The following paragraphs are suggestive in terms of thinking about someone who “accidentally” kills a pedestrian, say, while traveling at a high, unlawful speed down a city street:

“Accidents happen,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the 7-to-2 majority in the case, Dean v. United States, No. 08-5274. “Sometimes they happen to individuals committing crimes with loaded guns.”

True, the chief justice said, “it is unusual to impose criminal punishment for the consequences of purely accidental conduct.” But criminals, he said, must bear the consequences of the unintended consequences of their unlawful acts.

Any sort of gunshot during a bank robbery, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “increases the risk that others will be injured, that people will panic or that violence (with its own danger to those nearby) will be used in response.”

Posted on Thursday, April 30th, 2009 at 12:09 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Enabling Hit and Run in Utah

The law sends a strange message in Utah. If you hit someone while driving a car, and you’re drunk, it’s better to run. Even if you’re caught.

Posted on Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 at 8:57 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Scofflaw Bailout

This state of Washington plan to help drivers pay off tickets is up there with Mitterand’s old traffic ticket amnesty programs in terms of its traffic safety benefits.

Posted on Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 at 8:39 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:

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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



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