Joyce's Reviews > Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
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's review
Sep 12, 08

bookshelves: pyschology
Recommended for: Jim, Julie
Read in September, 2008

A fantastic read -- well written and full of fascinating and thought-provoking relevations about the pyschology of driving, traffic engineering, traffic safety, etc.

His first mission is to convince you to become a 'late merger', even if your spouse cringes as you fly along in the left lane passing all the other chumps obediently taking their turn at a lane drop. 'Late merging' increases the traffic throughtput by as much as 15% because it uses the full volume of the roadway. So indulge your Type A self!

My favorite chapter talks about traffic safety and some of the surprising discoveries about traffic signage. If you want to get drivers' attention, you're better off putting up an inscrutable sculpture than an instructive sign: drivers see so much roadside instruction, they tune it out. In the Netherlands (of course) they've experimented with traffic-sign free zones -- and learned that without signs, drivers focus more on their actual surroundings and safety increases.

A Dutch traffic engineer is also responsible for pioneering 'traffic calming' not through speed bumps, but by putting heavy traffic and pedestrians closer together. It has to do with putting drivers back in the 'village'; promoting eye contact and softening the barrier between auto and human. This is probably where NYC got the idea of putting little pedestrian oases in the middle of Broadway.

In Los Angeles, code H25-As -- "traffic hazard animal" -- peak on July 5, presumeably because all the dogs freaked out by the previous night's fireworks are hitting the freeway.

This is psychology, engineering, sociology (an interesting chapter on how corruption affects traffic) wrapped up in an enjoyable read, with chapter headings like "Why You Shouldn't Drive with a Beer-Drinking Divorced Doctor Named Fred on Super Bowl Sunday in a Pickup Truck in Rural Montana". Should be required reading for all new drivers and their parents.

My only regret is that it's rather long and I didn't quite finish it before I had to return to the library.
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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie Thanks for the personalized recommendation, Joyce! It sounds like something James will like, too.

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