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

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
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's review
Jan 28, 2012

really liked it

Vanderbilt, Tom, Traffic, Why we drive the way we do, Knopf, New York, 2008
This book discusses some of the fallacies, research, and physiology of driving and road planning. Some of the ideas:
- Much of the problem with road design is not the concrete or the cars – it is the people
- Merging – Late merger is more effective for throughput. Use both lanes and then zipper merge. Helps the whole system and you individually. Even if it seems unfair.
- Differential speed limits – i.e. h trucks are given a lower speed – do not work – the variation in speed causes more accidents
- “We spend more on driving than on food or health care”
- For the Oscar awards show, LA uses all the systems (cameras, manual traffic light control) to manage traffic flow to help the Limousines in/out of town.
- Queuing in traffic seems longer because there is little information about how long you will be there (i.e. the cause and where).
- Lane changing in a traffic jam – There are two lanes that always move in different rates. When you are stopped, you notice the other lane moving (causing envy) faster as you are stopped. When your lane moves, you don’t notice the effect as much because 1. You are moving faster so do not notice the number of cars you are passing in the other lane 2. You are driving and not paying attention to the other lane like when you having nothing to do when you are stopped.
- And 10% of accidents are due to lane changes
- Work zones – “slow down my daddy works here” – really the danger is not to the construction worker, but to yourself. But thinking of an individual worker with a family makes people think about the danger to an “individual” that they do not think about for themselves.
- There is a flaw to human perception of risk – Where we have some control on the risk – like driving – we underestimate the risk. Whereas, uncontrollable risk – terrorism – gets much higher attention.
- Are you a bad driver? Accidents are rare, so little feedback. There is no “near miss” tracking like a industrial safety program, but the same theories apply – 300 near misses is equivalent to one minor accident, and 29 minor accidents happen for every major fatality.
- DriveCam – camera system installed in the rearview mirror – one forward on the road and one on the driver – great for teenagers. Immediate feedback on their driving.
- The safer cars and roads are designed, the risker the human behavior. This is why safety improvements almost never reach the expected outcome.
- Traffic signs – most people have no memory of them – you read them quickly and if not relevant – immediately forget. Some
- Most people are looking for other cars because that is what they are in – this is why motorcycles get hit – SMIDSY – “Sorry, Mate, I Didn’t See You” is common in England and the bumper stickers – “see motorcycles” and loud pipes save lives. Even Emergency vehicles with their lights on are hit because it is a rare event and people just don’t see them.
- Roundabouts – Work better than traffic lights – from a system perspective – more throughput at all levels of congestion and safety. But America’s perceive them as slower because we judge based on a Green light traffic signal where we do not slow at all half the time versus having to slow down every time
- Urban Planning – Most people want to commute? As our means of travel increases speed (walking, horse) we are still roughly 30 minutes to our place of work. But now with interstate highways, Cities that were 5 miles in diameter are now 20-30 miles. Interesting point, not sure I agree.
- Why more traffic? Women. Women entering the workforce and commuting and taking the kids to/from organized sports (instead of kids walking/biking or just playing in their own neighborhood).
- Another point on women – women get in more accidents than men- Ha! But their accidents are far less likely to be deadly. Men drive more often drunk and without seatbelts.
- Congestion taxes – London city center tax has been very successful in cutting traffic. Copenhagen just quietly pulled parking spots to have the same effect. Donald Shoup- The high cost of free parking – raise cost of parking to the point of 85% utilization and then no circling for parking.
- Latent Demand – If you build it, they will come. More roads gets more people driving. LA has a ton of experience. They have closed major highways and told people to stay home. They do. But as soon as people find out it is not as bad, they start driving.
- Unsafest day for driving – Super Bowl Sundy. 20x beer consumed.
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