Saturday, September 26, 2009
 

Traffic notes, part 1

Based on hearing a good review from a fellow FABB member, I've just finished reading an excellent book, Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us) by Tom Vanderbilt. There's a lot of good information about bicycling in the book, along with many other useful and interesting facts about traffic around the world. I found myself underlining many passages and writing notes in the margin, so I thought I would occasionally pass on some of the better points on the FABB blog.

Henry Barnes, the legendary traffic commissioner of New York City in the 1960's, reflecting on his long career in his charmingly titeld memoir The Man with the Red and Green Eyes, observed that "traffic was as much an emotional problem as it was a physical and mechanical one." People, he concluded, were tougher to crack than cars. "As time goes on the technical problems become more automatic, while the people problems become more surrealistic." That "surrealistic" side of traffic will be the focus of this book. p. 13

The average American, as of 2005, spent thirty-eight hours annually stuck in traffic. In 1969, nearly half of American children walked or biked to school; now just 16 percent do. From 1977 to 1995, the number of trips people made on foot dropped by nearly half. This has given rise to a joke: In America, a pedestrian is someone who has just parked their car. p. 16

Fast-food restaurants now clock as much as 70 percent of their sales at drive-through windows. An estimated 22 percent of all restaurant meals are ordered through a car window in America. Starbucks, which initially resisted the drive-through for its fast-food connotations, now has drive-throughs at more than half of its new company-owned stores. p. 16

When bicyclists violate a traffic law, research has showed it is because, in the eyes of drivers, they are reckless anarchists; drivers, meanwhile, are more likely to view the violation of a traffic law by another driver as somehow being required by the circumstances. pp. 23, 24
Vanderbilt also maintains a good blog about traffic, How We Drive.

He also writes a column in Slate. His latest is entitled iTransport: Could iPhone apps change the way we travel? Among the topics covered are Car apps, Public Transit apps, Bicycle apps, and Walking apps. "I've particularly enjoyed B.iCycle's app, which tracks variables like average speed and altitude climbed, then sends an e-mail report at the trip's conclusion. REI's BikeYourDrive features a nice twist on the concept, showing the advantage in cost, carbon emissions, and calories of a particular bike trip versus the automotive alternative."

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