kottke.org posts about traffic
A study of one-way streets in Louisville suggests they are generally not good for the city.
In 2011, Louisville converted two one-way streets near downtown, each a little more than a mile long, back to two-way traffic. In data that they gathered over the following three years, Gilderbloom and William Riggs found that traffic collisions dropped steeply -- by 36 percent on one street and 60 percent on the other -- after the conversion, even as the number of cars traveling these roads increased. Crime dropped too, by about a quarter, as crime in the rest of the city was rising. Property values rose, as did business revenue and pedestrian traffic, relative to before the change and to a pair of nearby comparison streets. The city, as a result, now stands to collect higher property tax revenues along these streets, and to spend less sending first-responders to accidents there.
For decades, American cities have been built around the automobile and getting them and their passengers through cities as quickly as possible. This research suggests slowing the pace of the city results in increased safety, decreased crime, and higher property values. (via mr)
From the Daily Overview, a photo of the whirlpool exchange that connects three major roads together in Dubai (map).
Worth viewing larger...that's a 12-lane highway running through the center of this monster. (thx, bill)
In this video entitled Rush Hour, cars, pedestrians, and cyclists have been edited together to produce dozens of heart-stopping near misses.
Reminds me of the world's craziest intersection, traffic organized by color, intersections in the age of driverless cars, and the dangerous dance of NYC intersections. (via colossal)
I have not done an exhaustive search, but this intersection in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has to have some of the craziest traffic in the world.
Once you get the gist of what the cars are doing, pay attention to the pedestrians. !!! My other favorite crazy traffic locale is Saigon, Vietnam...here's how you cross the street there:
Move slowly and purposefully across the street and just let the traffic flow around you. It's an odd sensation giving up so much control over your personal safety, but it's the only way to cross so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Artist Cy Kuckenbaker digitally reorganized the traffic in this video by color.
Cars were moving too fast through an intersection in the town of Poynton in England, so they took out the stoplights & walk signals and replaced the intersection with an unusual double roundel design. The result is a mixed-use space with slower moving car traffic and safer pedestrian traffic.
3-Way Street is a fascinating video by Ron Gabriel that highlights bad interactions between cars, bikes, and pedestrians at a typical NYC street intersection.
There are lots of ways to show these interactions...the overhead view and highlighting are particularly effective design choices. Well done. (thx, janelle)
A traffic jam in China's Heibei Province has been going on for nine days now and may last a month.
The traffic jam has sparked some entrepreneurial spirit for local residents, which has added to traffic-hostages' annoyance. One truck driver complained that vendors were selling instant noodles for "four times the original price while I wait in the congestion."
Tom Vanderbuilt, who wrote the book on traffic, notes that the jam is on its way to becoming a small settlement. (via mr)
Steve Jobs recently compared the shift from desktop to mobile computers to the shift from trucks to cars. You could maybe say something similar about the future of physical books compared to other kinds of media. The older forms don't go away, but they become more specialized, and the relationships between them become different, as our lifestyles change.
Again. You could argue that the arguments we have about the cognitive effect of reading for the web are largely a replay of the upheaval surrounding mass urbanization at the turn of the century. Continuing our Metropolis theme, pull up Georg Simmel's 1903 essay "The Metropolis and Mental Life" [PDF]. (Simmel's German word is "Grosstadt," which literally means "big city"; Lang deliberately used the slightly stranger, Greek-derived word to make his city feel different.) Simmel saw big cities as a tremendous economic and informational engine that fundamentally transformed human personality:
Lasting impressions, the slightness in their differences, the habituated regularity of their course and contrasts between them, consume, so to speak, less mental energy than the rapid telescoping of changing images, pronounced differences within what is grasped at a single glance, and the unexpectedness of violent stimuli. To the extent that the metropolis creates these psychological conditions - with every crossing of the street, with the tempo and multiplicity of economic, occupational and social life - it creates in the sensory foundations of mental life, and in the degree of awareness necessitated by our organization as creatures dependent on differences, a deep contrast with the slower, more habitual, more smoothly flowing rhythm of the sensory-mental phase of small town and rural existence.
And cognitive scientists have actually begun empirically verifying Simmel's armchair psychology. And whenever I read anything about the web rewiring our brains, foretelling immanent disaster, I've always thought, geez, people -- we live in cities! Our species has evolved to survive in every climate and environment on dry land. Our brains can handle it!
But I thought of this again this morning when a 2008 Wilson Quarterly article about planner/engineer Hans Monderman, titled "The Traffic Guru," popped up in my Twitter feed. (I can't even remember where it came from. Who knows why older writing just begins to recirculate again? Without warning, it speaks to us more, or differently.)
The idea that made Monderman, who died of cancer in January at the age of 62, most famous is that traditional traffic safety infrastructure--warning signs, traffic lights, metal railings, curbs, painted lines, speed bumps, and so on--is not only often unnecessary, but can endanger those it is meant to protect...
Traffic engineers, in Monderman's view, helped to rewrite [towns] with their signs and other devices. "In the past in our villages," Monderman said, "you could read the street in the village as a good book." Signs advertising a school crossing were unnecessary, because the presence of a school and children was obvious. "When you removed all the things that made people know where they were, what they were a part of, and when you changed it into a uniform world," he argued, "then you have to explain things."
In other words, information overload, and the substitution of knowledge for wisdom. Sound familiar?
I'll just say I remain unconvinced. We've largely gotten rid of pop-up ads, flashing banners, and the <blink> tag on the web. I'm sure can trim back some of the extra text and lights in our towns and cities. We're versatile creatures. Just give us time. Meanwhile, let's read some more Simmel:
[These changes] reveal themselves as one of those great historical structures in which conflicting life-embracing currents find themselves with equal legitimacy. Because of this, however, regardless of whether we are sympathetic or antipathetic with their individual expressions, they transcend the sphere in which a judge-like attitude on our part is appropriate. To the extent that such forces have been integrated, with the fleeting existence of a single cell, into the root as well as the crown of the totality of historical life to which we belong - it is our task not to complain or to condone but only to understand.
In Hong Kong, cars drive on the left while in the rest of China, they drive on the right. If you're building a bridge between the two, you've got to come up with a clever way to switch lanes without disruption or accident. Behold, the flipper:
The only way that could be more cool is if one of the lanes went into a tunnel under the water or corkscrewed over the other lane in a rollercoaster/Mario Kart fashion. Lots more on the NL Architects site.
In an attempt to eliminate Manhattan's travel inefficiencies and encourage more use of public transportation, Charles Komanoff spent three years creating an Excel spreadsheet (you can download it here) that details "the economic and environmental impact of every single car, bus, truck, taxi, train, subway, bicycle, and pedestrian moving around New York City". Based on that research, he's come up with a plan for changing how transportation is paid for in Manhattan below 60th St. (the CBD or central business district).
It would charge $3 to cars entering the CBD on weekday nights, $6 for most of the day, and $9 during rush hour. The subway fare also varies, but is always less than the $2.25 it is today: $1 at night, rising to $1.50 as day breaks, and peaking at $2 during weekday rush hours. Buses are always free, because the time saved when passengers aren't fumbling for change more than makes up for the lost fare revenue. Komanoff's plan also imposes a 33 percent surcharge on every taxi ride, 10 percent of which would go to the cab driver and the rest to the city.
Komanoff's plan is vastly more sophisticated than a simple bridge toll. Instead of merely punishing drivers, he has built a delicate system of incentives and revenue streams. Just as a musical fugue weaves several melodic lines into a complex yet harmonious whole, Komanoff's policy assembles all the various modes of transportation into a coherent, integrated traffic system.
The collective optimization of individual driving routes by drivers using realtime traffic maps slows everyone down. That is, everyone picking the "fastest" route on the map results in overall slowdowns. Interestingly, the solution to this problem may be to remove some roads so that drivers have fewer options for route optimization.
The authors compared the Nash equilibrium time to the socially optimal travel time, and dubbed the ratio between the two "the price of anarchy." In their study of the Boston area, which looked at travel times from Harvard Square to Boston Common, the price of anarchy at peak traffic times made for a journey that is 30 percent longer.
But the price of anarchy drops if you close a few roads, because individual drivers are less able to selfishly optimize their routes. In their analysis, the authors identified six streets in Boston and Cambridge: By closing those streets, they say, the optimal collective travel time would decrease between the two points.
According to the NYC DOT, Broadway will be closed to through traffic on May 24 from 42nd to 47th Streets and from 33rd to 35th Streets to make that pedestrian mall announced back in February.
In addition to greater safety and access for pedestrians and cyclists, the project hopes to improve car traffic flow through the areas.
- Traffic lights with up to 66% more green time
- Significant travel time improvements on Sixth and Seventh Avenues
- Faster bus speeds for 70,000 daily riders
Here's a rendition of how Times Square will look after the work is completed in August.
Hopefully this change will become permanent and the city can plant some trees there as well. Imagine, trees in Times Square! Lots more information is available on the DOT site.
As an experiment, parts of Broadway near Times Square and Herald Square will be entirely closed to cars for most of the rest of the year.
Although it seems counterintuitive, officials believe the move will actually improve the overall flow of traffic, because the diagonal path of Broadway tends to disrupt traffic where it intersects with other streets.
The streets will become pedestrian malls instead. Love this.
If you live and work in Los Angeles and have an average commute, you spend 72 hours a year in traffic. That's enough time to read War and Peace once, get through Wagner's The Ring Cycle almost five times, or watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy almost eight times. The page includes stats for other cities too.
Update: A closer read, a bit of arithmetic, and several emails have convinced me that the 72 hours is not the overall commute time but the time spent sitting motionless in traffic. (thx, everyone)
Wow, NYC is converting two lanes of traffic on Broadway from 34th St. to 42nd St. into a park, pedestrian walkway, and bike lane.
She said the city was spending $700,000 to create the string of blocklong plazas from 42nd to 35th Streets. That includes painting the bike lane green, buying the chairs, tables, benches, umbrellas and planters and applying a coat of small-grained gravel mixed with epoxy onto the pedestrian areas, which will set them off from both the street and the bicycle path.
Looks like Bloomberg is going ahead with his battle against Manhattan car traffic without Albany's help. I can think of several more areas that could benefit from a full or partial closure...Bleecker St would make a great pedestrian mall, as would any number of streets in Chinatown. So would St. Mark's in the East Village. And while we're at it, close all the streets in Central Park to cars (except the transverses).
A video clip of La Paz, Bolivia's crossing guard zebras, the Cebra Voluntaria. Traffic in La Paz is so dangerous that its mayor started a program to have youths dressed as zebras help people across the city's busiest intersections. From the recent issue of Monocle:
It doesn't get much busier than La Paz's Plaza San Francisco of a Friday afternoon. Two zebras stand on the curb chatting with a teenage girl. Then something remarkable happens: the traffic light turns red, and at the sight of the zebras, the cars actually stop. One driver, however, is a little slow and the nose of his car is left hanging over the crossing. One of the zebras skips over to the offending car and mimes pushing it backwards. Then he continues skipping across to the other side of the street.
Ten ideas for making NYC streets a more friendly place for those not in automobiles, including the woonerf, bicycle boulevards, and the green grid.
A woonerf, which is surfaced with paving blocks to signal a pedestrian-priority zone, is, in effect, an outdoor living room, with furniture to encourage the social use of the street. Surprisingly, it results in drastically slower traffic, since the woonerf is a people-first zone and cars enter it more warily. "The idea is that people shall look each other in the eye and maneuver in respect of each other," Mr. Gehl said.
Pedestrian, cyclists, and motorists looking each other in the eye reminded me of a passage that Tyler Cowen pulled from Peter Moskos' Cop in the Hood:
Car patrol eliminated the neighborhood police officer. Police were pulled off neighborhood beats to fill cars. But motorized patrol -- the cornerstone of urban policing -- has no effect on crime rates, victimization, or public satisfaction. Lawrence Sherman was an early critic of telephone dispatch and motorized patrol, noted, "The rise of telephone dispatch transformed both the method and purpose of patrol. Instead of watching to prevent crime, motorized police patrol became a process of merely waiting to respond to crime."
Officers traveling in high speeds in cars apart from pedestrian and living areas makes it difficult for them to look potential criminals in the eye. (thx, meg)
After more than 15 years and $14.8 billion, Boston's Big Dig project officially ends today.
A study by the Turnpike Authority found the Big Dig cut the average trip through Boston from 19.5 minutes to 2.8 minutes.
Given the number of people moving through the area each day and how much time is saved, $14.8 billion doesn't seem like such a huge amount.
Japanese researchers have developed "melody roads" that play tunes when you drive on them. You could use this technique for traffic calming...i.e. the road plays music only when you're driving the speed limit and hope that there's no second-order melody that plays at two times the speed limit to entice highway hackers to speed for forbidden tunes.
Mayor Bloomberg's plan for a "greener" and "greater" New York City includes congestion pricing for Manhattan south of 86th Street. "It's naive to suppose that congestion isn't itself costly. Sitting in traffic, a plumber can't plumb and a deliveryman can't deliver. The value of time lost to congestion delays in the city has been put at five billion dollars annually."
One of my favorite things to do in new cities is to observe how the traffic works. Traffic in each place has a different feel to it that depends on the culture, physical space, population density, legal situation, and modes of transportation available (and unavailable).
Everyone drives in LA and Minneapolis, even if you're only going a few blocks. In San francisco, pedestrians rule the streets...if a pedestrian steps out into the crosswalk, traffic immediately stops and will stay stopped as long as people are crossing, even if that means the cars are going nowhere, which is great if you're walking and maddening if you're driving. In many cities, both in the US and Europe, people will not cross in a crosswalk against the light and will never jaywalk. In many European cities, city streets are narrow and filled with pedestrians, slowing car traffic. US cities are starting to build bike lanes on their streets, following the example of some European cities.
In NYC, cars and pedestrians take turns, depending on who has the right-of-way and the opportunity, with the latter often trumping the former. Cabs comprise much of the traffic and lanes are often a suggestion rather than a rule, more than in other US cities. With few designated bike lanes, cycling can be dangerous in the fast, heavy traffic of Manhattan. So too can cyclers be dangerous; bike messengers will speed right through busy crosswalks with nothing but a whistle to warn you.
In Bangkok, traffic is aggressive, hostile even. If a driver needs a space, he just moves over, no matter if another car is there or not. Being a pedestrian is a dangerous proposition here; traffic will often not stop if you step out into a crosswalk and it's impossible to cross in some places without the aid of a stoplight or overpass (both of which are rare). More than any other place I've been, I didn't like how the traffic worked in Bangkok, either on foot or in a car.
Traffic in Saigon reminds me a bit of that in Beijing when I visited there in 1996. Lots of communication goes on in traffic here and it makes it flow fairly well. Cars honk to let people know they're coming over, to warn people they shouldn't pull in, motorbikes honk when they need to cross traffic, and cars & motorbikes honk at pedestrians when it's unsafe for them to cross. Traffic moves slow to accommodate cars, the legions of motorbikes (the primary mode of transportation here), and pedestrians all at the same time. Crossing the street involves stepping out, walking slowly, and letting the traffic flow around you. Drivers merging into traffic often don't even look before pulling out; they know the traffic will flow around them. The system requires a lot of trust, but the slow speed and amount of communication make it manageable.
 This is the principle behind traffic calming.
 That traffic calming business again.
 Not that it's not scary as hell too. American pedestrians are taught to fear cars (don't play in the street, look both ways before crossing the street, watch out for drunk drivers) and trusting them to avoid you while you're basically the frog in Frogger...well, it takes a little getting used to.