Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

Reading an interesting book called Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt, which is, literally, about traffic in its many manifestations (well, mostly the car kind). He highlights an incredible amount of research that has been done trying to understand the psychology, sociology and physics of traffic as a particularly human manifestation; it is central to our lives, yet very little understood. Some interesting stuff about how driving cars in some ways exceeds our evolutionary ability to perceive all the things we need to, to truly do it safely. We often misperceive in ways that endanger us and others (hence the many thousands killed each year in almost every country). Currently reading about some of the interesting paradoxes of traffic networks: dangerous roads are in fact safer (we don’t take stupid risks when surrounded by pedestrians, or cliffs for that matter); and that more roads do not ease traffic. This latter point has been a central conflict in urban planning over the last 40 years and could itself be the subject of one or more books (indeed it has though few intended, as this one is, for a mainstream audience). One small interesting fact I learned is that the increase in a road’s capacity is not linear, as you add more lanes, but rather diminishes due to basic inefficiencies as roads get wider (lane changing and longer red lights being required).

The book is well written; lots of information, but maintains the reader’s interest by not delving too deeply into engineering minutiae. In fact, I don’t believe the writter is an engineer (though obviously a good researcher); rather the book is more an example of this new genre of creative non-fiction. A somewhat esoteric (yet relevant) topic, analyzed with anecdotes, made relevent to everyman with the occassional guffah thrown in. Interesting to me as well because, I occasional mull over ideas for such a project though I’m never really sure who the target audience would be (policy wonks or, as above, the average joe with a taste for the esoteric). Hmmm. Will need to think more seriously about that idea!

Off to BC this weekend, and honestly, really looking forward to the drive. Got the new camera so look for some pics to be posted here next week.


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