Wednesday, November 11, 2009


So, I just recently finished reading Tom Vanderbilt's book Traffic.

It was pretty interesting,although he seems to put a bit too much reliance on the advantages of market-based solutions to traffic problems. For instance, he tries to make the case for HOT lanes as a solution to traffic problems, which I fundamentally disagree with. This mainly comes from my admittedly shoddy memory of the Dulles Access Road commuter sticker, which was an HOT solution of a sort, except it wasn't really a solution so much as a traffic jam. So there was the creation of the Dulles Toll Road, which is also a toll-based solution to traffic problems, but isn't. Again, its just a traffic jam which people have shown over and over again they are willing to pay to travel on.

He also ignores the effects of a market-based solution when he gets the opportunity to sit in at the Los Angeles traffic control hub during Oscar night. Possibly one of the most interesting parts of the book, except that the entire thing is about how the rich and famous in Los Angeles are catered to by the traffic control system. Lights are computed based on getting these rich people to their award night, without much concern for the regular inhabitants of the city who have to commute to and from their normal regular lives. Maybe I'm a bit Marxist but this kind of elitism has always bugged me (see my rant on the Fly Clear program, I'm so happy that's gone away).

Moving on, though, he does point to the distinct traffic cultures which exist around the world, from driving in some idyllic village communities in Europe to the insanity which exists in many third-world countries. My own personal experience of this was one night in Baghdad in 2004, when we shut down one half of a four-lane highway because of an accident and shooting. After being stuck at our improvised roadblock for about ten minutes, the Iraqi drivers just started moving over into oncoming traffic on the other side of the highway, bulldozing their way up and around the roadblock before coming back onto the correct side. And the amazing thing about this was it worked. No one in the United States would have ever done this, we all just sit and wait, and sit, and wait, until whatever the problem is gets cleared out. It's kind of a shame, really, we are driving automatons in the States most of the time.

However, I think if Vanderbilt had gone to a military post, it would have added a very interesting element to his "driving culture" theory. Because driving on a military post is a world in and of itself.

First, the speed limit. The highest speed limit here is 30MPH. On the clearest open road. Most areas have a speed limit between 10 and 15 MPH, and one of my favorite signs makes it clear that if you try and drive faster than someone can jog, you can get a ticket:

I don't know if you've ever tried to drive 5 MPH. It's almost physically painful. Plus, most cars idle faster than 5 MPH.

Moving on, Vanderbilt also talks about the overabundance of signs on the road. For instance, the Children Playing, School Ahead, signs like that. The people that are speeding through the streets and not paying attention and will hit a kid playing, well, he's not the kind of person that will slow down because of a Children Playing sign..

And that brings me to my next on-base piece of signage I find very amusing:

I fucking hope so.

And last, just because soldiers apparently have a sense of humor:

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