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Old 01-19-09, 08:49 PM   #1
Square & Compas
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Traffic. Why We Drive The Way We Do.

This is the title of a book written by Tom Vanderbilt. I have not purchased or read it yet, but will soon. I found it in the Social Studies section at my local Barnes and Noble store. Has anyone read this book? What did you think? Granted I can buy it cheaper on Amazon.com but I prefer to spend my money locally and want it right away.

Here is a link to Tom's blog: http://www.howwedrive.com/
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Old 01-20-09, 05:20 AM   #2
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I read it a few months ago (I downloaded the Amazon Kindle electronic edition.) Very fascinating and informative, and has lots of information that is relevant to bike riders. He turns statistics and anecdotes into interesting and useful entertainment. The main theme of the book I guess is that most of the stuff we do to "improve" traffic (signage, traffic calming etc.) generally makes thing worse. It's not all grim though, and there is lots of information on the kinds of things that actually work. Unfortunately for those of us in the U.S., most of them are being done in Europe...
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Old 01-20-09, 05:37 AM   #3
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I have it, I have read it, I highly recommend it.
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Old 01-20-09, 08:34 AM   #4
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Bought it and read it back last fall when it came out... Lots of good stuff in there; while it's mostly oriented toward motor vehicle traffic and driving behaviors, there's a lot of insight that you can use for cycling advocacy as well. A very readable book.
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Old 01-20-09, 10:12 AM   #5
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I just placed a hold on it at the library.

A related book, "It's no Accident" by Lisa Lewis is worth reading too.
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Old 01-20-09, 09:32 PM   #6
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I've read it - WARNING: it might cause you to drive more slowly on the highway. I have reduced my speeding from SL+20 to SL plus or minus 5 as a result of reading the book. So far I haven't died, even once.

Seriously though it is a good book, and you might reduce your driving speed as a result (good for you and your kids).
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Old 01-27-09, 02:28 PM   #7
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I'm reading this book and actually logged on hoping someone would be discussing it. I'm only in the first few chapters, but so far he's made some interesting points about cycling:

1. Cyclists who do not give clear traffic signals may elicit more caution from drivers because they are seen as unpredictable or simply as more human and less vehicular. Also in terms of humanity, he points out the constructs we use in our language that shed light on how a cyclist is (or should be) seen in traffic. For instance, you would say, "The car [thing] hit the cyclist [person]." You wouldn't be likely to say that "the bike hit the driver."

2. He references a study that showed that drivers tend to make closer passes if the cyclist is obviously male, or is wearing a helmet, or takes the lane. I fit all three of those categories and probably won't change (especially the male part), but it gives me something to consider.
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Old 01-27-09, 02:36 PM   #8
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1. Cyclists who do not give clear traffic signals may elicit more caution from drivers because they are seen as unpredictable or simply as more human and less vehicular. Also in terms of humanity, he points out the constructs we use in our language that shed light on how a cyclist is (or should be) seen in traffic. For instance, you would say, "The car [thing] hit the cyclist [person]." You wouldn't be likely to say that "the bike hit the driver."
Eh, that's interesting but in a car-bike collision, doesn't the car (thing) hit the cyclist (person)? I mean, it's not like your bike is going to go flying through the sunroof and conk the driver in the head, but the car is most likely going to come in contact with the cyclist.
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Old 01-27-09, 03:22 PM   #9
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I just got it out of the library and had to read a bit of it (even though I'm in the middle of another book I want to finish first).

I looked through the contents and decided to read the last chapter (What's risky on the road and why) first and have to say, I love it when what I read from an author that has done a lot of research confirms what I've found out on my own.

He even mentions the perception that many people have regarding riding on side walks because people think it's less likely they will be hit by cars if they do so when in fact it isn't due to the intersections where cars hit these cyclists.
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Old 01-27-09, 03:40 PM   #10
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You're right, degnaw, the car is physically going to touch the cyclist but the bike won't touch the driver. On the other hand, cars don't kill people, drivers do.
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Old 01-27-09, 03:42 PM   #11
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I really enjoyed the book. Not because it confirmed a lot of the biases that I personally hold, or validated many of the opinions I already held - but precisely because it didn't. Vanderbilt has obviously done a lot of research and interviews and thinking about the topics in his book; topics that affect us all (whether or not you currently own a car).

You may not agree with everything in his book, but I think that's his intent. The book will get you to re-think critically and examine closely our beliefs and misconceptions about traffic (and human nature and psychology in general). Very well written and a quick read. Highly recommended.
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Old 01-27-09, 04:07 PM   #12
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I just got it out of the library and had to read a bit of it (even though I'm in the middle of another book I want to finish first).

I looked through the contents and decided to read the last chapter (What's risky on the road and why) first and have to say, I love it when what I read from an author that has done a lot of research confirms what I've found out on my own.

He even mentions the perception that many people have regarding riding on side walks because people think it's less likely they will be hit by cars if they do so when in fact it isn't due to the intersections where cars hit these cyclists.
I have the book on reserve. So not read yet.

But I don't get your last sentence... how are sidewalk cyclists hit if not at an intersection? (BTW I count driveways as intersections... does not the author?
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Old 01-27-09, 04:10 PM   #13
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I don't think I enjoyed it because it confirmed my biases, but rather that my amateur research matched that of a professional.

My wife always gives me a hard time when I denigrate my research. She thinks I should be more confident. It has often been held to scrutiny and holds up.

I guess the fact that I do write a cycling column for a newspaper and my work is reviewed before going to print counts for something. I know that a lack of a formal education is no indication that someone can't be educated.

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Old 01-27-09, 04:13 PM   #14
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...I don't get your last sentence... how are sidewalk cyclists hit if not at an intersection? (BTW I count driveways as intersections... does not the author?
It's the people who ride on sidewalks that think they will not be hit by cars on the sidewalks. They forget the driveways and cross walks where they leave the sidewalk and encounter cars that are not looking for them as the people riding bikes on sidewalks are not looking for cars.
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Old 01-27-09, 04:15 PM   #15
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It's the people who ride on sidewalks that think they will not be hit by cars on the sidewalks. They forget the driveways and cross walks where they leave the sidewalk and encounter cars that are not looking for them as the people riding bikes on sidewalks are not looking for cars.
Ah ha, so if one is aware of driveways and crosswalks... sidewalks can be safer.
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Old 01-27-09, 04:22 PM   #16
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Aaronechang, I agree. I like books that turn my thinking upside down. His assertion that I should be merging at the last minute when driving toward a lane drop is really blowing my mind. I can see his point, but if I become one of those people in the lane soon to close, everyone else will hate me and I can't stop my car and recommend that they read this book.

More power to you, biking in Houston. I've done a little of it and all I recall is millions of cars and giant ditches inches from the road.

I'm not trying to hijack the thread. Keep talking about the book!
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Old 01-27-09, 04:22 PM   #17
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Ah ha, so if one is aware of driveways and crosswalks... sidewalks can be safer.
for sure. Awareness is key
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Old 01-27-09, 08:09 PM   #18
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Ah ha, so if one is aware of driveways and crosswalks... sidewalks can be safer.
Also be aware that all those intersections make the safe cycling speed on sidewalks much lower than on the roads.
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Old 01-27-09, 08:55 PM   #19
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The last time I rode on the sidewalk, I was trying to be "aware" and was looking back (read: not forwards) to see if anyone was about to turn right; the edge of my handlebars caught on a pole and I went down.
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Old 01-28-09, 04:03 AM   #20
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Like others, I only read part of it before I had to return it to the the library. It's a good read, and it will make you think. He talks about the importance of getting cars from Point A to Point B, and the consequences for not doing that, but he also points out that in traffic, cyclists are thought of as human beings while cars are looked at as cars. (You would never say, "The motorist hit the bicycle.") He treats bike lanes as a controversy among cyclists, but doesn't discuss them much.

You'll be smarter when you finish the book than when you start. And that's a good measure of a book. It's probably a better use of a few hours than rehashing the same bike lane debate we've been having for years.

I really should check it out again and finish it.
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Old 01-28-09, 06:30 PM   #21
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I don't think I enjoyed it because it confirmed my biases, but rather that my amateur research matched that of a professional.

My wife always gives me a hard time when I denigrate my research. She thinks I should be more confident. It has often been held to scrutiny and holds up.

I guess the fact that I do write a cycling column for a newspaper and my work is reviewed before going to print counts for something. I know that a lack of a formal education is no indication that someone can't be educated.
Well ... he is a journalist. I don't know whether being part of the profession implies that he/she is better at assimilating research better than others. Rather, my interpretation is that a thinking individual putting in (considerable) effort can pull together a set of ideas to create a reasonable analysis.

So if you are a thinking individual and put in the necessary effort ...
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Old 01-28-09, 08:08 PM   #22
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Vanderbilt took a rather narrow topic and drew from it some broad and original conclusions about human beings. I read a lot of non-fiction books in 2008 and Traffic was definitely one of the best. There's a lot of information about cycling--it will change the way you ride in traffic.
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Old 01-29-09, 08:11 AM   #23
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Ah ha, so if one is aware of driveways and crosswalks... sidewalks can be safer.
Problem is, the sidewalks still have pedestrians on them, an even greater collision hazard.

Tom
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Old 01-29-09, 09:04 AM   #24
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Ah ha, so if one is aware of driveways and crosswalks... sidewalks can be safer.
Probably not. Sight lines are better when you're in the street. You're more likely to see a car pulling out of a driveway or side street in time, and its driver is more likely to see you.
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Old 01-29-09, 10:06 AM   #25
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Probably not. Sight lines are better when you're in the street. You're more likely to see a car pulling out of a driveway or side street in time, and its driver is more likely to see you.
You just countered what I said. I said if you were aware... and you said, no you are not aware.

Sightlines are one thing... if you want to look at that, how about overtaking collisions... which are possible if you are riding in the street, but not possible on sidewalks.
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