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Old 08-10-09, 06:27 AM   #1
spandexwarrior
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Amazing Book called "Traffic"- could be next bike advocacy bible

I have been a bike commuter for 12 plus years. Most all were done a city rated by Bicycling magazine as one of eleven "bike unfriendly" communities in 2008. Naturally, I have been eager to find information which explains why things are the nasty mess that they are. Regionalism and politics don't explain everything (though they explain much).

This book works from the standpoint of deciphering the psychology behind the behavior of drivers on the road. It cites studies which blow away most traditional perceptions about bike advocacy and driver behavior. The crux of this book is that it really wasn't written about or for cyclists. Oh, it does mention us, and since the author, Tom Vanderbilt is a New Yorker who occasionally rides a bike there, there are some direct references to bikes.

The book actually delves into driver psychology and the thinking processes behind drivers. It also discusses at length traffic engineering. The traffic engineering part is quite an illumination in and of itself. One thing Vanderbilt points out is that the human brain isn't at all designed to process information while traveling at high speeds. Apparently, engineers choose to paint the dotted lane divider lanes on freeways much larger so that they create the illusion that we are going slower than what we are. An actual painted dashed traffic lane line is far larger than what most drivers realize. Also Vanderbilt mentions how roads which have a lot of visual clutter on the sides tend to make drivers slower, since their actual speed is registered by their minds.

He also completely exposes how cell phones completely rob drivers of attention far more than any other source I've read. In fact, he submits himself to a test at a research facility and fails the phone test like all the others. Another alarming thing he describes is how even if someone on the phone appears to be looking at the road, they are actually not percieving the visual stimuli in front of them.

Another amazing tidbit he reveals is that ALL drivers think they are far better drivers than what they are. He links this to something in psychology called "fundamental attribution error," which is how we our mistakes are controlled by outside circumstances, yet we see others' mistakes as the result of a character flaw. This is likened to drivers in that if they see a cyclist run a stop sign or not signal, we think of them as "reckless anarchists," but if we run a stop sign or another driver does (to whom we can relate) we see them or ourselves as responding to outside circumstances.

It is late, I am tired, so I have to abstain from sharing more from this book (I am busy writing my own book, so my fingers are also worn out).

It has been rare that I have read a book this good about cycling and related issues. Actually, it is quite scary to read this because it becomes clear that normal human mechanisms of relating with each other inevitably go out the window once someone is in a car. This is not over emphasizing the books content. I am only a third of the way through, and I find I have to stop to process what I am learning, since it is so new. I hope this leads to some real understanding in the bike community. I like the fact that it lays out so many facts which offer new ways of trying to create bike friendly cities.

The old factions and arguments really do get tiring and with this book, now I see that we have been deprived of actual scientific analysis of our situation out on the roads. It may be a good read for drivers, but generally this book gives me enough material that feeling of dependency upon drivers, of being dominated by their stuff goes out the window. It is sort of like realizing that an annoying coworker of yours isn't "firing on all cylinders."

I'd love to scan and share the entire book. Out of respect for the copyright gods, I will share but a few pages. I have been perusing books and the internet in regards to bike advocacy for a very long time, but I have found nothing which cracks the seemingly inscrutable codes which dictate driver behavior. I wrote a little book report for another site and I've repasted it here.



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An Excerpt from and discussion about the book, Traffic
« on: July 09, 2009, 11:23:10 AM »

Vanderbilt describes in his book, Traffic how drivers lack a real forum to express their anger and other feelings as people do normally. There is no way to tell the driver who cut you off verbally how you felt about being cut off. This limits drivers to doing things like giving the finger, honking or to “act out” by trying to cut off the driver ahead of them who just cut them off. He states that when we drive, it is often impossible to send a message to the offending driver. He says, therefore, “…we get visibly mad to an audience of no one.”

He cites a sociologist from the University of California, Jack Katz, author of How Emotions Work, as the source of this study of emotion in drivers. Vanderbilt states that Katz learned, “that we are engaging in a kind of theatrical storytelling inside our cars, angrily ‘constructing moral dramas’ in which we are the wronged victims- and the ‘avenging hero-’ in some traffic epic of larger importance.”

He says, “Katz argues to create new meaning in this ‘moral drama’ and in an effort to create ‘new meaning’ for the encounter, we will try to find out something after the fact about the driver who wronged us (perhaps speeding up to see them), meanwhile running down a mental list of potential villains (e.g., women, men, senior citizens, teenagers, Democrats, Republicans, “idiots on cell phones”… before finding a suitable resolution to the drama.”

Vanderbilt describes this as a version for drivers of what psychologists call the “fundamental attribution error;” in which we blame the actions of others on who they are, and in turn, “attribute our own actions to how we were forced to act in specific situations.”

Vanderbilt goes on to illustrate this by saying, “Chances are you never have looked at yourself in the rearview mirror and thought, “Stupid #$%&! Driver.” He says that psychologists theorize that this tendency arises as a possible means of feeling in control of complex situations like driving. He also surmises that fundamental attribution error based chastisement is easier than fully analyzing the circumstances which caused the other driver to behave as he/she did.

He also suggests this is the root cause of why even drivers make statements like, “West Virginians are horrible drivers,” and other assumptions based on geography.

Vanderbilt says that traffic research shows that when bicyclists violate the law, drivers see them as “reckless anarchists,” and meanwhile are more likely to “view the violation of a traffic law by another driver as somehow being required by the circumstances.”















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Old 08-10-09, 06:46 AM   #2
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There's a nice interview w/ the author on the paperback's Amazon page. Hmmm, due out tomorrow. Convenient timing?
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Old 08-10-09, 06:56 AM   #3
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In light traffic, i don't worry too much. But when the traffic gets heavy, I act like a cop. I look back at the person, make eye contact, point assertively, and take charge. Usually people are
not sure what's gong on. I let them know. If verbal communication is possible, I use it. I try to be nonconfrontational, just assertive. I bellow 'thank you' a lot. If I am not certain the person is aware of me, I holler 'hello' really, really loudly.
One time a guy in a mercedes was leaving his fancy development and not paying attention. I hollered 'hey' twice as loud as i could and nearly gave him a heart attack.
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Old 08-10-09, 07:11 AM   #4
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While riding Saturday, I had a driver almost swipe me with the passenger side wing mirror in their rush to get around me and up (100 feet) to turn at a stop light. I yelled "Hey!", and wiaved. When I got to the red light, a truck pulled up next to me and said that he thought I was pulling people over...
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Old 08-10-09, 08:19 AM   #5
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Hey I just got this book from the LA County Library system. I agree, so far it's very interesting reading.
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Old 08-10-09, 08:27 AM   #6
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.....
This book works from the standpoint of deciphering the psychology behind the behavior of drivers .......

D'oh. Just what the world needs. Another cycling book where drivers who think they own the road should be replaced with cyclists who think they own the road. Sure to be a bestseller among the take-the-laners and mazzhole clique.

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Old 08-10-09, 08:39 AM   #7
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D'oh. Just what the world needs. Another cycling book where drivers who think they own the road should be replaced with cyclists who think they own the road. Sure to be a bestseller among the take-the-laners and mazzhole clique.

roughstuff
It's not a cycling book. It's not even a cars are bad book. It's in equiry into the psychology of a typical driver and the effect of being in a car on an individual.

But seriously, share the road, it's my lane as much as yours.
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Old 08-10-09, 08:49 AM   #8
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It's not a cycling book. It's not even a cars are bad book. It's in inquiry into the psychology of a typical driver and the effect of being in a car on an individual. ...
This is extremely valuable information, because most people are unaware of several aspects of motorist behavior, such as the narrowing of the visual field with increasing speed or the subconscious neglect of vertical objects. Automobile technology continues to evolve, leaving our visual cortex and image processing "wetware" behind. The only short term partial solution I can offer is to reduce the speed limits somewhat on many of our rural roads and prime arterials. Unfortunately, the trend has been toward higher speed limits.
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Old 08-10-09, 09:09 AM   #9
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It's not a cycling book. It's not even a cars are bad book. It's in equiry into the psychology of a typical driver and the effect of being in a car on an individual.

But seriously, share the road, it's my lane as much as yours.


....., Jack Katz, author of How Emotions Work, as the source of this study of emotion in drivers. Vanderbilt states that Katz learned, “that we are engaging in a kind of theatrical storytelling inside our cars, angrily ‘constructing moral dramas’ in which we are the wronged victims- and the ‘avenging hero-’ in some traffic epic of larger importance.”

Ridiculous, pompous puffery. Like I said...a sure bestseller among the anti-car luddites and mazzholes.

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Old 08-10-09, 09:14 AM   #10
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......The only short term partial solution I can offer is to reduce the speed limits somewhat on many of our rural roads and prime arterials. Unfortunately, the trend has been toward higher speed limits.

There is an even shorter term complete solution, which is simply to practice what we preach and drive at these lower speeds on rural roads and primer arterials. I never hear much about this...which leads me to believe that its a 'lets you and him slow down!' mentality.

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Old 08-10-09, 09:28 AM   #11
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Ridiculous, pompous puffery. Like I said...a sure bestseller among the anti-car luddites and mazzholes.
good god, man, must you troll everything?
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Old 08-10-09, 09:32 AM   #12
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....., Jack Katz, author of How Emotions Work, as the source of this study of emotion in drivers. Vanderbilt states that Katz learned, “that we are engaging in a kind of theatrical storytelling inside our cars, angrily ‘constructing moral dramas’ in which we are the wronged victims- and the ‘avenging hero-’ in some traffic epic of larger importance.”

Ridiculous, pompous puffery. Like I said...a sure bestseller among the anti-car luddites and mazzholes.

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The Internet is awesome. There is an unlimited potential in dismissing that which one knows nothing about.

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Old 08-10-09, 09:42 AM   #13
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His blog is pretty good too.

http://www.howwedrive.com/

I haven't read "Traffic" yet (it's on my queue).
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Old 08-10-09, 09:49 AM   #14
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good god, man, must you troll everything?

No I occasionally hop in my car or my friends car and enjoy a leisurely Sunday ride while I construct moral dramas’ in which I am the wronged victim- and the ‘avenging hero-’ in some traffic epic of larger importance.”



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Old 08-10-09, 10:17 AM   #15
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....., Jack Katz, author of How Emotions Work, as the source of this study of emotion in drivers. Vanderbilt states that Katz learned, “that we are engaging in a kind of theatrical storytelling inside our cars, angrily ‘constructing moral dramas’ in which we are the wronged victims- and the ‘avenging hero-’ in some traffic epic of larger importance.”

Ridiculous, pompous puffery. Like I said...a sure bestseller among the anti-car luddites and mazzholes.

roughstuff


From your criticisms, I'm pretty sure that you didn't read the book. Or if you did, you didn't comprehend it. So read it, then get back to us. Or confine your criticisms to the many excerpts that the OP kindly provided for us.

as for pompous puffery.....
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Old 08-10-09, 10:31 AM   #16
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From your criticisms, I'm pretty sure that you didn't read the book. Or if you did, you didn't comprehend it. So read it, then get back to us. Or confine your criticisms to the many excerpts that the OP kindly provided for us.

as for pompous puffery.....

It is a direct quote from the page excerpt provided, Roody. I am not judging the book from its cover, I am making a very reasonable inference about its style and content based upon a sample of its pages, which is, as I pointed out, pompous fluff .

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Old 08-10-09, 10:38 AM   #17
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NPR interview with author, (audio & transcript):

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/s...oryId=92945220
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Old 08-10-09, 10:38 AM   #18
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It is a direct quote from the page excerpt provided, Roody. I am not judging the book from its cover, I am making a very reasonable inference about its style and content based upon a sample of its pages, which is, as I pointed out, pompous fluff .

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The difference between adolescence and adulthood is taking responsibility for your
actions. Dismissing a book based on a good sized body of research after having read a page or two tells me you have a degree in Psych (so that you have a familirarity with behavioral research and how to interpret it) and expertise in traffic management issues.

Or your inner child could simply be running your show.

Here's a hint, we know which one it is.
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Old 08-10-09, 10:44 AM   #19
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It is a direct quote from the page excerpt provided, Roody. I am not judging the book from its cover, I am making a very reasonable inference about its style and content based upon a sample of its pages, which is, as I pointed out, pompous fluff .

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I have read the book, and I find it to be an important summation of scientific studies of the psychology and engineering behind traffic. Human perception and judgment are key factors in the traffic equation, but so far they have been largely ignored by traffic engineers and auto designers. When (not if) the principles explained in this book are more widely applied, the roads will be safer for both cyclists and motorists.

As for appealing to what you called "anti-car luddites and mazzholes," this book is about as far opposite of that as I can imagine. Luddites don't believe in science or new technology, and this book is all about science and new technology. You might be right about the mazzholes, as I don't know what that they believe.
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Old 08-10-09, 10:45 AM   #20
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Didn't this book come out at least a couple years ago?

The cover is new, since it now says "National Bestseller" in big letters. So maybe that's what they mean when its release date is listed as Aug 11th.
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Old 08-10-09, 10:47 AM   #21
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Didn't this book come out at least a couple years ago?

The cover is new, since it now says "National Bestseller" in big letters. So maybe that's what they mean when its release date is listed as Aug 11th.
Hard-cover published a year ago.
Soft-cover published tomorrow.
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Old 08-10-09, 11:00 AM   #22
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I highly recommend Traffic. He has done his research. Some of his conclusions are counterintuitive, but make a lot of sense, once you read his arguments.
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Old 08-10-09, 11:17 AM   #23
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The difference between adolescence and adulthood is taking responsibility for your
actions. Dismissing a book based on a good sized body of research after having read a page or two tells me you have a degree in Psych (so that you have a familirarity with behavioral research and how to interpret it) and expertise in traffic management issues.

Or your inner child could simply be running your show.

Here's a hint, we know which one it is.
It is amusing---even more fun than "constructing moral dramas in which I am the wronged victim- and the ‘avenging hero-’ in some traffic epic of larger importance"---to watch you guys jump to conclusions. I have not dismissed the book, nor have I on the other hand made it a priority on my reading list. I have merely drawn a very reasonable inference that the book is pompous and vacuous fluff. The amazon.com interview text convinces me of this even more.


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Old 08-10-09, 11:26 AM   #24
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My Psych Exp Methods teacher liked to say the only bad thing about most theories is that they are wrong. Such is the case with your inference.

First Rule of Holes - when you're in one, stop digging.
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Old 08-10-09, 11:28 AM   #25
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yeah... i saw the movie about this a while back. I dont remember any references to cyclists... hmm

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