Friday, December 5, 2008

Just Don't Read It WHILE Commuting

I am in the midst of a fascinating book by Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us) and I highly recommend it for the non-fiction fan on your gift list.

Basically, this isn't a book on how to drive better. It is an analysis of the way we drive. For instance, have you ever been frustrated on the freeway to be clipping along at 60, slam on your brakes and sit there stopped for 2 mins, slowly get back up to 60 only to have it happen again... but see no reason for this? No accident or anything? Vanderbilt, using research and sources countrywide, tells you why this happens.

Some of the interesting things that this book has already pointed out:

  • Doesn't matter where you are in the world, whether you drive to work in LA or walk to work in an African village... your total commute time is likely around 1.1 hours round trip. Just about half an hour each way. In fact, if you look at how cities have grown, they've generally grown as far out as the current mode of "fast" transportation will take you in 30 minutes.
  • You know when there's construction and a lane is closing? And you merge into whatever lane and then get pissed b/c other people are "cheating" and going all the way up to the lane closure before merging? Believe it or not, the cheaters are making traffic move faster. This is because they're using the full capacity of the road (in this case, an empty, but about to close traffic lane) all the way until they cannot. This explains why, driving in PA last fall, I saw signs saying "Use both lanes until merge point." It seems like you're in a backup, but studies show more cars get through faster this way.
  • An interesting point I came to last night last night. It's not that people hate commuting. In fact, people like that solitary time. It's how the commute is unpredictable. Every day it could be different than the last - accidents, detours, traffic, weather. People don't like this kind of variation. So then... say you go buy the new big house farther away from the city. You love your new big house... for a time. Then, since you have neighbors, it begins to seem like everyone else has a new big house. But your commute is always unique to you. And the longer a commute you have, the more chances that all those variables come into play. So you bought the new house, but you end up enjoying life less because more time (something you cannot buy more of) is going away due to your commute.
Anyhow, it's a great book if you have a natural curiosity about the machinations of getting from here to there. And it's not overly dense in terms of the science, so it's approachable by all.

But the theories... it's amazing. This book keeps having me going "Oh right! I saw that on 485 this morning!"

1 comment:

Maggie said...

Two Things;
1. Wow you are a nerd!
2. I saw some woman reading the Torah at the stop light on PVM/51 yesterday morning. WOW...people do that shit all the time, and I have an accident glancing down at a map!

(Ok, 2 was a little bit of a stretch, but it all seemed relevant in my head.)