At the root of my interests is traffic. I am fascinated by the ways traffic flows and the chaotic nature in which each travel day brings. There are many times, as I now have taken a firm stance on what I believe to be idealistic transit, when I find myself filling the very stereotypes that I talk about here on UW. I do not drive very much any more, but when I do, I find myself either driving like a nascar maniac or a grandma, depending on how much my traffic-centric mind pulls on which ideology I wish to buy into that day; either exploiting the system by kicking everyones ass at driving fast or setting an example for temperate traffic by driving just below the speed limit. These are subtle nuisances in my driving habits, but I am the first one to notice them, because I am my own guinea pig in my own traffic tests. I further internalize the driving habits of others to find out how they perceive the roads they drive on. Some taxi drivers find it most advantageous to drive super fast with a hand on the horn, because they know/think that they are the best most experienced drivers out here – or they know the meter ticks the same way, but they can make money faster by getting to the destination faster. Other more humble drivers I have met find that American roads provide so much space and are so well organized, in comparison to places they had driven before, that they respect the space they have with easy speeds and a slightly less anxious hand on the horn.
For traffic this means everything. Traffic is not created by how many cars are on the roads, it is created by how the users interact with the road. This is generally true in a humanely scaled city such as Minneapolis/Saint Paul where, contrary to most every person know, there is no parking shortage anywhere nor is their a serious traffic problem. As it is today, not everyone can relate to glory stories of riding transit or how a certain bike trip was faster than a car trip to a destination, but everyone can relate to stories of ill-use of our road system. Left lane chillers, slow mergers, less than eager left turners/right turners, overly cautious anybodies, etc., all contribute to a system which is contingent on how a multitude of different users which have different ideas for how it best works for them.
Really, in the super perfect super duper modern city, cars would be equipped with computers which communicate with each other, and the system wholly, to create peak road capacity at optimum flow at the highest speeds possible. In other words, the way to create perfect high efficiency road traffic is to take out the human element of ideology and independent usership, and replace it with a unified and centralized system of super smart cars
which will ultimately create the robot apocalypse.
Really, in reality, this will never, ever, happen. At the basic level, the words “unified” or “centralized” would instantly kill the movement. The futuristic super duper modern PR team will get right on that.
Of course, there has to be more realistic solutions to the problems with traffic, that has to do less with tackling individual road ideologies and more to do with moving people, in the most efficient way possible, and at their leisure and in the way they feel most comfortable. Improved traffic has to be accomplished with this ideal at the center, because this is something Americans take as a basic function of our way of life. We do things in comfort and at our own pace.
I hope to instill some sort of positive notion of modern/future traffic planners, because although the talking points are changing, the word sacrifice is overused, and people are literally slowly dying in their cars, the ways in which people of traffic and transit expertise want to move people in the future is not a picture of an uncomfortably packed train or bus. I get just as angry and slowly depressed after a long and noisy 16 route ride as anyone would, transit advocate or not, contrary to a belief that I may take a weird pleasure in that experience.
The future of traffic, transit, and travel in general, is a bright one I am sure, because if I can haphazardly fall into a hobby, and eventual career, that is centered on just watching traffic happen and interpreting as I watch, there must be millions of brighter minds than mind thinking up better solutions than me. The American interstate system and arterials is the largest single piece of infrastructure the world has ever seen and the more we use it in the way we do, the more our huge, and currently still widely beneficial, system will deteriorate. Although, don’t worry, it is probably not your fault, it that woman talking on her cell phone in the left lane doing 48 on I-94.
Here are some cool things I have found in the past two weeks in regards to transit, traffic, cycling, etc…
First, here is a video of officials pushing passengers onto a train. The location is disputed in the comments, some say it is Japan and the video says it is in China. Anyone know Mandarin or Japanese? Anyways, this is not what I want for our transit system in the US!
Check out our bike infrastructure on BikeFilms! Ok, I will admit these videos from streetfilms are a little corny, but hey, they are showcasing the coolest single piece of bike/walk infrastructure we have!
Finally, if you have time, check out Blueprint America from PBS. This episode was kind of the inspiration for this entry.