Why People Don’t Use Mass Transit

An interesting article describing Why People Don’t Use Mass Transit. Of course, none of this is new to transportation professionals, but it is worth repeating as agencies consider spending more money on new transit infrastructure. Individuals have preferences, one of which is to save time, one is to be in comfort. When transit systems save time and are more comfortable they will attract “choice” passengers, those who can afford other modes, otherwise they will be left with “captive” passengers, those without better choices.
Transit works in some places, not in others. Cars work in some places, not in others. If we can match the modes to the environment, we will be successful.

A roundabout way to traffic safety

The city of Forest Lake, Minnesota is going to deploy a slew of roundabouts to control traffic, replacing traffic lights. This article describes the plan: St. Paul Pioneer Press | 09/09/2006 | Roundabout plan may get a trial spin
In most studies of the issue, roundabouts improve on safety and reduce delay compared with traffic signals. They have the advantage of minimizing conflict points at intersections, and help keep drivers moving, while slowing them down and making them more alert.
This wikipedia article describes roundabouts in more depth.
Unfortunately, traffic circles have given roundabouts a bad name, and becaues they are not so complicated, they are often not even taught in Traffic Engineering classes, so they are not given due placement in the traffic engineers toolbox.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner turns attention to road safety

In an op-ed published in today’s Washington Post: Peace On the Roads, Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize decries the lives lost on roads, particularly in the developing world. Clearly this is an under-appreciated problem, because it does not have the flash of a plane crash or terrorism, but we lose more people in the US each month to traffic crashes than we do each year (or decade) to terrorism. The toll in the developing world is much worse on a per-vehicle-km traveled basis, because roads are worse, drivers are worse (have less driver education), enforcement is worse, and vehicles are worse. While zero deaths is a long way off, 1.2 million per year can certainly be reduced.

Is anyone running this airline?

Northwest doesn’t need the flight attendants strike to have CHAOS.
The proposed flight attendents strike on Northwest Airlines aims to induce CHAOS on the aviation system by targetting specific flights (unknown to NWA or passengers in advance). Clearly NWA has problems on its own, this flight, which I will be on in four weeks, was diverted to Duluth (
NWA Flight 44 Passengers Feeling VERY Minnesota). Okay, so there were mechanical problems, that happens from time to time (not encouraging, but they did fire all of the mechanics last year).
But they did not ask (or allow) passengers to leave for 10 hours, first trying to fix the problem, but eventually realizing that the crews were on duty for too long. A little bit of foresight would be helpful (but then with foresight, they woudn’t be a bankrupt carrier).
This is not the first time NWA has held passengers prisoner. (1, 2 (9 hours) and here , 3 (28 hours) I myself was trapped on an NWA flight in summer of 2004, sitting on the runway for 3 hours, that due to weather at DCA (National), could not take off, and ultimately had to deplane passengers so it could take off on the shorter runway. (Just a few more people off the plane, and we can take off).
The pilot did buy alcohol for the passengers (alas, I don’t drink), and NWA did give me 1500 airmiles, but frankly, I would rather someone be able to plan 15 minutes in advance and not board planes that won’t be allowed to take off.

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Access to Destinations Report Released

Our first report in the Access to Destinations Series: Development of Accessibility Measures
has finally been released.
The most interesting finding (which still awaits corroboration) is that despite the rising congestion of the past decade, accessibility in the Twin Cities region (measured as the number of things (jobs, workers, etc.) that you can get to in a fixed period of time) has been improving. Clearly this would be because there are more things per unit time, not because you can cover more distance per unit time. Increasing density increases accessibility, this is why cities form in the first place, it is nice to see it in the data. More in the final report. Thanks to my colleague Ahmed El-Geneidy who did most of the number crunching.

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What has happened recently in transportation

A reported asked what happened in transportation this year. While the field of transportation is slow moving, a few things came to mind:
The Stockholm congestion tax trials were held this year a referendum
will be coming up soon
. This is an important experiment both in the technology, but also in public acceptability of using tolls to help regulate traffic (other examples are in London and Singapore), but in Sweden there will actually be a referendum on the subject.
In general tolling is coming back as a means to pay for roads and to manage traffic, see
Ken Orski’s article.
Privatization is also a related and important trend, as Indiana sold off a concession for their toll roads to Australian-based Macquarie Infrastructure Group
Hybrid vehicles broke X% market share in US (from 0% 5 years ago), but what is X is a bit hard to track down. see this article for an example
US road deaths rose for first time in 20 years according to this article
On the other hand, there have been no large commercial airplane crashes in US in several years (since 2001) (which I believe is the longest timespan between large crashes since the onset of large planes) according to this wikipedia entry
The ULTra PRT system started construction at Heathrow, will be first operational personal rapid transit system when it opens in 2008
Energy prices reached their highest (inflation unadjusted levels) in 2006.
The Big Dig of course faced some difficulties this year with the failing construction.
More historically, 2006 was the 50th anniversary of the US Interstate Highway System
– dml

Article on wayfinding

A nice blog post comparing maps vs. landmarks as wayfinding techniques, Cognitive Daily: Different ways of finding your way, based on the published article:
Fields, A.W., & Shelton, A.L. (2006). Individual skill differences and large-scale environmental learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 32(3), 506-515.
Apparently maps are superior to landmarks for learning (according to this experiment).
Having been in Japan last week, it would be nice if all the maps actually were oriented the same way, (i.e. North is up), rather than the apparently random orientation they seem to have.

by David Levinson


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