Archive for the 'Traffic' Category

Congestion charges and throughput

Transportation research Eric Morris has two guest posts at the Freakonomics blog explaining the benefits of congestion taxes. The following was new to me:

When few cars are using a road, speeds are high, but the light volume means few cars get through. Add more cars and eventually speeds start to slow, but the increase in volume means that throughput rises. When a road is just crowded enough so that speeds are around 45 m.p.h., the most cars are pumped through the system.

But add even more cars and trouble starts. Speeds break down, taking throughput down with them. When roads are severely congested, you get a paradoxical situation: the more cars you jam in at one end, the fewer come out the other end.

If this is true, then the argument that congestion charging is bad because it ‘deprives’ poor people of a chance to use the road is weakened (note that it’s a particularly bad argument in Singapore’s context, where the poor simply cannot afford cars, and much of the middle class uses public transport). Under certain conditions, charging might actually allow more cars to use the road than before.


How We Drive

I just discovered that there is a companion blog for Tom Vanderbilt’s recent book, Traffic. Reading through the rather fascinating archives now. Some of the more interesting things I’ve learned from the blog (I haven’t read the book, but I’ve just placed a hold on it at the library — should have it in my hands soon!):

  • The misallocation of New York City’s public space, demonstrated nicely by this graphic:
    NYC public space traffic usage
  • A characteristic that I’ve noticed about motor traffic in Singapore approaching filters into expressways:

    I’ve noticed in Manhattan that some of the worst places to navigate on foot are near any of the bridge or tunnel entrances — either vehicles are still used to being in less pedestrian heavy environments, or their proximity to “escaping from New York” leads to a kind of animalistic imperative in which the only consideration becomes getting that many inches closer to the tunnel — woe to the person who has to cross on foot in one of these situations.

  • On “Bikeism”. I think most cyclists in cycling-unfriendly cities have encountered this attitude.
  • Some comparisons with smoking that give one some hope that driving in public spaces will go the way of smoking in public spaces:smoking v driving
  • On bad philosophies of road design.
  • Danes waiting at traffic lights — more interesting than it sounds!
  • Link I found there: a tree in the middle of the road in Connecticut, which they left in the middle of the road rather than cut down. What struck me was the writer’s closing sentence: “In a world with little tolerance for eccentricity, it is hard to imagine that decision being made today.” Too right. This reminded me so much of the controversy over the chopping down of an Angsana tree on Braddell Road — there is no tolerance for eccentricity in Singapore’s public policy.

Before I Forget

I’d like to say a big thank you to the taxi driver who slowed down to let me filter right in front of him just before the dreaded Toa Payoh flyover filter along Braddell Road. For those not familiar with the area, in both directions along Braddell Road, there is a two lane filter into the Toa Payoh estate. I usually have no problems avoiding being ‘squeezed’ into the filter when I cycle to work in the wee hours of the morning, but when I return in the late afternoon, traffic is somewhat heavier and filtering becomes considerably more difficult. Furthermore, in the return direction (going towards the CTE junction), most cars are coming down a flyover ramp at high speed, and are hence usually less amenable to yielding to cyclists (on the other side of the road, the cars are just coming from flat ground).

But no thank you to whoever was in the Volvo at the Lorong Chuan/AMK Ave 1 junction, where I was in the middle of the middle lane approaching the junction, because I didn’t want to turn left. You were turning left, I was nowhere close to encroaching upon ‘your’ lane, yet you still felt the need to honk several times at me.

Another thing of note. The section of Thomson Road at the big Lornie/Thomson/Braddell confluence had one lane closed off today. This was an unexpected boon for me because traffic was forced to slow down, which actually allowed me to feel safe filtering safely into the middle lane to get to Braddell Road. (I feel more assured that drivers will see and give a shit about my hand signal to turn right when they are going more slowly.) In normal traffic conditions, if I take the middle lane at the red light, drivers behind me get unhappy and often resort to passing me at decidedly unsafe distances (after, of course, lots of honking). If I don’t take the middle lane, I usually don’t get a chance to filter to the middle lane in the short stretch after the traffic lights and before the Braddell junction, and am ‘channelled’ helplessly into Upper Thomson Road, from where I have to take the pedestrian crossing at the next traffic lights to get to Bishan St 21, and detour through Bishan (up the bloody hill outside RJC) before emerging into Braddell Road near the CTE. Unintended traffic calming is a good thing.

Summer Streets NYC

Streetfilms’ video.

Common Commuting Dilemma

Overtake the bus at the bus stop and be passed dangerously closely by it later and end up in a leapfrogging sequence of the latter two events (unless you’re lucky enough to encounter one of those patient drivers who doesn’t mind cruising behind you at 25 km/h), or (if the bus is not stopping for long) slow down and wait for it to move ahead of you, thus possibly (if you have a consistent strategy) putting yourself in the way of its farts for the next N bus stops on that road?

Usually I do the former. Today, having told myself beforehand that I would try to go for a more relaxed commute and not push myself so hard, I tried the latter strategy on my way home and was not terribly pleased with the outcome. The thought of it still makes me want to cough up whatever foreign particles are now in my lungs.


People often don’t realise how many unreasonably pro-car assumptions they make when debating transport and urban planning issues. For example, despite the proven benefits of traffic calming measures, it is still often assumed that the only way to accommodate cyclists on the roads is to widen existing roads.* Horseshit. Why not take away a little bit of our extravagant 3-4 lane roads and reserve them for cyclists? We have grown so used to the idea that roads must be at least 3 lanes wide, that wider roads are a Good Thing, that we never stop to question these underlying assumptions. But reports by people who actually study these things indicate that cities who were far-sighted enough to remove cars from the pedestal haven’t suffered any of the doomsday consequences that car fans here predict. Quite the opposite, in fact.

One of my implicit assumptions was reversed after coming across this interesting factoid from John Pucher’s report[pdf] on cycling in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany:

The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have been among the most successful countries at promoting cycling for daily travel. Since all three countries are quite affluent, their high levels of cycling are not due to an inability to afford more expensive transport modes. Indeed, levels of car ownership in the three countries are among the highest in the world. The case of Germany is particularly noteworthy. Although it has a much higher level of car ownership than the UK, the bike
share of trips in Germany is almost ten times higher in Germany than in the UK. Clearly, high levels of car ownership do not preclude cycling.

So, we can let people attain the “Singaporean Dream” of owning a car while promoting cycling. Quite simply, we have to tax car usage rather than car ownership more heavily, which is why I support ERP.

And high levels of cycling do not preclude economic efficiency, or whatever it is people here always claim we’ll lose by promoting cycling. People always have all sorts of excuses why we cannot be an Amsterdam or a Copenhagen. Fine, perhaps those cities really are too small for comparison (less than a million inhabitants each). But what about Chicago, where I lived and biked happily for three years, where there actually are bike lanes on many major streets, where there are more bike commuters on the coldest day of winter than there are any day here? And Berlin, of which Pucher writes:

In 2004, for example, Berlin (3.4 million inhabitants) had 860 km of completely separate bike paths, 60 km of bike lanes on streets, 50 km of bike lanes on sidewalks, 100 km of mixed-use pedestrian-bike paths and 70 km of combined bus-bike lanes on streets.

Does anyone really want to argue that Berlin and Chicago are examples of how promoting cycling can cause the economic downfall of large cities?

[*]An example is a comment made by “Hun Boon” on a post at Cycling in Singapore:

Until the day roads are widened and cycle paths are built, bicycles will just have to share the space with pedestrians.

More Excellent British Marketing

(Previous examples.)

A British postcard:
Enjoy the freedom of a car.