I’ve been reading a very interesting and surprisingly accessible-but-academic blog lately about traffic and our behaviors. The blog is called “How we drive” and it is by a man named Tom Vanderbilt, who wrote a book for which I’m like one billionth on the wait list at the library.

The description of the book might explain why the wait list is so long, as well as why I find his blog so fascinating:

Would you be surprised that road rage can be good for society? Or that most crashes happen on sunny, dry days? That our minds can trick us into thinking the next lane is moving faster? Or that you can gauge a nation’s driving behavior by its levels of corruption? These are only a few of the remarkable dynamics that Tom Vanderbilt explores in this fascinating tour through the mysteries of the road.

Based on exhaustive research and interviews with driving experts and traffic officials around the globe, Traffic gets under the hood of the everyday activity of driving to uncover the surprisingly complex web of physical, psychological, and technical factors that explain how traffic works, why we drive the way we do, and what our driving says about us. Vanderbilt examines the perceptual limits and cognitive underpinnings that make us worse drivers than we think we are. He demonstrates why plans to protect pedestrians from cars often lead to more accidents. He shows how roundabouts, which can feel dangerous and chaotic, actually make roads safer—and reduce traffic in the bargain. He uncovers who is more likely to honk at whom, and why. He explains why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our quest for safety, and even identifies the most common mistake drivers make in parking lots.

The car has long been a central part of American life; whether we see it as a symbol of freedom or a symptom of sprawl, we define ourselves by what and how we drive. As Vanderbilt shows, driving is a provocatively revealing prism for examining how our minds work and the ways in which we interact with one another. Ultimately, Traffic is about more than driving: it’s about human nature. This book will change the way we see ourselves and the world around us. And who knows? It may even make us better drivers.

He explores the topic from many directions, and he doesn’t let himself be limited by the “conventional wisdom” that is generally also the “unsupported-by-any-actual-facts-or-research wisdom”.

Like, the ideas we have on traffic lights. What if there were none? We immediately start talking about how it would be dangerous and chaos would ensue, but is that true? Why do we think that? And if that is true, why has traffic improved and accidents decreased in some towns in europe that have done away with traffic lights in select places?

I find it fascinating, at least partially because Tom does such a good job in presenting the topic in interesting ways.

For anyone who drives, as well as everyone else, I highly recommend checking out Tom’s blog.


Hanna swept through, and while it was far far from a direct hit to the DC area, we did get a bit of rain.

I think I got 6-7″, actually.

What seemed strange to me was that it was all contained on Saturday. It started maybe at 7am, and it stopped sometime after 4pm. It was just a solid day of constant rain, sometimes an inch an hour.

And of course Saturday was the only day I had to be outside, so I got absolutely drenched at the sanctuary. It wasn’t cold, so I didn’t mind, and I’d brought a change of clothes for the ride home. I’m so glad I did that. When I took off my wet stuff, they were literally dripping, soaked through and through.

On the way home I had my doubts at a few intersections whether I’d be able to get through – they were close to flooding. And then closer to home the traffic stopped. I was worried that the road was flooded and it isn’t the kind of road with a lot of streets off of it, so if it had been flooded, I’m not sure how many hours it would have taken for all of us to get off that road.

Turns out it wasn’t flooded. It was a tree down. When I finally scooted by, it was clear that we were able to drive past in the left lane only because someone had broken the top of the tree enough that we could drive over the remnants.

I read an article not too long ago that talked about bikes being the best “escape transportation” out of disaster areas because when faced with a downed tree or similar obstacle, you could more easily go around or even just life the bike up and over. I thought about that as we slowly merged into one lane to get around this downed tree. At some point I’ll rig up a way to carry my cat on my bike. And then I’ll know that in a worst case scenario, we can pedal off into the sunset.

I was counting up the weeks since I started bike commuting, and it has been 5 weeks, amazingly. I feel like I’ve only just gotten started, it doesn’t feel like I could have been doing this for a month already!

Maybe I feel that way because I’m still getting in shape. Last week was the third week I rode 3 days, but the first week I rode those three days all in a row. I could feel the difference. This week I am aiming for 4 days in a row, and given that I’ve already done 3, looks like I’m going to meet this goal.

The bike computer has been on the bike almost 2 weeks now, and it will bump over its 200th mile tomorow on the way home. That’s a bit more than 8 gallons of gas, for my truck. And that’s sort of cool, that in 2 weeks, I’ve already saved that much gas. Half a tank, really.

My legs are tired, but not unreasonably so. They’re not really sore, just not in quite good enough shape to take all this riding in stride…yet. It has surprised me, that it is taking this long. I think it is the hills. I rode fairly consistently one summer in Denver, on MUP along a river, and it was almost entirely flat. 30 miles was a piece of cake. Not so now! Some of my hills have me working hard to not dip below 5 mph.

I have been seeing more bike commuters, which has been exciting for me. I think the weather has cooled down, and they’re out more now. Or something like that. I seem to count between five and seven other bike commuters in the mornings. Less in the afternoon, for some reason.

Today I was actually passed by a bike commuter, and yes, this was exciting as well! He was much MUCH faster than me, and I could only sigh with envy as he powered away going up something of a hill. He said “hey” as he passed me.

Being on the bike is like gaining instant community, at least with many of the bikers I see.

Sadly, I have only seen one other woman on my commute, and just one time. I’m not sure if she was commuting, or perhaps making a shorter trip to the store – she was riding a very nicely functional looking comfort bike, which I tend to think would be tiring for long rides. She was definitely riding for transport, not sport, so I figure it counts in my “bike commuter” tally. I really am interested in the utility biking, the transport, rather than the sport viewpoint. Not to say that the sport biking isn’t fun, but in this country there is such a different mindset with biking that those of us who bike for transport are the odd ones out.

I really wish I’d see more women out there.

This past weekend I was driving to and from Philly, and it was pretty much traffic hell in each direction. 3.5 hrs up, 4 hrs down, and it normally would take more like 2.5 hrs.

note that there is no motion blur

note that there is no motion blur

no motion = no motion blur

no motion = no motion blur

I’d look at the bikes attached to many of the cars and have fantasies of ditching my truck, grabbing a bike, and pedaling off the awful highway and into a place of sanity.