Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Traffic- Tom Vanderbilt

Traffic – Tom Vanderbilt James Williams

As part of my studio project, a colleague and I made a journey by car to Dover and then to Calais via a ferry. We concentrated the whole journey into filming the automated sequences of mechanized transitions and transactions. Our aim was to expose the fragility of this system, the fact that if only one seemingly minor and unimportant part of the chain of mechanized events failed to function, the result could be far worse than you would hypothesise due to increased traffic flow.

Vanderbilt describes, in detail, these fragilities and pitfalls in our road infrastructure, its management and the way we, as humans, or drivers, adapt to the changes made for us. How we, in general, must conform to these changes in our journey, although Vanderbilt proves that in many cases it is better for the flow and speed of traffic if one rebels against conformity and, in his example, be a ‘late merger’. This is when a driver will merge from a multiple lane carriageway into a reduced or single lane at the very last possible opportunity, causing distress and anger amongst those drivers who merged much earlier. Vanderbilt states that if more people were ‘late mergers’ the average speed of traffic in these circumstances would drastically increase.

Vanderbilt distinguishes a common difference between being human and being a commuter, or operator of a vehicle. He uses the analogy of comparing humans to ants. Ants have a set agenda, and every one of them knows this agenda and they work together to achieve it. Humans, however, have personal, independent and often changing agendas. For example, a parent on the school run, has a much different agenda to the businessman/woman late for a meeting their new sports car. The chaos occurs when all these varied and very different agendas meet on the roads.

Another topic that Vanderbilt delves into, that I found interesting from a design minded view, is that of evolving and improving technology within personal transportation. Someone looking to buying a new car, who is very concerned of their safety, may consider a Volvo, Saab or an SUV type vehicle. These vehicles offer industry leading safety technology, however Vanderbilt explains on how they alter many owners’ driving styles or habits. The knowledge of being surrounded by safety equipment, according Vanderbilt, can make you a worse, less safe driver, someone who is willing to take more risks. The more devices fitted, the safer the car, but the more confident the driver.

I found the section on risk taking interesting. How different occupations are categorised into risk groups. Doctors are categorised as Risk A, maybe because of stress and tiredness but also because they are confronted with taking risks, often at the expense of others, in their job. Architects are categorised as a high risk occupation too. Perhaps this due to similar reasons as doctors.

Vanderbilt actually portrays his experience of test driving a new high-tech car. He drove the car at speed directly at a parked car; his car automatically applied the breaks, denying him, momentarily control of the vehicle. In this instance, the human or driver has become more like Vanderbilt’s analogy of the Ant. I think it would be interesting to see how one driver

The automobile was originally designed to expand and express the luxury of freedom, but it has or fast becoming the victim of its own success. The Car and its occupiers are becoming more like marching ants, controlled by traffic and road engineers: Vanderbilt and his chapter on ‘Traffic flow and human nature’ have convinced me of this.

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