“Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do”

August 27, 2008 at 4:01 pm | Posted in Nonfiction | 2 Comments

I’d like to call Tom Vanderbilt’s book Traffic: Why You Drive the Way You Do because I dropped out of that rat race 18 months ago.  When I drove, I was fat, broke, and grumpy, plus I wasn’t all that good at it.  After selling my car and switching to bike commuting, I’ve gone from a size 14 to a 4 and cut my debt load by $11,000.  But I digress.

I’m excited to review this book because my boyfriend, Rocket Scientist, read it first.  He asked me if I’d heard of it, and I said, “Heard of it?  It’s sitting on my shelf right now.”  So he took it home to read.  After I made him read Legacy of Ashes, I was sure he was done with nonfiction for the year, so I was quite surprised by this development.   Not only did RS read Traffic, he was super-pumped about it and insisted that I read it as fast as possible.  He wanted to discuss it so badly, he said he was thinking of locking leaving me in the car with it while he and Sweetie Junior went shopping so I could finish it sooner.  (The funny thing is, if it was actually in the car, I might have taken him up on this offer, which probably says something about our relationship).

Traffic may well be the most interesting nonfiction book ever written.  By that I mean both level of intrinsic interest and appeal to widest range of people.  If you have ever gone anywhere in any kind of vehicle, you are guaranteed to find something in this book that will catch your attention.  Every argument you have ever had with anyone about anything to do with traffic, bad driving, cell phones, SUVs, parking, et cetera, is in here somewhere.  I’ll go so far as to say that reading this book might even be a matter of life or death.  You might as well just drop everything and read it, because it’s going to become required reading by the DMV before you can renew your license any day now.

The first effect of this book is that you will start pointing out activity on the road and saying, “That’s what he was just talking about!”  The second is that you will want to start quoting the book to everyone you meet.  The third is that you will want to tell traffic stories, which is what I’m doing next.

On Monday I was riding my bike home from work.  There are two right-hand turn lanes.  This intersection is notorious for being blocked because it’s only one signal from a freeway onramp and two signals from the mall.  As usual, an SUV was sitting there in the middle of the intersection.  The driver in the turn lane next to me started to swerve left around it, and nearly hit me, minding my own business in the bike lane.  When she saw me she stopped and waved.  Never mind that I had effectively been standing two feet from her elbow, with her window open, for the preceding two minutes while we waited together for the light to change.

Last week I was crossing the street when an SUV (possibly the same one, come to think of it) pulled up to the edge of the crosswalk, blocking the intersection.  The driver yelled at me out the window, “You need to say thank you when people let you cross the street.”  I turned around and told her, “Pedestrians have the right of way.”  She yelled again, “You need to say thank you!”  She was still yelling and still blocking the intersection by the time I’d walked half a block away.  Clearly she missed the part about not entering an intersection while pedestrians are crossing the street, and she felt I was in her way even though I was already in the road before she got there.

It’s gratifying that this book is getting so much press, and I have high hopes that it will ignite a passionate discussion across the nation.  Maybe even some policy changes.

If you’re curious, here’s a post I did last year on bicycling: http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=6148925&blogID=265153388&MyToken=328b8d54-902e-46a6-b81e-d5d20d51c8d1

(I thought it was funny, anyway).



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  1. I can’t believe someone wanted you to say thank you for them allowing you to use the crosswalk! Drivers can be so rude to pedestrians.

  2. Yeah, not only did she want me to thank her, but *she* was the one doing something she wasn’t supposed to be doing! It’s still ticking me off.

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