CategoryEducation

Why are children getting hurt in the street because of “looming”?

Adults are better than children at detecting the speed of a car that’s traveling faster than 20 miles per hour and are more likely to avoid crossing, thus not getting hit. 

Director of New York City-based Transportation Alternatives Paul Steely-White asked on Twitter for a plain English translation of this three-year old journal article about vehicle speeds and something called “looming”.

The article is called “Reduced Sensitivity to Visual Looming Inflates the Risk Posed by Speeding Vehicles When Children Try to Cross the Road”.

Skip to the end if you want the plain English translation, but I’ve posted the abstract below followed by excerpts from Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic.

ABSTRACT: Almost all locomotor animals respond to visual looming or to discrete changes in optical size. The need to detect and process looming remains critically important for humans in everyday life. Road traffic statistics confirm that children up to 15 years old are overrepresented in pedestrian casualties. We demonstrate that, for a given pedestrian crossing time, vehicles traveling faster loom less than slower vehicles, which creates a dangerous illusion in which faster vehicles may be perceived as not approaching. Our results from perceptual tests of looming thresholds show strong developmental trends in sensitivity, such that children may not be able to detect vehicles approaching at speeds in excess of 20 mph. This creates a risk of injudicious road crossing in urban settings when traffic speeds are higher than 20 mph. The risk is exacerbated because vehicles moving faster than this speed are more likely to result in pedestrian fatalities.

The full text is free to download, but I think Steely-White needs to learn more now, so I pulled out my favorite book about driving, Tom Vanderbilt’s “Traffic”.

Page 95-97:

For humans, however, distance, like speed, is something we often judge rather imperfectly. Unfortunately for us, driving is really all about distance and speed. Consider a common and hazards maneuver in driving: overtaking a car on a two-lane road another approaches in the oncoming lane. When objects like cars are within twenty or thirty feet, we’re good at estimating how far away they are, thanks to our binocular vision (and the brain’s ability to construct a single 3D image from the differing 2D views each eye provides). Beyond that distance, both eyes are seeing the same view in parallel, and so things get a bit hazy. The farther out we go, the worse it gets: For a car that is twenty feet away, we might be accurate to within a few feet, but when it is three hundred yards away [900 feet], we might be off by a hundred yards [300 feet]. Considering that it takes about 279 feet for a car traveling at 55 miles per hour to stop (assuming an ideal average reaction time of 1.5 seconds), you can appreciate the problem of overestimating how far away an approaching car is – especially when they’re approaching you at 55 miles per hour.

[Here comes the keyword used in the journal article, “looming”]

Since we cannot tell exactly how far away the approaching car might be we guess using spatial cues, like its position relative to a roadside building or the car in front of us. We can also use the size of the oncoming car itself as a guide. We know it is approaching because its size is expanding or looming on our retina.

But there are problems with this. The first is that viewing objects straight on, as with the approaching car, does not provide us with a lot of information.

[…]

If all this is not enough to worry about there’s also the problem of the oncoming cars speed. A car in the distance approaching 20 miles per hour makes passing easy, but what if it is doing 80 miles per hour? The problem is this: We cannot really tell the difference. Until, that is, the car gets much closer — by which time it might be too late to act on the information.

[the topic continues]

Plain English translation

However, nothing I found in Traffic relates children and “looming”. The bottom line is that children are worse than adults at detecting the speed of a car coming in the cross direction and thus decide wrongly on when to cross the street.

Update: Based on Vanderbilt’s writing, it seems that humans cannot really be taught how to compensate for looming, to build a better perceptual model in the brain to detect the difference between cars traveling 20 and 80 MPH. If this is true, and I’d like to see research of pedestrian marketing and education programs designed for children, it may be that we should stop trying this approach.

Just bought some new books (bikes and urban planning stuff)

Two books: Buckminster Fuller’s Critical Path (haven’t finished) and Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic (finished).

While I hurry and finish up this 900 page CIA spy novel (The Company by Robert Littell) that I bought for $1 in Richmond, VA, I bought a couple more books. I still have to finish Straphanger, too!

I ordered Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (book link) by Glenna Lang and Marjory Wunsch that I found on the blog Human Transit. I also ordered City Cycling by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler; this book won’t be available until October 19th. I applied for the Ph.D. program at the urban planning college at Rutgers University where both men teach. I was not accepted. Boo, hoo. But Pucher and Buehler are the foremost researchers on bicycling around the world (they mostly research bicycling in English-speaking countries and compare them to places in Europe).

Some more books that I want to read eventually:

1. Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike by Grant Peterson.

I flipped through this book at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum book store after viewing the Bikes! The Green Revolution exhibit on its last day. One of the features in the book was why you shouldn’t ride in a straight and predictable line in urban traffic (as the Chicago Bike Map and other resources articulate). Instead you should be controllably unpredictable, to demonstrate to drivers that you’re a little wobbly and they should give you more space. There’s also guidance on choosing and maintaining a bicycle. I’d like to know what Peterson has to say about that. This reminds me, I had a short discussion with a friend (who hasn’t biked in years) who’s reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There’s a lot in there that’s not instructions on fixing a motorbike that I’d like to peruse.

2. Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities by Jeff Mapes.

I probably won’t read this book; I feel it’s one of those books that will be full of everything I already know. Or it will be preaching to the choir. Or it will help me feel great about myself and my choices and inspire me to do something right this moment but I won’t because I’m busy with other stuff. And then I’ll tell everyone else to read it. But really, I just want others to read it and others to see how I (think) I am changing (one) American city (which involves me pedaling a bicycle and constantly living to tell about it). It’s really hard to change cities alone or with just a small group of people. We need more people who are willing to get involved. Bring your own ideas, act on your own ideas, or come borrow mine (or some of the ideas in the myriad sustainable transportation groups and communities I’m involved in).

When I’m not reading, I’m making the Chicago Bike Map app. Please buy it. Support a starving college student. Oh, wait, that was never really my style. But I do want an iPad…

What books are you reading?

I updated some formatting of this post. It’s ugly to have all these links to books with long titles. 

Policy insights for Moving Design

I’ve collected into a single website all seven of the policy insights I gave at Moving Design in July and August 2011 about bicycling and planning.

Policy Insights

If I had an actual photo of me giving a policy insight to 40+ designers, the facilitators, and Rick Valicenti, I would post it here. Instead, here’s what Rey Colón looks like talking about policy and planning and our Bike/Walk35 presentation, and me listening. 

Living in a smart city

What does living in a smart city look like?

It might look like this.

When a city can gather data on every aspect of it’s citizens activities, what should we do with it? What products, services and environments should we develop?

Many private and public sector organisations are rushing us towards a future state where every cup of coffee, cell phone, taxi, bus, street and building will be self-aware and communicating with us and each other. Rather than asking when is this future coming, I’d like to ask what will we do once it’s here.

That’s the description of a class taught by George Aye at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I visited the class twice to hear and watch their presentation on minimizing disruptions caused by traffic crashes at a specific intersection, but whose new system elements can be transferred to other intersections in the city. When I came back the second time, the students had figured out a way to animate the intersection using a projector and mirror (which you see at the end of the video).

A static shot of the animation on the 3D paperboard and mixed material model.

The intersection in question is “The Crotch”, or the center of Wicker Park, at Milwaukee-North-Damen. The goal was to imagine how smart processes, policies, and technologies can be used to minimize the disruption of crashes at this intersection and others like it. The first phase of the students’ plan is about preventing crashes and the second phase is about speeding up the investigation. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read the class blog, which documents, through narrative, photos and video, the students’ progress.

Some of their proposal for Milwaukee Avenue in this area included:

  • Barring private automobiles at certain times to give more room to more efficient modes, like buses and bicycles
  • During the ban period, allow taxis and possibly car-sharing cars
  • At all times of the day, deliveries (like beer) would be scheduled in advanced to better use existing and consolidated loading zones; when trucks use loading zones, they aren’t blocking traffic
  • Implement a Barnes dance (pedestrian scramble) at The Crotch to accommodate existing pedestrian crossing behaviors and speed up crossing times of what are now two-leg crossings (like walking north or south on west side of Damen Avenue, which requires a crossing distance of about 180 feet on two segments while the crosswalk signal cycle may not let you do consecutively; a direct crossing is only 72 feet)

View the full Living in a smart city photoset

Friday is final day for comments about Damen-Elston-Fullerton

Tomorrow, Friday, May 13, 2011, is the final day to email comments to Bridget Stalla, project manager for the Damen-Elston-Fullerton reconfiguration.

What should you do?

  1. Read an overview of the project and my analysis
  2. View photos of the posters at April’s open house to understand what will and won’t change
  3. Think of what you like or don’t like about the project
  4. Email your comments to Bridget: bridget.stalla@cityofchicago.org
  5. Think about posting your comments here.

My draft comments

Here’s what I plan to email Bridget tomorrow:

  1. Bike lane on Damen – There should be a bike lane on Damen connecting the two ends north and south of Fullerton. Additionally, the bike lane should go THROUGH both intersections. See an example of a “through bike lane” in this photo. Too often bicyclists in Chicago are “dropped off” at intersections, left to fend for themselves and get caught in the same problems as automobiles. But automobiles and bicycles are different kinds of vehicles and need different treatments and direction.
  2. Roundabout – Was a roundabout considered for any of the three intersections? What were the results of this analysis? A modern, turbo roundabout should be given serious consideration for at least one of the three intersections.
  3. Curve and wide road on New Elston Avenue – On “New Elston Avenue” between Fullerton and Damen, there are two regular lanes and one bike lane in each direction. The widening of Elston was not justified. The high radius curve on New Elston Avenue on the east side of the project, and two regular lanes in each direction, will likely cause higher-speed traffic than bicyclists are used to on many roads on which they travel in great numbers. Automobile drivers speeding around the curve may enter the bike lanes. This is a good case for protected bike lanes at least on this part of the roadway.
  4. Removing the center island – Was removing the center island an alternative the project team considered?
  5. Queue backups caused by Fullerton-highway ramp intersection – The project area should be expanded to include the intersection to the west of the project area, at Fullerton/Kennedy ramp. Westbound drivers constantly and consistently block the Fullerton intersections with Damen and Elston while waiting to go through the signal at the highway ramp.

A bird’s eye view of the new configuration.

Did you ever take the GRE?

I just started studying, today, for the Graduate Record Examination. I should have started in December 2010 when I first checked out some preparation books from the library and when I told my friends I was going to study.

But now it’s March and I just started. I haven’t even registered but that’s because I’m waiting for a voucher that can get me half of the $160 registration fee.

I’m looking at these analytical writing topics and I feel that I’m currently not prepared to respond to any of these topics. Obviously the point of looking at them before the test is so I can be prepared. You can view the list of topics that I will see on my test.

I write a lot in my blog, and I try to write correctly and accurately, but rarely do I write analytically. I provide critiques sometimes but I don’t think they’re the same genre of writing. Perhaps I don’t write analytically because I lack confidence in my writing and that I won’t be understood or I will be too harshly criticized. I also believe it may be in part that I don’t know on what topics to write.

Then maybe writing about the possible topics in the GRE pool will be easier.

Okay, there’s one more problem: I can be easily swayed. If I’m not presented or I don’t find opposing views or information quick enough, then I may agree or support the first view.

Here’re a few topics with which I agree:

“Laws should not be rigid or fixed. Instead, they should be flexible enough to take account of various circumstances, times, and places.”

“Originality does not mean thinking something that was never thought before; it means putting old ideas together in new ways.”

“It is always an individual who is the impetus for innovation; the details may be worked out by a team, but true innovation results from the enterprise and unique perception of an individual.”

It’s quite alright to agree with the topic when I respond to it in the test – the purpose is not to agree or disagree, but to describe my perspective on the topic “using relevant reasons and/or examples to support [my] views.”

I’m taking the GRE because I may want to go back to school for a Ph.D.

I don’t want to take the test – I just want to watch trams out a bedroom window in Bremen, Germany.

TransportationCamp West

TransportationCamp West was an unconference that took place on March 19th and 20th in San Francisco at Public Works SF and other locations (restaurants, the street, online).

I only went on Saturday and attended four topic sessions (view the full schedule with 28 topic sessions). These are the writeups of my notes and links to others’ writeups.

My writeups

Others’ writeups

Don’t vote for this guy

Will the next Chicago mayor be the same kind of urban planner like Richard M. Daley was? Will they build new parks and libraries at the same time they sell off infrastructure at a fraction of its value or abuse Tax Increment Financing funds?

I attended the UIC mayoral candidate forum on Wednesday to find this out. There was some talk about creating an open and transparent government (Patricia Watkins), with budgets that a 5th grader could read and spending denoted for each Ward or Community Area (I really like these ideas).

One candidate, Fredrick White, wants to support the building of a water bottling plant that would bottle water with “CHICAGO” on the label and have it sold in local stores and restaurants in order to create jobs (I don’t like this idea at all).

Fredrick K. White is probably telling the audience to visit his website.

I liked Miguel del Valle’s responses to the question about paying for higher education and ensuring the University of Illinois is funded. He recommended better integrating the community colleges and supporting the 3+1 program, where the final year of a bachelor’s program is completed at a university.

At least two candidates want to create technology parks, one even saying he wants Chicago to become the Silicon Valley of the Midwest. Another said Chicago can become the hotbed for nanotechnology development (William Walls).

Whatever was said, it wasn’t said by Fenton Patterson. I can’t recall anything he said. When responding to questions, he swaggered to the front of the stage, pulled his jacket back, stooped his head down, mumbled something that didn’t answer any question that was asked. His demeanor looked like that of a detective on [insert name of cop TV show here] ready to grill a perpetrator.

This forum was the first step in weeding out bad candidates like Fenton Patterson.

More of my work on the Chicago elections:

I support the Columbia College urban bike project

Senior Product Design students at Columbia College in Chicago studying under Carl Boyd have developed prototypes for bicycle use for several years. I first saw these students in action in December 2007 when they presented their products to some MBAC attendees.

I later wrote about one project, bike-friendly enhancements for the ‘L’ from Adair Heinz and Tune Koshy.

A different team at the same presentation showed off their specialized bag for paramedics who bike. At the bike swap meet in February 2010, the students showed off the result of their collaboration with Po Campo, a Chicago company selling handmade bags for women who ride bikes.

Students worked closely with Emily and Maria of Po Campo to design new products the company could adopt into its product line. They present these designs to attendees at the swap meet earlier this year.

Carl is trying to get some of these products into commercial production with the next group of graduates, with help from anyone and everyone through Kickstarter. The annual program for 2010 has completed. Carl writes on Kickstarter:

In the past 4 years, the Urban Bike Design Project, has always come *this* close to seeing projects launched into the real world, but the lack of starter funding kept dropping the kickstand on each one. Our students have limited pocket money, and we want these prototypes made street-ready, to put in the hands of people who need them. This time we are seeking funds for prototyping costs, and we know that the Kickstarter community cares as much about this project as we do!

I’ve twice witnessed the high-quality and thoughtful designs from the students and I pledged money. The project needs $2,000 by November 3, in order for the pledges to turn into donations.

Do you attend a bike friendly university?

Via TucsonVelo, I read that the League of American Bicyclists launched “Bicycle Friendly University” at Pro Walk Pro Bike, September, 2010.

Campuses are ideal laboratories to encourage and inspire the next generation to continue biking in post‐college life. “The program will demonstrate the many benefits of achieving aspirational levels of bicycle safety and infrastructure, while providing campuses with a roadmap to get there. It’s a win/win for everyone,” said Ariadne Delon Scott, bicycle program coordinator at Stanford University.

I filled out this questionnaire on behalf of the University of Illinois at Chicago, my alma mater, and its staff and students. Textual answers below.

If you think I selected the wrong answer, let me know.

ENGINEERING

  • Does your campus have a comprehensive, connected and well-maintained bicycling network? No
  • Is bike parking readily available throughout the campus? Yes. There are tons of bike racks everywhere. Some places need more and some places have too much, but the University doesn’t seem interested in redistributing them.
  • Is the college or university easily accessible by bike? Yes. There are numerous bike lanes and slow streets. Also several bus routes and one 24-hour L line (for multi-modal traveling).

EDUCATION

  • Does the college or university offer bicycling education classes for students and staff? No
  • Are there classes for campus motorists on how to share the road with cyclists? No

ENCOURAGEMENT

  • Does your college or university have an up-to-date bicycle map? No. The City of Chicago produced a UIC bicycle map in 20o5, and nothing has changed, so I guess it’s up-to-date.
  • Are there incentives offered for students and staff that commute by bike? No
  • Is there an active bicycle advocacy group at the college or university? No
  • Is there an on-campus bike center for rentals and repairs? No

ENFORCEMENT

  • Do campus safety/law enforcement officers receive training on the rights and responsibilities of all road users? Yes. I found this out during an email conversation with Commander Frank J. Cappitelli, PhD.
  • Does your campus have law enforcement or other public safety officers on bikes? Yes. Although I sometimes see them exhibiting illegal bicycling behavior like riding on the sidewalk and crossing against signals.
  • Is there a program on campus to prevent bike theft? No

EVALUATION

  • Is there an institutional plan or program to reduce bicyclist crashes? No
  • Does your college or university have a current comprehensive bicycle plan? No. This one’s debatable. Bicycling is part of the 2009 Master Plan with recommendations to mark new streets with bike lanes or shared lanes. It also proposes bike sharing and separated bike paths.
  • Does your college or university have a bicycle program manager? No

Your score: 4 points.

Score 0-7: Your college/university probably has some improvements to make before being designated as a BFU – but keep up the great work! Call us and we’ll tell you more about the strengths (and weaknesses) your scorecard reveals. Download the BFU application and let us help you start implementing an action plan.

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