15 September 2008

Book Review: Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
It is with absolute enthusiasm that I can highly recommend the book
- Traffic - Why We Drive the Way We Do (and what it says about us) by Tom Vanderbilt.

Carlton Reid over at Quickrelease.tv recommended it and I promptly ordered it from Amazon. I'm glad I did. It may not have been the author's intention, but I'm left with the sense that this is the greatest bicycle advocacy book ever written.

It's all about cars and how motor vechicles affect those who drive them - or those who walk/ride next to them. Filled with references to countless studies and research, Traffic will make you think differently the next time you hop into a car. It also helps cyclists and pedestrian understand the intricate happenings in the heads of motorists. I've had a driving licence for about 25 years and enjoy driving. I don't do much of it now that I live in Copenhagen but on every single page of the book I found myself muttering an inner 'wow' or 'hmm'.

So many people take driving for granted and they don't take it seriously enough. Not good ideas considering how taxing the task of driving is on the human brain.

After finishing the book I found myself looking at the traffic in a different light. A more sympathetic light. Stupid driver does stupid move? Hey... driving is hard. A sea of signals and signs and other moving vehicles are distracting.

There is a great chapter on Shared Space and many references to cyclists and pedestrians and how they interact with the traffic.

At the end of the day I think that everyone who drives and/or bikes should read it, especially those who work in traffic departments. Bike advocates should definately have a read, in order to understand not only how or why cars are such an integral part of our culture but also to stripmine the book for good reasons to get more people onto bikes.

What's more, Tom Vanderbilt has a great blog called How We Drive.

You can hear a radio broadcast with Tom on this website, along with another review of the book. The radio link is at the top of the page.

- Traffic on Amazon USA
- Traffic on Amazon UK


Peter said...

great write-up. i didn't realize he had a blog, too.

thought i haven't read it yet, i added the book to the 'Must read/watch reference list' because i keep reading so many good things about it:


Yokota Fritz said...

I finished Traffic a few days ago and I agree with your review. Vanderbilt does a good job distilling the collected research of traffic engineers and designers and puts it together with the psychology and sociology of driving.

workbike said...

Thanks for the review- I've heard of the book, and now it can go on the Christmas list...

m e l i g r o s a said...

there was a terrific interview with him via Terry Gross on 'Fresh air' recently, which even bicycles were mentioned in the short segment. Here is the audio
It is on my list to read pretty soon.

disgruntled said...

Great comment piece here in the Guardian, citing this book, praising Elle McPherson for not wearing a helmet & summarising the case against helmets. If you haven't seen it already...

Zakkaliciousness said...

thanks for the info and links! elle is my hero.