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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Uncategorized | 9 comments

“Driving, developmentally, turns us into children.”

Great quote from Tom Vanderbilt. It’s a bad combo for adults who are still children emotionally, as well.

The article, Little. Yellow. Dangerous. “Children at Play” signs imperil our kids discusses the reasons such warning signs are ineffective. Unfortunately, Children at Play signs are subject to the usual shallow politics that governs decisions about neighborhood signage. Just like with over-used stop signs, it’s easier to capitulate and put up a sign than educate people why it’s a bad idea.

I recommend the whole article, but these are my favorite two paragraphs:

It is, of course, no secret that children are risky pedestrians. “Children are particularly vulnerable to pedestrian death because they are exposed to traffic threats that exceed their cognitive, developmental, behavioral, physical and sensory abilities,” reads a typical child safety document. “Children are impulsive and have difficulty judging speed, spatial relations, and distance.”

This is all true, and well and good, but it overlooks one thing: The same could be said about many adult drivers, the ones putting those children at risk. As is often the case in driving, when we meet the enemy, it is us. You want difficulty in judging spatial relations? Consider the research, by Dennis Shaffer, that showed people reporting 10-foot-long highway stripes to be two feet long. You want difficulty estimating speed? Consider this study, which found drivers underestimating their speed in the presence of children by upwards of 50 percent. You want exceeded sensory abilities? Consider the widespread phenomenon of “overdriving” one’s headlights. You want trouble estimating distance? Ask any driver how many feet they’ll need to stop, driving at 65 mph. You want impulsive? Who’s reaching across the seat for that buzzing BlackBerry? Driving, developmentally, turns us into children.


  1. You want difficulty estimating speed? Take a law enforcement officer, under oath, testifying that a cyclist that was riding at 15-20mph, was going 8mph. Heaven help those of us that are not professionally trained about traffic!

    • Good one!

  2. I like Tom Vanderbilt. What he writes always makes a good deal of sense.

    Now, of course, it is time to apply his argument to cycling. Everything that he has to say against “Children at play” signs applies equally to sharrows. And for the exact same reasons. They have no benefit and are a meaningless “feel good” response to political demands to “do something.”

    • And since only only 1% of cyclist injuries are due to overtaking motorists, we can say the same about bike lanes and cycle tracks.

      • That is not what most cities have found. A good recent example in the USA is found in New York, where the new Class 1 bicycle facility on Prospect Park West has had the following benefits:

        1. Number of weekday cyclists almost tripled.
        2. Percentage of sidewalk riders fell to 3% from 46%.
        3. Percentage of motor vehicles breaking the speed limit fell from 74% to 20%.
        4. Crashes are down 16%.
        5. Crashes that cause injuries are down a whopping 63%.


        As I previously wrote, the number of cities throughout the world that has achieved over 10% cycle transportation mode share without supportive infrastructure is precisely zero. There are policies that lead to success and policies that lead to failure. I know which I prefer.

        • *yawn*

        • To be honest, I can’t see much wrong about the PPW sidepath, since it’s right next to a park. (I can’t figure out what you’re supposed to do at either end, though.) The bike lane on 9th Street leading up to it? Horrible door zone lane to the right of a right-turn only lane. But, due to the park, the PPW path is more like a separate right-of-way. It’s not comparable to the majority of sidepaths with crossings at every block, nor to a typical bike lane.