About traffic studies

Unless you’ve been in a coma or cave or maybe sequestered somewhere you’ve heard about the traffic problems on the George Washington Bridge last September.  Everyone is investigating:  A joint special committee of the New Jersey legislature, the United States Attorney for New Jersey, at least two Congressional Committees and a great many news investigative reporters.  But until subpoenas come due in a week or so and people have a chance to digest all the material that will be submitted, including listening to cell phone conversations and searching for text messages and email, there is likely to be no new information.  So in case you are suffering from bridgegate withdrawal, here is some information on traffic studies.

Trust Calvin Trillin to be on the case.  First, his poem as published in the Nation.

Fort Lee Jam   

Chris Christie insists he knew nothing at all
Re jams at the bridge lanes. Well, maybe.
But, now, those commuters are smiling. They say,
“So who’s in a bigger jam, baby?”

traffic study

And then we have his imaginary consultant’s report from the traffic study published in the New York Times Sunday Review.

FINAL REPORT OF A TRAFFIC STUDY CONDUCTED AT THE FORT LEE, N.J., APPROACH TO THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE, SEPT. 9-12, 2013

Object of the study. The study was designed to ascertain the effect on traffic if two out of three tollbooths at the Fort Lee, N.J., approach to the George Washington Bridge were closed.

Study designer. The traffic study was designed by Duane C. Milledge, Ph.D. Dr. Milledge was most recently the designer of a traffic study submitted to the agency that operates the two bridges that cross the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City, Mo. The design for that study calls for furnishing commuters on one bridge with $20 bills and instructions to say to the toll taker, “Sorry, it’s the smallest I’ve got,” collecting no tolls on the other bridge, and observing the result. Dr. Milledge is a member of the American Association of Traffic Engineers, a contributor to Queue Quarterly, and a Republican precinct captain in Summit, N.J.

Hypotheses. The principal hypothesis of the study was that the tollbooth closings might ease traffic flow onto the bridge, due to fewer cars from Fort Lee being able to gain bridge access.

Additional benefits that might accrue if the two tollbooths were closed permanently. It was posited that the space occupied by the two tollbooths in question might more efficaciously serve the revenue-flow needs of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey through a use other than collecting tolls — for instance, concessioning them out as a Shake Shack or a retail outlet for selling such souvenirs as George Washington Bridge coffee mugs, Springsteen memorabilia and CDs of Don Imus drive-time radio shows from the ’80s.

¶ Methodology. The methodology of the study was to shut down two out of three tollbooths and see what happened.

Interaction of researchers and commuters. The research team had no problem collecting data from individual drivers waiting to go through the one open lane, since their cars were virtually stationary. There were only 14 instances of violence directed at the survey takers, almost all of which consisted of commuters throwing coffee from travel mugs or paper cups. Fortunately, no researcher was scalded, since the drivers had been waiting so long that their coffee was cold.

…Corporal Sicola [research assistant]  found that 58 percent of the motorists in line shouted some imprecation, ranging from the sort often heard in the stress of a rush-hour subway or an overcrowded emergency room (e.g., “You people should burn in hell” or “You can take your study and stick it where the sun don’t shine”) to rare curses, presumably ethnic in origin (e.g., “May streetcars grow on the back of your throat”).

As we all know the lane closures were ended on Day 4, so a follow-up study is recommended.

Now, here is advice from Dr. Gridlock of the Washington Post on how to do an actual traffic study.

For close to three millennia— from the days of the Romans until the interstates were built — conducting a traffic study was simple, dreary work: send somebody out with a clip board to count ox carts or stage coaches or automobiles.

Did this create traffic jams on the Appian Way or Oregon Trail? Probably not.

Like everybody else who drives, Christie knows about traffic cameras. New Jersey has almost as many of them as it does cranberries,  and they outnumber the pigeons on the suddenly-controversial approaches to the George Washington Bridge.

Back in the days before he acquired a chauffeur Christie had to listen to the same radio traffic reports as the plebeians. As an observant fellow, he’s bound to have noticed that in the past decade they’ve gotten much more sophisticated.

Those cameras have helped, but a major advance has been because a company called Inrix and a few competitors take the heartbeat of traffic and supply local radio and TV stations with what they report. Inrix has a world-wide network of transponders installed in most trucks and what are called “fleet vehicles” — rental cars and delivery vans.

Those transponders provide real-time information, so your cheerful traffic reporter can tell you exactly how much traffic to expect — or where the major tie ups are — on, for example, the George Washington Bridge.

And then you can take the data collected and do some computer modeling.  Bill Baroni who was the one who tried to explain the fake alleged traffic study would have had some really nice charts to show them.  You don’t need poor Corporal Sicola!

Illustration by Peter Arkle for the New York Times

Reading series mysteries

The last few months have not been kind to my ability to blog.  Between wrist tendonitis and cataract surgery on both eyes, I haven’t been able to do much on the computer.  But now my wrist is settling down and my eyes are staring to clear.  I had intended to start back slowly but I seem to have posted quite a bit this past week.

During my absence from the computer, I have been able to read.  My big accomplishment:  reading the entire Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series by Anne Perry.  I had read a number of them before but realized that I had skipped most of the ones in the middle.  There are 26.  Thomas Pitt begins as a detective with what became the Metropolitan Police in late 19th century London.  He is the son of a gamekeeper who was educated with the master’s son – a key to his rise.  Charlotte is the middle daughter of an upper class, but not aristocratic family.  Their marriage is gradually accepted by her family. (I have to say that I never quite understood why she never had even a small dowry, but I may have missed the explanation.)  Her sister, Emily,  marries up to the aristocracy and then when her husband dies, a man who gets elected to Parliament.  Emily’s great aunt from her first marriage plays a major role in most of the books.  I’m sure you have guessed by now that these are mystery novels. The genius of Anne Perry is her ability to capture the time while often centering her stories around issues that are still current like rape and political corruption.

Having finished up with Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, I began thinking of the other series I’ve followed over the years beginning with the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout and Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey series and moving on to the Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott, Victoria Thompson’s Sarah Brandt and, of course, J.D. Robb and the “in death” books.  What happens to me is that the characters become familiar friends.  One gets involved in their lives and is sad when they go away because the author dies or simply, like Sayers, decides not to write any more.  One watches children grow up and wonders how the relationship between Deborah and her stepson, Cal will evolve.  Will Eve Dallas ever have children?  How will Sarah’s relationship with Malloy impact his mother?  And people follow different writers and characters.  But some series get read primarily for the mystery.   I read all of P.D. James, but not necessarily because I wanted to know what would happen next to Adam Dalgliesh although his development has been fun to follow and it is   interesting that James has written the best follow-up to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”: “Death Comes to Pemberly”,

So the question becomes whether or not to read anything by an author, authorized or not, who picks up the series.  I’ve never read any of the “new” Nero Wolfe’s or the continuation of Robert Parker’s Spencer series, but I have read all three of Jill Patton Walsh’s Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane add-on’s.  I had just finished writing that sentence and stopped to think more about where this was going when Margaret Maron herself posted on Facebook.

I think that several no-longer-with-us writers have had their series continued by others with decent success — Sherlock Holmes and  Jill Paton Walsh’s entries in Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey saga come to mind. But rather than write more Peter-Harriet stories, I really wish that she or someone competent would use the Wimsey sons. If you recall, there were 3 of them.  Surely at least one of them inherited his parents’ detecting bug?
What series would you love to see done if you could be sure they’d be done well?
I don’t know if anyone else could do what Margaret Maron does, but if she suddenly stopped writing, I would want to see more of Deborah Knott and her family.
In the meanwhile I’ve ordered the new J.D. Robb and am looking forward to the spring and summer with a new Anne Perry as well as a new Peter Wimsey by Jill Patton Walsh.