Episode 10 – Another Grab-bag of Topics, Celebrating X Episodes

Topics: Grab Bag: Speed Measuring Units, Foreign Coins, Interstate Myths, Random Statistics, Traffic Calming

Talking Traffic Episode 10 – Grab Bag, Celebrating X Episodes

[fade in to Announcer’s voice]: …in other news, we are coming up on the 1 year anniversary of the Great Washington D.C. Omelet crash, where a truck overturned on the Washington Beltway, spilling 165,000 eggs. All that was needed for a cake was milk and flour.

We turn now to news from the blogsphere. Specifically from Talkingtraffic.org, a small independent educational blog run by Bill Ruhsam out of his house in the Greater Atlanta Area. Talkingtraffic is celebrating its 10th episode. We now take you on scene to listen to Mr. Ruhsam talk about his blog.

Interviewer: Mr. Ruhsam, how has it been over these last several months, writing and producing this podcast?
Ruhsam: Well, let me tell you. You just have to go out there, and give 110% and take one for the team. It’s all about the kids, after all.

Interviewer: what?
Ruhsam: The early bird catches the worm, you know. Without a plan, there’s no attack. Without attack, no victory.

Interviewer: Does this have anything to do with the podcast?
Ruhsam: I want to thank the academy for everything they’ve done to propel me to this point in my career. And milk! It does a body good.

Interviewer: All right. there you have it folks, the straight dope from a straight shooter. Let’s go back to Phil in the studio.

Thanks, Stan. I understand that the tenth edition of the Talkingtraffic podcast is going to feature some fun facts, interesting stories, and a few myths. Let’s cut over to the broadcast.

[Radio tuning sounds]

Hi, this is Bill Ruhsam and you’re listening to episode 10 of talking traffic. This episode is dedicated to fun and fact, nothing too serious as has been the case in previous episodes. I don’t want to drive you all away with boring treaties about highway safety and roundabouts. Nope, today’s episode is about fun.

Or maybe it’s about craziness. For example, did you know that the United Kingdom, a country that uses the International System of Units, sometimes called the Metric system, still measures it’s highway speeds in Miles Per Hour? The Système International, otherwise known as SI specifies the meter as it’s base length unit. Typically, 1000 meters is used as a highway distance gauge, called the kilometer. I’m sure the speedometer on your car has hash marks that measure kilometers per hour as well as miles per hour, just in case you end up in Canada. Why would the United Kingdom still use miles per hour? I looked, and I don’t know. Probably some sort of diabolical legacy. Not that we here in the US should be making fun of the UK. After all, we still use the pound, the gallon, the inch, and the yard. *Those* are significantly crazy measurements. And if you don’t’ know how crazy they really are, keep in mind that the United States actually has two versions of the unit called “foot”. There is the international foot, and the united states survey foot. They are different by 0.0105 feet per mile, or 2/16 of an inch. The reason for the difference has to do with their equivalence to the meter and again some legacy issues. I encourage you to look it up on wikipedia.

Another strange transportation-related item: New York city annually sells various non-US coins that it finds in its parking meters. The 2006 sale involved 500 pounds of foreign coins and it grossed the city $3.25 per pound. The 2007 sale to Jim Corlis from Braintree, Massachusetts was for an undisclosed amount. You can listen to more about this on the NPR story that I’ve linked in the show notes.

I haven’t done an episode yet on Traffic Calming, but the basic gist is to employ measures to make people drive more slowly and with more awareness. Some off the wall measures include having a frisbee game across the street, and pretending to be having a tug of war, with an imaginary rope strung across the road. These measures might be difficult to keep in place long term, but go outside to your neighborhood streets and see how they work. The concept behind traffic calming is simple, and these two methods play into the concept perfectly: Make drivers pay more attention to an unusual situation and they are likely to slow down. The invisible rope pull is featured on a you tube video. Check it out on the show notes, it’s highly entertaining.

On a slightly less fun note, in 2006, there were 5,973,000 vehicular crashes in the United States that resulted in 42,642 deaths. That is a huge number and it is a continual wonderment to those of us in the industry that it doesn’t get more attention. Not to throw the 9-11 card, but if 43,000 people died because of a terrorist attack, it would be a national catastrophe. This issue gets ho-hum attention because it is perceived as in someone else’s backyard, or as something that won’t happen to YOU. After all, *YOU’RE* a safe driver. The causes and proposed solutions are difficult to pin down, which also contributes to a lack of attention. This topic is slated for a full episode in the future.

Let’s talk about Interstate Myths! There are many, from the trite to the amusing to the just plain boring, here are two:
The myth: One mile in every three (or five, or eight, depending on the source) is straight to allow for emergency aircraft landing. This is not true, has no basis in planning, law or construction, but you’ll hear people attest to it all the time. I went looking for the history of this myth and according to Snopes.com, the only distant connection between interstate highways and airstrips was a reference during the debate for the Federal Highway Aid Act of 1944 about whether to include funding for emergency landing strips. The proposal was dropped and has not been included in any highway bill since.

Myth number two: The “Interstate” highway name is only for highways that move between the various states: As misleading as the name might be, an “Interstate” highway is any of the 46,726 miles of authorized roadway under the various Federal Highway acts. There are many interstate highways that do not cross state boundaries, most obviously in Hawaii and Alaska, but try I-27 in Texas, or I-49 in Louisiana, or I-16 in Georgia. Also, most interstate spur or loop routes, those with a 3 digit highway number, start and end in the same state. What establishes common themes between interstate roads is design and funding. Interstates must conform to specific design and construction standards, but a roadway that is designed to interstate specification is not necessarily an interstate. For purposes of funding, the Interstate Highway System is a special bucket that has different rules than other roadways that are merely state highways.

A silly fact, but interesting nonetheless, about the interstate highway system is the amount of concrete that has been placed since 1965. According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately 300 million cubic yards of concrete have been used, which equates to a cube approximately 2,000 feet on a side. That cube would weigh 930 billion pounds. That’s a rather useless statistics, but fun to trot out at a party.

How about a news item from around the world? A year ago, the city of Surat, in India, started a campaign to discourage drivers from speeding on a major roadway. Violators were presented with a Tulsi plant, which has importance in Hindu traditions. The principle was that the traffic violator would take the plant home and nurture it, being constantly reminded to obey the traffic laws. I have no news on whether or not it is working

I’m going to end this podcast with a last silly statistic. The length of maintained public roadway in the United States is over 4 MILLION miles, according to the Bureau of Transportation statistics. That is a lot of pavement. Don’t forget that those miles include more than one lane of traffic. They are all at least two lanes, so with a conservative estimate of a 12 foot lane width and two lanes per mile, we end up with 18,235 square miles of maintained public roadway. That doesn’t include any width for shoulders, medians, sidewalks, or ditches. The total area of public right-of-way might be double that or more. Just for comparison, if all the roads (by my calculation) got together and formed a state, it would be the 42nd largest in the country, ahead of Maryland but behind West Virginia. Roads occupy so much space because they are so important to our economy and way of life. That’s why this podcast is here, to help everyone better understand and appreciate our transportation infrastructure.

thanks for listening, especially if you’ve been listening since the beginning. As I’ve mentioned several times in this episode, this is the 10th, and I anticipate our next celebratory episode will be the 50th, which should be a year to a year and a half from now. I hope you’ll stick around to hear that one, too.

This episode is distributed under a creative commons license which specifically allows duplication and distribution without further permission. The only caveat is that you don’t change it, don’t sell it, and be sure to credit Talkingtraffic.org and me if you put it up on your own website. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, ping me with an email addressed to Bill at Talkingtraffic.org or just leave a comment on the show notes at www.talkingtraffic.org. I enjoy hearing from my listeners, even if, as has been the case recently, they keep stumping me with their questions. I promise to look into things and come back on future shows with answers.

Have a great week and be careful out there.

Music: Five Star Fall, Mercurial Girl, Magnatune.com
Soundeffect: J. Zazvurek, The Freesound Project
US Survey Foot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_(unit_of_length)
Invisible Rope
NPR Story about New York’s Parking Meter coins.

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