Tag: traffic

Observations on Traffic Safety From Indonesia

A few days ago this startling report hit the newsstands in Jakarta, proclaiming Bali to have surpassed Phuket in highway “carnage”:

Bali’s roads have become the scene of unprecedented carnage, with 758 people dying in traffic accidents in just three months, 200 more fatalities than all of last year, police said on Friday. An average of more than eight people a day died on the resort island’s roads in March, April and May…May was the deadliest month, with 286 deaths and 360 injuries, followed by March with 248 dead and 302 injured. The death toll in April was 224, with another 281 injured.

I can’t comment on the validity of the numbers but if true then per capita (Bali’s population now stands at about 4 million) that is about seven times the US traffic fatality rate for 2009.

Traveling around the island, I could see why. I found it remarkable that we didn’t witness at least one deadly wreck during our days there. In the country-side, drivers sped along curvy, one-lane roads with abandond, narrowly missing oncoming traffic. In Kuta, the traffic was intense and chaotic, a dizzying writhing snake of taxis, cars packed in nearly bumper to bumper with three times as many mopeds maneuvering neck and neck, lane to lane.

Few scooters carried helmeted riders, even fewer outsie the city. Those that did usually carried at least one un-helmeted toddler as well, napping unsecured on the handlebars ready to slide off any moment; or a five-year-old on the back, gripping the seat with his legs while using his hands to text on a mobile phone. The mopeds move lithely in between the cars; no rules exist about minimum safe distance. Our taxi once swiped a motorcyclist as it passed us; the rider simply shrugged off the impact and carried on. Meanwhile, our driver had a television documentary playing on his screen in the front of the car.

When we had to ride in cars – from Jimbaron Bay to Kuta, to Yeh Gangga Village for a horse trek, or Sanur Beach for kite-surfing lessons – I distracted myself from the expectation of an imminent accident by thinking and asking about the emergent order in this seeming chaos. What were the rules? Why weren’t they being followed? How did motorists manage to get by in the chaos?

Cultural explanations aside, the Indonesian government is actually rather concerned about traffic safety and has made efforts to tighten strictures since 2007: helmets are in fact required, and you’re not supposed to cross the solid line. But new rules are rarely enforced. Indeed when Jakarta (where traffic is far worse than Bali: one expat described a six-hour cab ride three miles from the military academy to the US embassy) – first implemented the new rules on turning right at red lights (Indonesia uses the British system) motorists nearly revolted in opposition to the tickets.

Perhaps this is because the government is aiming to alter the laws, rather than the architecture – which as Lawrence Lessig would tell anyone, is rarely the best way to encourage social change. For example, an acquaintaince I spoke with described one effort centered on reducing traffic by creating carpool lanes. However no effort was made to provide additional public transportation for the people who were presumably not going to be on the roads. Nor did authorities actually build new lanes but rather simply created a rule stating that any car in the left lane with fewer than three people would receive a ticket. So in theory this would have simply increased congestion in the non-carpool lane. In practice, what it did was encourage motorists to increasingly drive on sidewalks, and to create a new industry: individuals who hang out by the carpool lane and jump into cars for a fee in order to enable them to use the lane lawfully.

In Bali, at least, social norms appeared to govern traffic flows more than legal rules – leaving one observer to describe traffic there as “zen chaos”:

Being an active participant in Bali traffic is quite an illuminating experience, by no means limited to complex vehicular dynamics. It is a social and cultural phenomenon as well, not to mention a crash course in logistics, strategic planning, tactical implementation and group psychology…. One can contemplate the fluid chaos around one’s bike while interacting with it. Staying alive is always such a good motivator, too.

I’ve learned some simple rules to help me survive so far. Treat all turns as merges. Think zipper. Treat all intersections as the merging of two traffic streams at right angles. Give way only to those you are about to hit, or are about to hit you. Travel at the speed of the surrounding traffic. Drive in a bubble, concerning yourself only with the people in front and to the sides. The ones behind can take care of themselves. Assume that anyone joining traffic from left or right kerbs will not look before accelerating. Above all, follow the medicos’ creed: “First, do no harm”. It doesn’t reduce the chaos, but it does make it a little more bearable.


Why I have extreme dislike for Virginia

Vacation blogging! The beach is very nice, and it looks like Fay will stay away from us.

The trip down, however, left a bit to be desired, and only served to reinforce my extreme dislike of Virginia. I’m sure all you Virginia apologists will jump to the defense of your state, and yes, Virginia, there are some nice things about the state here and there (heck, one of our Duck contributors even lives there), but that said, you must admit that I-95 between the Beltway and Fredericksburg is perhaps one of the worst stretches of highway that you could ever drive on.

The story: We decided to drive to the beach this summer, as its much easier than flying when you involve a small toddler and all his assorted stuff. We had planned to leave Saturday afternoon, about nap time, so said toddler could sleep for a while, with the idea to make it to Florence, SC (about 6.5 hours in normal traffic), where we would overnight before continuing on to the Beach. We go out OK, and rounded the beltway, through the re-constructed mixing bowl, and on to 95 heading south. At first things were moving, and this was good. But, about 10 miles south of the Beltway, it slowed down.

And then it stopped. We’re in the Virginia Ex-Urbs, lovely places like Occoquan, the Prince William Parkway, and the like, familiar to everyone who ever listens to traffic and weather on the 8’s for the Metro DC region. Wanting to know what was up, we turned on the traffic report, and they said: its a long, slow drive down to Fredericksburg on I-95. Great. We’re several miles outside the city on a major highway with 3 lanes going south, 2 more HOV lanes going south, and 3 lanes going north. ALL 8 LANES were at a DEAD STOP. On a Saturday afternoon, at like 3pm! No accident, no construction. Just too many cars for the road, going who knows where into Virginia.

So, we bailed at Dumfries and slid over to Route 1, which parallels 95 all the way down to Miami. Everyone else had the same idea, and so it too was painstakingly slow. Finally, about the time we hit Quantico, Rt 1 opened up a bit, and so we could cover a bit of ground. We stayed on 1 until it hit 95 just below Fredericksburg. It sort of moved, with traffic here and there. When we finally re-joined the main-line, southbound traffic was moving, and we were happy. It had taken us about 3 hours to make it to Fredericksburg, a trip that should be an hour. The kicker–the northbound lanes were still stopped, with traffic crunched nearly to Richmond.

Thank goodness I never actually was in serious consideration for that job at Mary Washington I once applied for and thought I could commute to….

We ended up in Richmond at like 6pm, and so we stopped at an Applebee’s off 295. I hadn’t been to an Applebees in years (and now I know why….) though the Toddler did enjoy his Mac and Cheese (Kraft, it seemed…). I was hoping to be in NC by then. Finally we got to our hotel in Florence, SC at about 10:30 pm, several hours late, all due to inane traffic in the VA suburbs.

1. If this were a unique story, it would be sad, but this happens ALL THE TIME! Rush hour traffic on the weekends, between somewhere and nowhere, overwhelming NoVa’s road capacity. Don’t you people have somewhere else to be than on the highway on a Saturday afternoon?

2. What happened to $4 gas keeping people off the roads? Maybe it keeps people from driving where you are, but there were plenty of people driving Saturday. Maybe they all just decided to drive out of Washington at the same time as me, the end of some protest I must have missed or something.

3. For crying out loud, VA, build some freaking roads! Every year the cave-men in the VA legislature wimp out (toned down to keep this a family blog) and won’t raise taxes to build the roads they need. Its so bloody obvious to anyone who has ever gotten in a car in NoVa that they need more roads, a few trains, some buses, more walkable communities, the whole bit. But no, no one will pay for it. The people in NoVa want to pay for it, as they are already paying with lost time sitting in traffic. But those crazy people in the VA legislature, they won’t pay for jack. Because they are dumb and won’t raise the needed revenue to pay for the improvements that a modern state needs.

4. And build a bail-out to 95! There’s terrible traffic in MD as well, going up 95 to Baltimore. But 95 between DC and Baltimore doesn’t clog on the weekends or in the middle of the night, because a) it can handle the volume, being 8 lanes instead of 6 with a stupid HOV middle and b) there are viable alternatives. Between DC and Baltimore, you can travel up 29, 1, the BW Parkway, and 95. You can take the MARC. In VA, you’ve got 95 and that’s it. Give those other people a place to go. You people allowed the sprawl, so build the freaking infrastructure to support it.

5. And what the heck is it about Stafford and Prince William counties that so many people need to go there anyway? The long haul traffic (like me, heading several states away) stays on the highway, but the congestion ends around Fredericksburg. So, clearly, the problem are too many Virginians driving in the middle of a weekend afternoon when they should be doing anything else.

Seriously. It was the most ridiculous traffic in the middle of nowhere. I’ve sat on the PA turnpike before, but at least that was on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, an obvious travel day following a real Holiday. This was just insane.

And I blame it on You, Virginia.

Rant over, I’m going back to my vacation. Real blogging will resume once I get back.


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