8.7 seconds

I put together this fake “traffic impact analysis” to amuse the Critical Mass list. Please don’t take it seriously.

Update: according to the Chicago Climate Analysis, CATS figures for the Chicago area give this breakdown of regional VMT: gasoline cars 49%, gas light trucks & SUVs 43%, heavy trucks 8%.


Let’s get this clear: 5% of cars/trucks on the roads are commercial
vehicles. <1% are emergency vehicles. That leaves at least 94% of
vehicles that are neither trucks nor ambulances, and cannot hide
behind the “what about trucks or ambulances?” excuse. Now, perhaps
10% of the 24,800 cars that drive by my front door every day are
carrying pregnant, paraplegic grandmothers to the ER, but even still,
that leaves 20,832 drivers who have some ‘splainin to do —
especially seeing as I’ve six mass transit routes available within
two blocks of here.

Now, about Chicago Critical Mass being a traffic nightmare that
brings Chicago to its knees.

The Texas Transportation Institute* calculates that in 2005, Chicago
area rush hour drivers spent about 46 hours stuck in traffic. That’s
a lot of time — if you had that much time comped from work, you
could take an ten-day vacation. Wow.

Let’s calculate first how much space CCM consumes. Assuming
generously that CCM occupies two lanes of traffic and is one mile
long (i.e., we occupy two lane miles), we occupy 0.016% of the
Chicago region’s 12,900 lane miles of arterial streets. Say that this
pattern causes a one-mile traffic backup behind us and half a mile on
two roads on either side, and that these roads average 2 1/3 lanes.
That adds another seven lane miles of congestion, for a grand total
of nine lane miles of congestion — 0.07% of the region’s arterial
street network, and 0.09% of the region’s congested arterial streets,
assuming congestion is bad across the entire congested network. (63%
of lane miles are congested during peak hours.)

Let’s also subtract out freeway vehicle-miles from those 46 hours in
traffic, since it’s been a very long while since Critical Mass could
be blamed for blocking a freeway. 52.4% of vehicle miles traveled on
busy streets in our region are traveled on freeways (which only
account for 17.4% of the lane miles). Assuming that delay is equally
spread across freeway and arterial travel, that leaves 22 hours a
year of being stuck in arterial traffic.

Now, let’s look at time. Those lane-miles are congested for about
three hours, once a month; however, only two of those hours (6-8 PM)
are within peak periods. Two hours twelve times a year, distributed
over 7.8 hours of “rush hour” on 255 workdays a year (1,989 hours of
“rush hour” a year) = Critical Mass is bringing the world to a halt
during 1.2% of the rush hours in a year.

Let’s put space and time together now. Critical Mass affects 0.09% of
the congested arterial street network for 1.2% of the hours that the
arterials are congested. Therefore, we can blame 0.11% of the total
annual arterial delay on Critical Mass. The other 99.89% of the time
that you’re stuck in traffic, it’s *other cars*, not bicycles, that are
holding you up — you just don’t notice it, since that’s the status quo.
The 0.11% works out to a paralyzing 8.7 seconds of the 46 hours
you, Chicago-area rush-hour driver, will spend stuck in traffic this
year. Put another way, this year, you could have watched 27.6 feature
length movies (half of Hitchcock’s oeuvre! more than a movie every
other week!) while you were stuck in traffic — and we’re a nine-second
explosion scene.

(Incidentally, while we’re talking Hitchcock, nine seconds is about
as long as you see Norman Bates’ shadow through Marion Crane’s shower
curtain. Okay, maybe a bad choice, since those particular nine
seconds feel like eternity. Well, nine seconds is also the attention
span of a goldfish. How about that?)

Please, bang your fist on the dashboard again. It’s really attractive.

* Please note that while the figures I use may have some basis in
reality, this particular methodology has been provided for your
amusement only; really, I’d categorize it as shifty, doubtful, and
utterly unable to withstand peer review. If I really wanted to (and
had a lot of extra cash sitting around, since proper methodology is
not cheap), I could ask a few friends who run computer traffic models
to make a similar point with greater accuracy. And, of course, I know
that Critical Mass delays drivers unequally; a few will be delayed by
a lot while the great majority will not be delayed at all. However,
the point remains that, in the grand scheme of life and the perhaps
even greater scheme of rush-hour traffic, Critical Mass is but an
insignificant speck.
http://mobility.tamu.edu/ums/congestion_data/east_map.stm and
http://www.metroplanning.org/cmadocs/TimLomax.pdf

“What pissed me off was the futility of it, the lack of consideration
for others, and the myopic Cartmanesque I-do-what-I-want
selfishness on display..”

I can see your point here, since I really get annoyed with
motorcyclists who blast their illegally “loud pipes” by my house
(with zero interference from the police) at all hours for no apparent
reason other than as, well, a masturbatory gesture. (I’ve even seen
some wearing earplugs.)

What’s worse, these idiots say that they do so for safety’s sake;
well, when there’s one of them next to me on the road, I know that I
get so nervous that I feel like seriously endangering their safety.
So yes, I can empathize with your desire to prevent use of public
streets for idle, destructive displays of brazen sociopathy.

That’s one reason why I always strove to keep Mass rides as polite as
possible: frequent turns, tightly massed group, quickly ending
pointless idling and circling within intersections. However, I will
point out that the public way is, and always has been, a venue for
more than just moving and storing vehicles (a “traffic sewer,” a pipe
that moves the smelly things as fast and as far away as possible) —
streets have long served as places of public enjoyment, as social
space. And judging from the sea of smiles on the mass and from many
onlookers, I’d say that Critical Mass does a pretty good job of
freeing up the street as social space even as it inhibits the
street’s use as traffic-sewage conduit. And insofar as Mass is a
conceptual vehicle that helps other people imagine — and then create
— streets which bring more joy and safety to more people, I think
that’s a good thing.

What might seem futile to you can be an inspirational challenge to
others. Any great social movement that challenges the status quo
must seem futile in the face of hegemony; Critical Mass simply
refuses and creates an alternative reality. Gandhi’s “you must be the
change you wish to see” is our challenge to ourselves and to you.

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One thought on “8.7 seconds

  1. Michael Pollan in the Times Magazine‘s 2008 Earth Day issue:

    The “cheap-energy mind,” as Wendell Berry called it, is the mind that asks, “Why bother?” because it is helpless to imagine — much less attempt — a different sort of life, one less divided, less reliant.

    Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will. That, after all, was precisely what happened in Communist Czechoslovakia and Poland, when a handful of individuals like Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik resolved that they would simply conduct their lives “as if” they lived in a free society. That improbable bet created a tiny space of liberty that, in time, expanded to take in, and then help take down, the whole of the Eastern bloc.

    So what would be a comparable bet that the individual might make in the case of the environmental crisis? Havel himself has suggested that people begin to “conduct themselves as if they were to live on this earth forever and be answerable for its condition one day.”

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