Tuesday, August 05, 2008
At The Wilson Quarterly, Tom Vanderbilt writes about Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman:
As I drove with Monderman through the northern Dutch province of Friesland several years ago, he repeatedly pointed out offending traffic signs. “Do you really think that no one would perceive there is a bridge over there?” he might ask, about a sign warning that a bridge was ahead. “Why explain it?” He would follow with a characteristic maxim: “When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like idiots.” Eventually he drove me to Makkinga, a small village at whose entrance stood a single sign. It welcomed visitors, noted a 30 kilometer-per-hour speed limit, then added: “Free of Traffic Signs.” This was Monderman humor at its finest: a traffic sign announcing the absence of traffic signs.Here's an automotive echo of Rebecca Solnit (trains) and Robert Fulton (steamboats):
In several years of research for a book on traffic, I interviewed any number of engineers, but none, save Monderman, referred to Marcel Proust. In Remembrance of Things Past (1913–27), Proust famously waxes lyrical on the ways the automobile changed our conception of time and space. When a driver says it will take only 35 minutes to travel by car from Quetteholme to La Raspelière, the narrator is moved to reflect: “Distances are only the relation of space to time and vary with it. We express the difficulty that we have in getting to a place in a system of miles or kilometers which becomes false as soon as that difficulty decreases. Art is modified by it also, since a village which seemed to be in a different world from some other village becomes its neighbor in a landscape whose dimensions are altered.”As they say, read the whole thing.
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