Switching gears: Two transportation books have arrived on my reading shelf


The Logan Square Library has a bike rack within 10 feet of the door. If there was an Oscars for bike parking, it’d win the equivalent of Best Picture. 

My normal reading fare consists of spy novels and non-fiction, and science fiction by Isaac Asimov, William Dietz, and William Gibson. But this year I’m changing that up. Join me in my reading of transportation books!

Yesterday I got an email from the Chicago Public Library notifying me that two books I put on hold had come in. I went to the Logan Square branch to pick them up, excited to dive in. You can join my impromptu, unofficial book club, by checking out and discussing with me:

I started reading “Traffic” first because it’s older and I’ve been following the author’s blog longer than I have Scott Rowan’s*. On page 9 of “Traffic”, though, I stopped reading to take some notes.

Do you remember the traffic fatality map I posted on Thanksgiving last week? Vanderbilt talked about traffic fatalities in London in the 1700s:

In 1720, traffic fatalities from “furiously driven” carts and coaches were named the leading cause of death in London (eclipsing fire and “immoderate quaffing”), while commentators decided the “Controversies, Quarreling, and Disturbances” caused by drivers “contesting for the way”.


A bonafide traffic “jam” at North Avenue and Ashland Avenue. Vanderbilt explores the historical and contemporary meanings of “traffic” in his book. Traffic can mean “congestion” or it can mean the movement of people. Even William Shakespeare wrote about it

Almost 300 years later, traffic fatalities are a leading cause of death for youth in the United States.  There are over 300,000 crashes involving at least one automobile each year in Chicago.

I’m very much looking forward to finishing Traffic, which is chock full of research about ideas of traffic that we’ve all had but never spent the time to look into why certain situations occur, like why people merge early or late when a lane closes ahead, or how people driving have been observed to give feminine-looking cyclists and cyclists with helmets more space when passing. I’ll let you know in a couple weeks where I’m at with these book – I’m sure there’ll be a lot more I want to share.

*You may remember Scott Rowan from earlier this year when he wrote a tirade about Critical Mass. Additionally, it’s well-known that in the preface of the book, he writes, “At Clark and LaSalle I’m forced to stop my bike for the first time in more than three miles. As I catch my breath, three more cyclists pull up next to me. One guy has flip-flops on, audio ear buds in his ears, and no helmet. I instantly hope that natural selection will weed him out today, but say nothing. There are two other cyclists coagulating behind me – neither wearing a helmet; one has on headphones.”

18 thoughts on “Switching gears: Two transportation books have arrived on my reading shelf”

  1. BTW, I’d like to suggest something.  I’ve seen many studies challenging the required wearing of a helmet, but I’ve never seen ANYONE challenging use/safe use of headphones/earbuds.  Am I the only person in the universe with ears shaped so that when my head is facing forward, the rushing air noise pretty much drowns out hearing much around me?  I’ve always ridden with music, but I rarely play it loudly enough to drown out the sound as much as the wind passing does anyway.

    Anyway, I’d really love to see a study/data showing deaths/collisions caused by headphones.

    1. I haven’t come across any studies about headphone use (or how noise might be a distraction), but I’ve never sought it either. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open. 

      I personally don’t use headphones or earphones while cycling but I occasionally use a portable speaker and hang it from my handlebars (the one I have is garbage, I want to get a new one). 

  2. I read “Traffic” a while back at a friend’s suggestion and found it very interesting.  I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts when you’ve finished reading it.  I’m curious about your impressions on the Rubin/Rowan book.  I confess that I’m a little less interested in reading that one, due to Rowan’s snarkiness, as noted in the recent Chainlink discussion.

    BTW, that bike rack definitely gets a thumbs up.

    1. See mine and Duppie’s comments above about Rubin/Rowan’s book. 

      I think the reader base for “Traffic” is very broad. Most of us have driven at some point in our lives, many of us drive daily, and all of us have shared the road (no matter the mode), so the topics he discusses are of interest to so many Illinoisans. 

  3. While Mr. Rowan made an ass out of himself, I think his book deserves a proper review, something I have not seen yet in the local community.

    I am interested to see how you think it compares other books on this subject, especially Robert Hurst’s “The Art of Urban Cycling”, which I personally think is the best book on the subject.

    1. “I think his book deserves a proper review, something I have not seen yet in the local community.”

      I agree. That’s partially why I picked it up – see how altruistic I am? 😉
      There are 17 reviews on the Amazon page for the book giving it an average of 1 star. But I don’t think anyone’s read the entire book (or at least half), and some reviewers admit to only reading the free preview that Amazon provides. 

      When I started bicycling in Chicago, I consulted no book. I think I only consulted Sheldon Brown’s website (which is more about how to keep a bicycle in operation) and the Chicago Bike Map which has the bare minimum of tips of how to cycle in the city. 

      Another book on the subject is local author Dave Glowacz’s Urban Bikers’ Tips and Tricks.

      1. When I moved back to Chicago in 1997 and was readjusting to urban riding, I didn’t read any books on it.  (Of course, there were a lot fewer books on the subject then.)  I learned from club riding and exploring on my own.  

    1. Thanks! Don’t worry about it. I had a bike rack installed in front of the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport, 200 feet from where I lived at the time. They could use a few more right now!

  4. Just downloaded the audio version of the book- very interesting so far.  Will be great “reading” for my long flight next week.

  5. I loved the Traffic book. I won’t be reading the Urban Cyclists’ Survival Guide. For anyone looking for an inspirational pro-bicycling book, I highly recommend Pedaling Revolution by Jeff Mapes, which provides a survey of the growing bike culture all over the United States (published in 2009). Quite a few Chicago bicycling luminaries are mentioned or quoted.

  6. The Riverside Library has a bike rack near its entrance and will let you check out a bike lock if you forgot yours!

  7. The Riverside Library has a bike rack near its entrance and will let you check out a bike lock if you forgot yours!

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