Signals, Perceptions, Behaviour: Questions, Blurs & Clues

In transportation circles, most often in Europe and North America but not uniquely there, we often brain2hear the term “behavior modification”, which is usually brandished as something that somebody else has to learn to do and cope with. More often than not this matter of behavior modification crops up when it comes to  considering how, when and where people drive cars. But we can also hear about it with reference to pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers and street denizens. And as we can see from the results, this matter of behavior and modification turns out to be quite a challenge. We are opening up the pages of World Streets and others of our projects and work to these discussions over the course of 2014.

- – - > Click here for more  on behavior and choice from World Streets

The following think piece is submitted here as a draft for comment and later and certainly much necessary refinement.

To get the ball rolling let us consider briefly the case of the sensory and choice network of an average driver.

Neurological studies show that a driver responsible for a moving vehicle has to receive and somehow process something like two hundred perceptional signals per second as the dynamic information background against which he makes his choices and actions at the wheel. Some of these signals are very evident, such as clearly delineated visual events in ones direct field of perception on a clear day.  Others can be far more subtle and out on the extreme limits of perception — conscious and otherwise. But they are all out there – sight, sounds, smells, vibrations, taste, and touch, as well as awarenesses of balance, sense of time, temperature changes, acceleration, pain, and a few more  — and together make up the central nervous system as the broad, chaotic and ever-changing backdrop to the choices and the reflexes and reactions thus engaged. Two hundred!  Each second!

It is useful to have all this in mind when it comes to making informed policy decisions and determining actions in our sector. Who is capable of dealing with the challenges of driving in an ever more complex street environment? Who is not, and once the decision along those lines is made but you do about their mobility requirements? What about modifications in the physical environment in which the vehicles are moving? And the potential for technology to soften the edge of drivers with a limited skill set?

When we think about it this way, there are several useful thoughts from both a personal safety and public policy perspective that come immediately to mind. The first is to make sure that the drivers of these hurtling masses of steel and plastics are not distracted or sensory-deprived in any way by alcohol, drugs, distractions, fatigue, aggressive personality and the other usual personal troublemakers.

But a second measure is even more salient, and that is the importance of slowing down traffic in areas where there are pedestrians, cyclists, older people, children and others who are not necessary on the windscreen of a speeding vehicle with the limited scope of vision that necessarily comes with it.

We shall be inviting contributions and looking into these matters in the context of the attempted more to more sustainable transportation systems in cities over course of 2013, in an attempt to figure out how all this hooks into and influences public policy and private practice on the street.

One point that it immediately brings up, and that is the importance of bringing in the skills of behavioral psychologists, neurologists and social scientists into the usually engineer-dominated (male dominated) world of transportation planning and decisions.

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Small thinking exercize

Is mobility a complex interactive system – 1?

sys complex 12

Is mobility a complex interactive system-2?

sys complex 50

Is mobility a complex interactive system – 3?

sys complex 500

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Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is MD of EcoPlan International, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government, business and civil society on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. His forthcoming book, “Toward a General Theory of Transport in Cities”, is being presented, discussed and critiqued in a series of international conferences, master classes, workshops and media events over 2014. (More at http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7)

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