Built for Speed

I want you to conjure an image in your mind of the white stripes that divide the lanes of traffic going the same direction on a major highway. How long are the stripes and the spaces between them?

You can spread your arms out to estimate if you want to.

Over the course of many years, a psychology researcher named Dennis Shaffer at Ohio State asked students from many different parts of the country this question and the most common response was that the white stripes are two feet long.

Tom Vanderbilt, author of the brilliant book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), reveals the real answer and some of the other perceptual countermeasures that are designed to make you feel comfortable going way faster than your brain can adequately process.

We also talk about how the design language of exaggerated scale and wide vistas is great for limited access highways, but it’s problematic when these features are grafted onto suburban landscapes where they don’t belong.


All the music in this episode is courtesy of my favorite new label, the Utah based, Hel Audio. Specifically, we played the bands OK Ikumi and Mooninite. Hel Audio focuses on physical releases of electronic and experimental music. I just bought myself the full Hel Audio catalog on four glorious cassette tapes, along with less glorious but more versatile (and free with purchase) digital downloads of the same songs. The tape deck in my twelve-year-old Golf has never been happier.

I, and every other creative audio lover, owe a huge debt to The Third Coast International Audio Festival, and every year I send them a small donation to make sure they keep going, or I buy a t-shirt. They have hands-down my favorite t-shirt design in the whole world— across the front is the word “listen” written in Braille. I have something like six of them in every color. A must-have for any radio lover. You can find out more at thirdcoastfestival.org.

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