Accepted Paper:

Automobility in practice: road capacity, congestions and radio traffic reports  


Marith Dieker (Maastricht University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines radio traffic reports as medium for sustainable traffic management by reflecting on the interrelations between increased automobility, road network capacity, and developments in the presentation of radio traffic information in the Netherlands since the 1960s.

Paper long abstract:

With the rise of privatized automobility and the increase of highway traffic jams, new socio-technical systems have emerged that aim at traffic control. Since the 1960s, radio traffic information has been a key element in these systems. Through a qualitative analysis of historical radio broadcasts of the biggest Dutch national news station, this paper explores the relations between the format and content of traffic information updates, and the changing situation on the road in the Netherlands since the 1960s. This analysis indicates an oppositional dynamic: Whereas the traffic reports' presentation style and embedding change from formal announcements to more 'casually' reported updates that address the community of drivers through personalised interaction with the radio host, the reports' informative content shifts from locally coloured and personalized information to standardized data, aiming at facilitating drivers' effective appropriation of traffic updates. This has been considered important for creating sustainable traffic flows. In this paper I will illustrate how the rather formal and detailed-paternalistic narrative of the 1960s traffic reports has changed into the more informal, witty, yet flow-controlling discourse of the early 2000s. I will then explain how these two antagonistic dynamics in radio traffic reporting practices are co-shaped by changes in the broader fields of infrastructural developments, the socio-political paradigms of engineers and policy-makers, and the day-to-day reality of the users of the roads: the automobile drivers. This discussion, in turn, contributes to a better understanding of the relations between traffic reports and sustainable traffic infrastructures.

Panel T006
Infrastructures in practice and in flux