Video of a highway color-coded by car

Cy Kuckenbaker took four minutes of video of state highway 163 in San Diego, and reorganized the video by car color – so all the cars of the same color are together.

I’m finding his description a bit confusing, but in essence, he cut and pasted the cars so that all the white cars pass by together (in their original lanes). Then he moves on to blue cars, etc.

It’s interesting. I’m not sure what it tells us, but it’s interesting. (Side note: I’m sick with whatever chest cold is going around, and traveling tomorrow. So expect lighter posting on Wednesday. Thanks.)


Here’s his description:

Finally! It’s done. In this new video I took a four minute shot of state highway 163, which is San Diego’s first freeway then removed the time between cars passing and reorganized them according to color. I was curious to see what the city’s car color palette looked like when broken down. We are a car culture after all. I was surprised that the vast majority of cars are colorless: white, gray and black. The bigger surprise though was just how many cars passed in four minutes of what looked like light traffic: 462 cars. I invite my fellow arm chair anthropologist to parse out what those car colors say about us. Do tell…me…on twitter if you can. I think what it says about Caltrans is pretty clear. I had never really considered how many cars the freeways have to support but if you do some conservative math – at the rate captured in the raw video (below) you’ll hit 125,000 cars in 18 hours. If I had a nickle…that’s how much I’d need to fix the road.

A quick note on the colors. They’re ordered by prevalence or popularity within the sample: white, silver/gray, black, blue, red/orange/yellow, green. The group that is actually the largest is silver/gray but I put that group second to white because the silver/gray group is really a set of tones and colors that we don’t have language to easily parse but are visually obvious. In other words, it’s the biggest group linguistically but it’s not one discreet color.

There are no CG elements in the video and none of the cars have been moved from their original lanes or had their speeds altered. The gaps in traffic are due to the different volumes in the lanes. For the tech curious the way I did this is conceptually simple but labor intensive. With After Effects I cut out each car frame by frame and saved it as it’s own new video. Then I grabbed a still shot of each lane when it was empty, laid those over the source video, which produces an empty freeway and then put all the cars back in on top of that. Each car took an average of fifteen minutes to cut out and save x 492 cars, which is around 120 hours. I’m not entirely sure how long it took to put it all back together. Here’s the entire raw shot I sourced, which was taken from the Washington St. Bridge in the Hillcrest area of San Diego looking north.

Here’s the color-coordinated video:

And here’s the original video:

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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25 Responses to “Video of a highway color-coded by car”

  1. Jacob Wadsworth says:

    Goes to show that the population of the city is increasing considering that there are so many cars passing by even in a span of 60 seconds. It may be good for the city as it brings in investments and even manpower but hope it doesn’t bring in pollution though. –

  2. Buford says:

    Sorry, but I voted this down for one simple reason – you wrote three paragraphs based upon speculation, guessing, “I think” and “Maybe”, when a 30-sec google search would have told you that white, gray, silver, and black cars fairly consistently make up 75% of the NA market.

  3. hauksdottir says:

    BTW, Disqus is “taking too long to load” comments, so won’t load them at all for weeks at a time. sigh. I can read, but not add to the discussions. This is across all websites using their software, even the low-volume ones.

  4. hauksdottir says:

    Cy, just above the grey [quoted text] box there is a link to your website. “Here’s his description” is underlined, and clickable. The link works.

    John’s first sentence gives your full name, states what you did, and where you did it.

    I believe that qualifies as credit and a link.

    The gatoraide bottle is standing proudly upright near the throat of the concrete Y. It must have been set down when traffic was at a full stop. I hazard no guess as to what was in it.

  5. cy kuckenbaker says:

    With genuine deference to the reading community here, John as the person that made this video and the person who wrote 2/3 of this blog post without proper credit or even a single link back to the source, this is some sloppy journalism. Fair use dictates that you make commentary or criticism
    not report on a cold and mumble about what it means. What’s with the giant B&H/Legal Zoom ads? I think you need to rework this thing asap and carefully consider how much of my content you take. As is, this just looks like a key word dump to pump ad revenue.

  6. Moderator4 says:

    Since we have nothing to do with running or administering Disqus, we have no way of knowing when anyone runs into a glitch, unless you mention it in your comments, i.e., “I cannot sign in as X, so I am now using Y,” or email John, who will give us a heads up.

  7. keirmeister says:

    “I was surprised that the vast majority of cars are colorless: white, gray and black.”

    Really? That’s surprising?

  8. HolyMoly says:

    This lends credence to my point, especially considering that you have to pay a higher price for a “custom” color, at least as far as Audi is concerned.

    But after reading some of the replies, there is another possibility. Maybe dealerships stock their lots with conventional colors because that’s what most consumers are asking for. Could be the same thing with Audi. It would definitely cost more to buy a batch of bright red paint just to sell 2% or 3% with that color. They could get bulk rates on more common colors.

    Either way, cost is a factor.

  9. zerosumgame0005 says:

    ah yes, when discus hiccuped and I had to create an alt that has not been used since my real one came back. Talk to discus about that. can you show an example of over-lap or my up rating myself or are you guys just being dicks?

    Oh and thanks for blaming the victim of a glitch who has not done anything “wrong” except to criticize a crappy video site.

  10. Moderator4 says:

    Moderator3 is talking about the fact that in the past eight months, you have gone from being zerosumgame0005, to discuss_sucks_ass, and then back to zerosumgame0005.

  11. zerosumgame0005 says:

    WTF are you talking about? are you trying to make some kind of accusation? or just being an ass?

  12. Monoceros Forth says:

    A few years ago Top Gear spent a couple of minutes making fun of the color options offered for various cars. Here’s a couple screenshots showing pages of a brochure for the Audi A8, a not-very-cheap luxury sedan:

    By default you get nothing but various shades of grey. To get the full range of colors seen in the second picture you need to pay an extra £2,400. I’ve never bought a new car, so I’ve never dealt with the whole tedious business of being sold on options and extras. But I’m guessing that the practice of making you pay a fair amount extra just to get a car that isn’t grey is probably widespread.

  13. Moderator3 says:

    Please pick just one of your usernames to use.

  14. zerosumgame0005 says:

    lame-o vimeo, and half the video is blocked by a stupid ad. why even bother linking to that garbage?

  15. HeartlandLiberal says:

    I wonder if he is retired? I have been retired for almost three years, and last week FINALLY found time to learn how to use my Pentax K5, do over a 1,000 pics of birds at the feeder, then turn them into a time lapse mp4 video, convert that to an .f4v, then create a Flash video with skins, then publish it on my web site. I figure the hours to climb the learning curve totaled a solid week of 8 hour days if I summed them all up. Including the final step, getting it to run on my web site. It is Windows 2008 R2 server. I finally figured out I had to add a MIME type for the .f4v flash video, a type which did not exist when Win 2008 came out. You would think MickeySoft would include such things in updates. I had banged my head off and on for a whole day as to why the video would not run in a browser once put on the server, slept on it, woke up and knew the answer the next morning. I guess some background partition had been parsing the problem while I slept.

  16. Indigo says:

    True point. More than once, I’ve heard people comment of a red car that “it’s such a bright red you’ll get a speeding ticket while parked at the mall.”

  17. Indigo says:

    Your point makes sense to me. Friends who have bought cars recently went for the color available when they were in the dealership rather than order a specific color and wait a couple of weeks for it. I’ve seen an occasionally lime green car this year, usually on one of the tiny-car models. It’s an intriguing color that works for some and repels others.

  18. HeartlandLiberal says:

    We are rather fond of red.

    We have an 18 year old bright red Volvo 850 turbo with only 84,000 miles on it. Feeling its age in the seals and joints, just from the passage of time, but still running strong. The other is a Mercedes E320, a 2003 model. Took some Internet searching to track down and find a good low mileage used one that was red. I bought it from a dealer over 280 miles away, drove down, haggled, and drove it back home the same day. For a while it seemed like Mercedes customers only wanted black or silver. I checked Mercedes just now, and most models do allow several variants of red.

  19. Indigo says:

    A true color palette study, I love it!

    Here in Florida, a white car is likely to be either a rental or a used car possibly purchased second hand from a rental company. There’s lots of them on the road but gray is even more common because, while it reflects the sun and the heat and doesn’t show the road dirt as much as a white car does. A black car is almost certainly driven by someone from up north who thinks it looks distinguished which it does until the tropical rains spot the finish beyond belief.

    Red cars? Ah, we see far more red cars here in Florida than the San Diego study showed because, after all, mid-life crisis males habitually dives into a red car, a symptom of andropause. We see more yellow than the study showed, too. Yellow is for more than school buses, it’s also for people who are serious about making a visual impact statement.

    Personally, I drive a boxy old grey/silver Jeep Cherokee.The statement is clear: it’s paid for in full and it runs.

  20. goulo says:

    Most people I’ve talked to about car colors (not a huge sample admittedly!) :) really do prefer buying a car with a conventional/common color, for reasons including the following (and probably others I’m not thinking of):

    They want a normal or classy instead of “weird” looking car.

    It’s easier to sell the car later if it has a common/popular color.

    A common color seems less likely to attract the attention of the police.

  21. HolyMoly says:

    Back in the 1920s, Henry Ford said that any customer “could have his car in any color he wants, so long as it’s black.” At the time, that was the only color Ford used. I think some of the other up-and-coming car manufacturers were just starting to offer a slightly wider array of colors, and customers were wondering why Ford didn’t do so as well. Hence Ford’s comment.

    Today, I might occasionally see a burnt orange or a lime green car, but for the most part all I’m seeing are the grays, tans/champagnes, silvers, blacks, whites, etc.

    What I’m getting at is that even though more colors are available today than in the 1920s, I think — and this is just speculation — that manufacturers simply produce more gray, black, white, and red cars than any other. When I (rarely) go car shopping, I see rows and rows of these colors, and maybe one or two that are outside the box. Maybe the basic colors are cheaper for the manufacturer, and so they’re kind of pushing them on the consumer. You have 100 customers who really need to buy a new car, 98 cars for sale in basic colors, and 2 with unique colors. I don’t think it’s a matter of preference.

  22. Max_1 says:

    The pause at the end had me expecting the ’emergency/police’ vehicles…
    … You know, chasing the traffic as they always do when we’re on the roads.

  23. Ron Robertson says:

    Interesting, and glad to know he did this in After Effects, I have that software, that may come in handy someday!

  24. BeccaM says:

    Kinda interesting, but I can’t help but think, “That guy needs a life.” ;-)

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