Traffic and traffic jams

One driver can vastly improve Traffic.

Traffic Waves [via Marc’s Voice, Smart Mobs, Werblog]

Science hobbyist William Beaty claims: “Sometimes one driver can vastly improve Traffic”

The basic principle is to “bring space into congested traffic” by slowing down and maintaining a large safety gap in front of you. Not only is this much safer for everyone, but it reduces the bunching up that causes the standing waves as shown in the animation above. Slowing down ahead of a traffic jam smooths the slow-then-go pattern. Further, leaving a large gap in front of you allows cars to merge into your lane. While aggressive drivers can’t stand the idea of someone “cutting in” on them, allowing merging can eliminate the traffic jams caused by lane reductions.

Especially entertaining is the FAQ, including, “Are you still alive? Haven’t the road-ragers beaten you up yet? ”

Note the subtle coupling that’s occurring in these traffic situations. Aggressive drivers contribute to traffic jams by causing the bunching up that creates standing wave jams. According to William Beaty, even individual drivers can prevent traffic jams because their slowing slowing down will affect other drivers and slow enough of them down to “bring space” to the congestion.

[Gary Boone’s Blogun]

A fascinating example of how people and systems interact in unexpected ways. If this kind of result interests you beyond its own merits you might want to look into Jay Forrester’s work on systems dynamics, starting with Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems (pdf). You might also want to take a look at Mitch Resnick’s Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds