Traffic Waves
December 21, 2000 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Traffic Waves [via /usr/bin/girl] I've always had a suspicion that traffic was a wave phenomenon. This is interesting theory. [more inside...]
posted by plinth (15 comments total)
I've try to drive in what I consider to be a sane manner in heavy traffic: I avoid using my brakes, gear down with the stick, keep a bigger space cushion when traffic is slow, be polite to those who need to merge. I believe it helps, but I usually get treated with honks, highbeams, tailgating, and the like. This sort of treatment seems out of place, especially when there is a clear view of a stream of flickering brake lights ahead of me, not unlike the strip in Vegas. Is this so wrong?
posted by plinth at 12:14 PM on December 21, 2000

This sort of modelling of traffic is fairly well-known and accepted-I've even done it in a math class at college.
posted by dcodea at 12:18 PM on December 21, 2000

Here's a study that I came accross on Cyburbia that looked at gridlock from a chaos threory perspective.
posted by Avogadro at 12:51 PM on December 21, 2000

This traffic study site was mentioned before here, back when I was in LA.
posted by mathowie at 12:53 PM on December 21, 2000

Wow, now that link sucked up a lot of my time. Learned some useful stuff, too. My usual solution to traffic jams is to go in to work at 10 AM and leave at 7 PM, but I'll try some of the other suggestions as well, probably.
posted by kindall at 12:58 PM on December 21, 2000

plinth, I do likewise while driving in traffic, with the exception of making sure I use my brakes. I'll often do most of the slowing down with the stick, but the brake lights help indicate to people that don't think about manual transmission vehicles that you're slowing down.

I was in one minor fender bender as the result of a combination of snow, ice, and not catching on to the fact that the car in front of me was slowing down (before I started driving standard on a regular basis) soon enough because there weren't any brake lights.

Otherwise, I think you're driving the right way.
posted by cCranium at 2:14 PM on December 21, 2000

Oh, and regarding the article, it's sheer brilliance.

I wonder if posting this on /. would have beneficial effects. Get a couple of hundred thousand geeks to apply it to their commute (well, the ones that aren't leaving their desks at 10pm I guess :-) and see if suddenly traffic flows smoothly in major city centres.
posted by cCranium at 2:29 PM on December 21, 2000

I've enjoyed this page since last year, and I put the practices to work every day on my commute home.

Every once in a while, there's someone behind me who cannot *stand* the gap in front of me, so they dash into the HOV lane and scoot up so they are bumper to bumper with the car that's creeping along ahead of us. I laugh and say "peace be with you, ya nut!"

It's tough for people who are Type A to do this, though.

posted by anitar at 2:51 PM on December 21, 2000

With the overly insane winter blitz we've had in Chicago lately, traffic times have been ridiculously high as everyone gets on every expressway at the exact same time and does the exact same speed.

That said, on Monday's commute I genuinely tried these techniques (read about them on that site a good three years ago or so) and, whaddayaknow, my commute was a little less nerve-wracking.
posted by hijinx at 2:55 PM on December 21, 2000

Good stuff, not anything new, but nicely written. I disagree with his analysis, though. I don't believe that his methods will improve the flow of traffic in terms of temporal car density (heh, cars per minute just doesn't sound as cool).

What it will do, though, is make it nicer for people. Slow-driving is nicer than stop-go.

Something that isn't touched on yet is that it's also efficient. A great deal of energy is wasted in stop-go traffic. I try to "smooth out" my driving as much as possible with this in mind. Basically, using the brakes wastes energy (unless you're in a flywheel car or one of those new hybrids), so less brakes = better fuel-efficiency.

This sort of thing should really be taught in driver's ed, I think. People tend to continue giving it gas for far longer than they need to as they approach a red light, for example.
posted by whatnotever at 5:51 PM on December 21, 2000

I tried to put the premises in practice during my drive home, but my drive home consists of annoying city driving, followed by less annoying rural driving, followed by annoying city driving.

It doesn't really allow for the space buffer to come into play fully, as the regular stop lights and signs create whosamawhatzits, "gawker slowdowns" to completely ignore the parlance he used.

I think anyone who drives standard transmission cars has engaged in the space buffer during heavy stop and go driving though, just to preserve their sanity and their clutch leg. Even before reading this I was in the practice of leaving enough space for myself to keep the car in gear while driving, as opposed to constantly shifting and clutching and screaming in anger and agony.

I definetly like the concept of it though, and it makes sense.
posted by cCranium at 7:55 PM on December 21, 2000

umm.. nice web site and all.. its been well studied since the 1950s. He provides links to other traffic wave sites, but then writes as if he just discovered somthing new while day dreaming.
posted by stbalbach at 8:46 PM on December 21, 2000

Some magazine I was reading (Tech Review or Atlantic Monthly, I dun remember) was mentioning that many theorists now suggest a chaos theory and not a wave effect pattern exists in traffic. The wave theory has been what's been used by traffic engineers for decades, and I was in rush-hour traffic a couple of hours ago, so obviously something's wrong with that proposal =).


posted by Kevs at 10:50 PM on December 21, 2000

Here's the Atlantic Monthly article you're probably thinking of.
posted by mathowie at 10:57 PM on December 21, 2000

this was discussed on /. a while back.
posted by mutagen at 9:32 PM on December 23, 2000

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