We have all experienced it – the mysterious traffic jam. We’re driving happily and smoothly on the road, tapping our fingers to the latest hit song and then we see a slew of bright red lights light up ahead. We slow down and then grind to a halt. We inch forward a little and we stop again. Move a little, then stop. We repeat this so much for so long that we wonder “Is there an accident up ahead? Did someone die?”. But there are no sounds of sirens or emergency vehicles trying to rush past.
And then you reach a point in the road where you notice you’re not jabbing on the brakes anymore and your speed is increasing. You look around and you don’t see any incidences that should cause a disruption to traffic flow. No broken bits of car on the tarmac, no blood. No one died. So what was that all about? A braking exercise?
Well, some folks at the University of Nagoya, Japan also had the same thoughts a while back and they decided to recreate or simulate what happens in supposedly free-flowing traffic.
This may be a simple experiment with the assumption that there are no traffic bottlenecks and driving in a circle simulates continuous traffic flow (there is a subsequent study on phase transition in a traffic jam but there is a lot of physics and charts involved).
In this other traffic simulation (click on link) from Dresden University of Technology in Germany, you can also see how the change in density of vehicles as well changes in driving speed and behavior have an effect on the overall traffic situation.
We may not realize it but we all play a part in creating the traffic jams that we complain about every day. A glance at your handphone while driving makes you ease off the throttle and hold back the cars behind you. Changing lanes unannounced or without ample space in between cars forces the car you cut in front of to slow down drastically and in turn slow down all the cars behind.
This may all be happening behind you and will not affect your speed but the world is round and anything that can happen at the back of you can also happen in front of you. And how you drive on the road has an effect beyond what you can see in your rear view mirror. For example, by holding up traffic behind you, it could cause a train of cars that prevent other cars from exiting a junction. When more cars pile up at this junction waiting to merge, they in turn block other junctions preceding it. And it goes on and on until there is a gridlock.
We may not be able to rid our urban lives of traffic jams but we can better understand the causes of traffic jams and try to reduce some of the preventable factors and hope for a smoother drive home.
Remember that it takes just one dungu to ruin everyone’s day. Don’t be that.