traffic jam, traffic, la traffic
AP/Nam Y. Huh

Everything You Know About Traffic May Be Wrong

January 09, 2010 09:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Could rude drivers, roads without signs, and closed roadways improve traffic flow and driving safety? Studies show that these seemingly counter-intuitive measures may be the answer to our traffic problems.

“Jerks” Improve Traffic Flow

A study published in the journal Physical Review E found that traffic moves most smoothly when about 40 percent of drivers are speeding, passing on the right, merging too close to an intersection, or breaking other traffic rules. The study drew their conclusions from an experiment involving pedestrians moving through a confined space.

University of Alberta professor Morris Flynn, who was not part of the study, agreed with the findings, saying that rule-breakers “carve out their own path” and open up space between tightly packed cars following the rules.

Reducing Signs Encourages Safer Driving

Speed limits, stoplights, stop signs and other signs are designed to make driving safer. However, some believe that these signals not only slow down traffic, but also make the roads less safe.

John Staddon, a psychology professor at Duke University, argues that signs distract the attention of drivers from the road. Furthermore, drivers become reliant on signs rather than trusting their own instincts. He says that “the overabundance of stop signs teaches drivers to be less observant of cross traffic and to exercise less judgment when driving—instead, they look for signs and drive according to what the signs tell them to do.”

Some European towns have removed all signs in high-traffic areas and found that traffic is smoother and safer. In Drachten, The Netherlands, the town center doesn’t even have a separate sidewalk for pedestrians. According to traffic engineer Hans Monderman, “it is only when the road is made more dangerous, when drivers stop looking at signs and start looking at other people, that driving becomes safer,” reports The New York Times.

Fewer Routes Makes Traffic More Efficient

Common sense says that making more routes available to drivers reduces the number of cars on a given road and reduces traffic. A 2008 study published in Physical Review Letters found that closing several key roads can actually improve the overall traffic flow.

The study was based on the theory that all drivers seek the quickest route, which causes the quickest passageways to be clogged and the overall traffic network to be slowed considerably. It is an example of Braess’ Paradox, which states that adding capacity to a network can sometimes reduce its overall efficiency.

In an experiment examining the traffic between Harvard Yard and Boston Commons, the researchers found that by closing six of the 246 roads between the two destinations, they could force drivers to take slightly longer routes, thereby improving overall traffic flow.

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