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Traffic Troubles

TRAFFIC CONGESTION: Traffic congestion is a condition on road networks that occurs as use increases, and is characterized by slower speeds, longer trip times, and increased vehicular queueing. The most common example is the physical use of roads by vehicles. When traffic demand is great enough that the interaction between vehicles slows the speed of the traffic stream, this results in some congestion.

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As demand approaches the capacity of a road (or of the intersections along the road), extreme traffic congestion sets in. When vehicles are fully stopped for periods of time, this is colloquially known as a traffic jam or traffic snarl-up.

Traffic congestion can lead to drivers becoming frustrated and engaging in road rage. CAUSES: Traffic congestion occurs when a volume of traffic or modal split generates demand for space greater than the available road capacity; this point is commonly termed saturation. There are a number of specific circumstances which cause or aggravate congestion; most of them reduce the capacity of a road at a given point or over a certain length, or increase the number of vehicles required for a given volume of people or goods. About half of U. S. traffic congestion is recurring, and is attributed to sheer weight of traffic; most of the rest is attributed to traffic incidents, road work and weather events. [2]

Traffic research still cannot fully predict under which conditions a “traffic jam” (as opposed to heavy, but smoothly flowing traffic) may suddenly occur. It has been found that individual incidents (such as accidents or even a single car braking heavily in a previously smooth flow) may cause ripple effects (acascading failure) which then spread out and create a sustained traffic jam when, otherwise, normal flow might have continued for some time longer.

Mathematical theories: Some traffic engineers have attempted to apply the rules of fluid dynamics to traffic flow, likening it to the flow of a fluid in a pipe. Congestion simulations and real-time observations have shown that in heavy but free flowing traffic, jams can arise spontaneously, triggered by minor events (“butterfly effects”), such as an abrupt steering maneuver by a single motorist. Traffic scientists liken such a situation to the sudden freezing ofsupercooled fluid. [4] However, unlike a fluid, traffic flow is often affected by signals or other events at junctions that periodically affect the smooth flow of traffic.

Alternative mathematical theories exist, such as Boris Kerner’s three-phase traffic theory (see also spatiotemporal reconstruction of traffic congestion). Because of the poor correlation of theoretical models to actual observed traffic flows, transportation planners and highway engineers attempt to forecast traffic flow using empirical models. Their working traffic models typically use a combination of macro-, micro- and mesoscopic features, and may add matrix entropy effects, by “platooning” groups of vehicles and by randomising the flow patterns within individual segments of the network.

These models are then typically calibrated by measuring actual traffic flows on the links in the network, and the baseline flows are adjusted accordingly. A team of MIT mathematicians has developed a model that describes the formation of “phantom jams,” in which small disturbances (a driver hitting the brake too hard, or getting too close to another car) in heavy traffic can become amplified into a full-blown, self-sustaining traffic jam.

Key to the study is the realization that the mathematics of such jams, which the researchers call “jamitons,” are strikingly similar to the equations that describe detonation waves produced by explosions, says Aslan Kasimov, lecturer in MIT’s Department of Mathematics. That discovery enabled the team to solve traffic-jam equations that were first theorized in the 1950s. [5]