Gridlock

There's got to be a better way...

Problem:

Anyone who has ever been just a little late for work knows the scenario that traps thousands of commuters every day – gridlock. Call it a traffic jam, sai che, or tráfico, the result is the same: you’ve just wasted 30 minutes of your life. New GPS modules enable you to avoid serious traffic, but are limited to the effectiveness and quality of the data your provider has access to. Additionally, your provider only has access to traffic data – this means that your computer may adjust the route according current conditions, but this does not include any information about the routes other motorists are using. In the end, you’ve got a pool of limited mobility, a pool that more often than not occurs for no apparent reason.

Diagnosis:

Traffic and transportation experts suggest that many of these “phantom” traffic jams are caused by the combined, spontaneous ripple effects of many small poor choices which add up to systemic blockage of traffic. Mathematical models suggest that these kinds of wave strongly resemble explosions: an initial event (or events), propagation, exhaustion of fuel, dispersal (more on the science of phantom jams here).

Treatment:

Some advocate installation of monitors in every vehicle to track vehicle positions and speeds, essentially government control of traffic. While these experts are well-intentioned, they underestimate the resistence and resentment the would occur in the public eye – no one wants to be controlled. Rather than create more bureaucracy and red tape, my proposition is to open the system up for the public to interact with. Create an open source transit system.

How would it work?

Routes, maps, and transit info posted online. Users contact each other and communicate desired info, creating a ridesharing network. This collection of online metadata allows understanding of not only traffic conditions (current methods) but also the actual routes that flow into and out of that pool of traffic. This enables a systems-level approach to traffic management, complete with stocks (traffic), inflows (route entry), outflows (destinations), and regulatory feedback loops. Apps (open source or proprietary) could then be developed more efficiently integrating waypoints and destinations, permitting cities to adapt traffic lanes to accomodate most common routes.

Not only does this encourage public and private organization to positively affect traffic, but it allows the public to independently choose more intelligent routes to their destination. Naturally, this system would only get better with the profusion of GPS and self-reported data. In addition, integration with current traffic data (stop light schedules/sensors, etc) enables an enhanced smart grid for traffic, permits more intelligent, dynamic urban design, and encourages public to be involved in alleviating gridlock, etc.

Now it’s your turn!

So let me know what you think – perhaps we can turn Los Angeles into a commuter’s paradise. If nothing else, you’ll be getting from point A to point B in a more informed fashion.

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