Sunday, November 2, 2008

How traffic jams happen; good book to read about traffic

This video (seen at Alex Exler’s blog) shows one of the main reasons why the traffic jams happen resulting in the wave-like pattern of traffic (which always reminded me of business cycles):

The reason, as it turns out (and as I always suspected) is simple: it is due to the stupid [expletives deleted by Administration] bastards who sleep behind the wheel, drive slowly, and do all the other things leading them to slow down, create “gaps” in the traffic and create a jam for the cars behind.

My suggestion? Be a good driver (take some defensive driving lessons, read books, etc.), have good breaks, be alert (invest in caffeine IV drip if necessary), cut the bullshit while in the car, drive aggressively and screw the two-second rule while in close traffic.

See also this simulation.

I would like to use this opportunity to advertise Tom Vanderbilt’s book Traffic, in which he researches and explains many everyday phenomena of traffic, from physical, mechanical, dynamical, psychological and mostly commonsensical point of view. He starts of the book with asking which strategy is better for reducing traffic in a situation when “Left lane ends soon” and one has to shift to the right lane eventually: to drive down the left lane until the end and shift in the last possible moment, whenever the opportunity comes (trying to follow your own interest as much as possible), or be a nice guy and shift as early as possible, instead of selfishly driving down the empty left lane? He calls the first strategy “Live Free or Die” (the motto of libertarian state New Hampshire), and the second one — “Do Random Acts of Kindness”.

As it turns out, the first strategy is the best for reducing traffic, simply because it leads to traffic using two lanes (up to a certain point) instead of one, speeding up the flow. If one sits down and thinks about it, it will make sense. So, even though it instinctively seems “unfair” to people that shifted already to the right lane, this strategy (if used by everyone) actually speeds up the movement of traffic — for the people who shifted already as well.

So, let’s see: do-what’s-best-for-you, libertarian-style strategy is better for everybody involved than feel-good liberal-style strategy. Who could’ve thought?

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