Sunday, March 30, 2008

Traffic Jams and How to Avoid Them

If you've ever wondered what causes traffic jams even when there is no accident, check out this experiment where people told to drive around 30 mph are unable to do so and end up with a traffic jam because of the density of the traffic.

For more detail then you ever thought possible on the subject of traffic jams, check out this study performed by an engineer who experimented with allowing large traffic spaces to open in front of him and found he could break up small traffic jams. His most counter intuitive conclusion, but amusing to us offensive drivers, was that those who cause traffic jams are not the guys zig zagging through traffic, but rather those righteous busybodies who decide to stop them and refuse to allow people to merge.

You know the types, they crunch up against the car in front of them and risk an accident rather than let someone merge. But by doing so they are essentially making their car larger, and they are effectively eliminating a lane by disallowing merges. A car who needs to move to the left and can't is going to slow down, which jams up the cars behind him, and the (sometimes) moving parking lot is born.

We WANT people to merge ahead of us before that other lane comes to an end. If I fear that someone will leap into the space ahead of me, or if this makes me resentful or angry, then I close up ranks and prevent everyone from merging. If I try to become the "vengeance police" and punish the cheaters who zoom ahead, then I close up ranks and stop all merges. Closed ranks create traffic jams. "Cheaters" don't trigger traffic jams, it's the people who try to punish the cheaters who do it.

Lane jumpers are not the real problem. Traffic jams are commonly caused by people who attempt to punish the lane jumpers by eliminating all spaces! In the merge-jam animations, the goal isn't to maintain the empty space under any circumstance. The goal is to ALLOW PEOPLE TO MERGE AHEAD OF US! Closing up the ranks is what produces that jam in the animation.

There is also the experience I've had where people merging early when they realize a lane ahead is closing actually make the problem worse by bunching up behind a slow moving vehicle instead of passing it prior to merging. Once again, it is the slow busybodies, not the "cheating" speed demons, that cause the jam.

The lesson is: keep moving at a steady pace, try to avoid the start-and-stops, and most important of all, let people merge in front of you if they want to. After all, they are just trying to get where they are going, and isn't that the whole point of getting in our cars in the first place?

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