“Why can’t we get anywhere?”

I’m talking about driving.

“Why can’t we get anywhere” is a sentence from a recent Washington Post article by Brian Palmer and it’s all about traffic science.

Sounds boring but for anyone who drives congested highways, we all can relate to Palmer’s line about “driving on the Beltway is still about as enjoyable as cleaning out your ears with a lemon reamer.”

Traffic science has figured out that traffic becomes unstable (stop and go) when the number of cars passing a specific spot per lane and per hour reaches between 2,000 and 2,500. And even though 2,000 vehicles can move along smoothly if everyone moved at the same speed and folks didn’t try to move in and out, we all know that doesn’t happen.

Some cities have tried ramp metering (each on-ramp has a traffic light to control the number of cars getting on the highway). Others (like London) have tried a congestion pricing system whereby drivers have to pay to enter the city at busy times. Even though congestion pricing works well, no city in this country has adopted this.

More information in the article about how technology comes into play. Fascinating article. It also appeared on the Science page in The Post-Standard this past Monday.



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