Don’t Despair! There Is A Solution!
The traffic is getting worse and there appears to be no cure.
Below is a document I wrote that will spell it all out for you. Please read it. It is rather long, but so is the delay getting where you are going.
by: Nickey Bishop
contact me: email@example.com
I seldom miss a good traffic jam. I drive the metropolitan area of Austin, Texas operating my business and traffic jams are something I have to cope with almost every day. I sit there closely watching the cars around me and thinking. I have had many hours to contemplate the situation that is consuming too much of my life. It is very important to stay focused, on the traffic, not the thoughts. Drift off into thought too far and you are likely to have a fender-bender that can escalates into a multi-car pileup.
Traffic here is probably better than some other cities, but it is still tough to drive here, especially during the rush to and from work. The time frame has become blurred as the population has increased and the term “rush hour” has become a misnomer. The evening traffic jams last about three or four hours five days a week. The morning rush is perhaps a little shorter. Weekend traffic is dense all day long. Driving in Austin has become an unpleasant chore.
Traffic jams crept up on me. By 1970 traffic was still quite moderate in Austin, where the cost of city living was ranked the lowest in the United States by the census bureau. I lived in a thirteen bedroom mansion three blocks from the University of Texas that rented for five hundred dollars per month. During that time, I drove around the city for pleasure. The roads were in good shape, the scenery was remarkable, and driving was fun. Well, yes, I was young still. That was the year I turned twenty. Rush hour was a minor inconvenience of increased traffic that dissipated quickly.
Weekends and holidays in Austin were quiet times back then. On Christmas day in 1970 I spent about an hour during mid-day on one of our busiest streets, Guadalupe, playing Frisbee without seeing another human. There were no cars parked on the street in front of The University of Texas and none drove down the street during the entire time I was there. It was a strange thing, indeed, and it felt the city had been abandoned leaving me to play alone. I can’t say I liked it. I was too weird! That part of town was usually crowded and bustling. I threw my Frisbee up and down the street utilizing the updraft formed by the buildings to carry the disk to greater heights.Weekends were too quiet for my taste at that time. It seemed that most people left the city after work and there was little traffic. The population was only about 250,000 and the surrounding areas were only sparsely populated. That has all changed dramatically and the traffic here is no pleasure. Memories of those days feel dreamy to me now.
On a trip to Houston, Texas during the early seventies I was lucky enough to experience my first bonafide traffic jam. Interstate 10 was packed tight with miles of slow moving vehicles and I was sure there must be a terrible accident ahead. Naive! I know. There was no accident or other obstruction. A fascinating new phenomenon had revealed itself. Then it started happening here. I couldn’t understand why traffic would move so slowly on an unobstructed freeway.
Though it irked me terribly, I was fascinated by the new traffic problem. It was a very interesting puzzle. In its spare time my mind solves problems, organizes data, and analyzes memories. I can’t help it. It’s like the music always playing in my head. My mind zings along in incessant mental activity. Puzzles provide me a break of sorts.
I love to tackle the seemingly unsolvable problems, to solve problems that are generally accepted as “the way it is,” poverty, war, suffering, old age, death, and what-have-you. I like to conceive life in ideal terms, the best I can imagine, and work backwards from there to the current reality trying to solve all the problems, obstacles, and causes that stand between now and the vision. Strange! I know. But, this predilection I have has returned some information about traffic that seems to be of some value.
Instead of just inching along mindlessly, I use the time to contemplate the traffic and try different driving techniques to see what happens. The effort was productive. By analyzing observable phenomena, logic led me to deeper understanding of traffic jams and realizations about their causes. I may have actually even gleaned some insights.
As is my way, I often talked of what I was discovering with friends, family, and acquaintances, too often they might say. Ultimately, I accumulated a lot of information and ideas. My mind became heavy with thoughts about traffic and traffic jams that spilled over into many other areas, including general driving. I began to carry a little recorder around with me to make notes about the things that occurred to me that I might later transcribe them to my computer. Frankly, I became rather consumed with the whole thing. By now, I have to put this stuff on paper, so to speak. Maybe then I can make time and space for greater pursuits, and I have many. I have to get this stuff out of my head before I end up there.
I am certain I have something helpful to offer. I see causes for traffic jams, and I am of the opinion that cures lie in causes. Building more roads is symptom treatment rather than cure. I have ideas and information that I hope will do some good and I decided to put them into print. It seemed a simple task at first. Wow, was I wrong!
These are my personal thoughts, my opinions. All that I present here is straight from me. I chose not to consult the literature on the subject because I like puzzles and I don’t want any hints. I fear you will think I should have read all I could before attempting this writing, but I have no desire to repeat the thoughts of others or to criticize the work of others. I am sure I could have improved my knowledge and understanding by studying the literature, no doubt, but I want this to be a product of myself. I am human. I make mistakes. The mistakes are all mine, but so is the creation. I have created something here and I did it on my own. You didn’t do this. At this point you can only criticize something you didn’t do, for whatever reason.
I have learned that there are people who study traffic professionally, even to the extent of getting a PhD in the subject. I am making no intentionally offensive actions or thoughts regarding these people and I realize they must know much more about it than I do. My deference for them compels me to limit this article to my own puzzle solving. I have a perspective of my own. From where I view the matter, I see possibilities, and if I only provide a different perspective for the real experts I will feel good about this effort, which has turned into a minor monomania for me, of which I have many, even if it is a contradiction of terms.
Everything I do is done under intense scrutiny, by me. I analyze virtually every move I make for efficiency and efficaciousness. If I have two things to do that require that I traverse a route, even in my house, I analyze the route for efficiency. Nothing I do is exempt from my analysis, before, during, and after. I realize I sometimes do this too much and I am trying to solve that problem just as I am trying to solve the traffic problem. When I use an object such as a tool or instrument, my mind studies the device for efficiency and efficaciousness, and never stops. I have more inventions in my head than I can recall in one effort and think I can improve a lot of tools. Everything I think is never set in stone. It is too hard to erase things carved into stone. I question all my thoughts and opinions. As I grow, learn, and improve I reassess my experiences, my thoughts, my opinions, and even my observations in the new light my progress sheds. I do not settle for the status quo. Nothing is perfect (while it is perfect at the same time) and improvement is desirable. I am very happy with the way I am and I am always getting better.
It is just who I am that I look at driving in the city and conduct extensive analysis. This analysis is motivated, too, by the fact that my father was killed in a vehicle, as was an aunt, an uncle, and many of my friends. The number of people lost in traffic accidents is unacceptable, though we seem to accept it with little commotion compared to the effort we make to prevent things that take far fewer of us.
Solutions are something that must be employed. Knowing how to solve a problem doesn’t necessarily solve that problem. I can make changes in myself. That is easy. Changing others is a bigger challenge. I don’t know what you think, but I think people could use some improving, especially when it comes to driving.
I hear many times that the ideas I have for solving the traffic problems are good ideas but I can never get the other people to employ them. It’s always the other person. You are the cause of my trouble, according to them. They are the rare perfect people. I don’t know, maybe they are right, but I think you will cooperate because you hate being caught in traffic jams. I think you will do what you can to get where you are going more easily. Something definitely needs to be done and I hope that the ideas I have devised will help. Maybe you can see that these plans will help and be willing to try despite what I hear others say about you, the other person.
Cooperation. That is the catch-word. Cooperative driving seems at first glance to be something completely out of reach. The benefits of peace seem obvious, but it remains an ideal, a status possibility for the future completely out of reach, but we must never stop trying. When I was growing up in the small towns of central Texas there were signs on the highways, long gone now, that said, “Drive Friendly.” This is a form of cooperative driving, as I see it. If I have derived from my observations and thoughts any answers that will at least relieve some of the traffic problems we live with, it will be of no use unless we employ them. It is a simple concept of cooperation. It is working together, collaboration.
If the virtuous aspects of cooperative driving are not enough, self-interest might be. (See! I know how people are.) Traffic jams are very expensive. When the people who operate society are slowed, the productivity of society slows. You may have noticed that society provides everything. This article is not a study of society, but of traffic. However, ground must be broken in many areas to get to the solutions of our traffic problems.
When you purchase something you pay for the cost of production, transportation, marketing, the disposal of what is left after you are done with it, and a profit; roughly. At every phase of the acquisition and distribution of a product costs are incurred directly by transportation. These costs are increased by traffic jams.
The extra time that one spends getting to a destination during a traffic jam is an unacceptable loss. The stress induced by such needless waste is increasing as the problem grows, and it is a growing problem, at least in Austin, but probably in just about all cities. I think the traffic problems we try to cope with are damaging us as a species and as individuals. We have evolved a new term for our languages, “road rage.” This seems proof enough that some of the effects of driving have become detrimental.
It seems obvious to me that a solution to the traffic problems we face in our age would serve the self-interest of just about everyone. This makes my task one of finding the solutions and convincing you that my ideas are indeed solutions. If I can do those two things, I think you will endeavor to put the solutions into practice.
I feel safe thinking that few approve of traffic jams. I cannot contend that none approve. Maybe some businesses benefit, such as the fuel industry. I have heard on the radio some fantastic numbers being presented regarding the fuel cost of traffic jams nationwide. Sitting in a traffic jam without moving is a zero miles per gallon fuel consumption rate. That might be good for the fuel business, but I doubt it, not in the longer view. What’s the use in selling lots of fuel and making a lot of money when traffic is so bad you can’t go anywhere?
I want to eliminate traffic jams and improve the flow of traffic everywhere. I will hope that most of us have similar desires and write this article taking it as a given. My experience has hinted to me that people are likely to do what is necessary to get what they want. So, I am not so worried about you, the “other driver,” not going along with the techniques to reduce and/or eliminate traffic jams and improve traffic, provided, of course, that you agree with the plans and techniques. I hope I can present the techniques well enough to convince you.
Driving in America is an incredible choreography of synchronized and organized driving. I am amazed by the sheer beauty of it. It is really quite astonishing. No other form of life demonstrates such organization. Watch ants in an ant trail. They are all over the place and each other. The organization present is a mere hint of human traffic. We are deserving of great praise, our species that is. Over time our movement in vehicles has evolved into the ballet we dance around the clock. You may have overlooked the beauty of it in your rage over the little things.
The United States of America is the land of the automobile. Roads link the east and west coast, the nations, the cities, the businesses, the farms, and provide access to just about everything we care to visit. A pond in the forest might have a path for and automobile to it. Our society is designed to accommodate our myriad of different types of vehicles and to be without one is a virtually insurmountable disadvantage. The amount of human energy and natural resources invested in motorized vehicles and their pathways is too vast to contemplate. The end is not in sight. As a species we pour ourselves into the countless aspects of our transportation systems. Fuel for the internal combustion engine has become the driving force for much more than motors. We have covered the earth with roads and filled the air with pollution. Our very life force is being spent on the task of getting around. We are invested so heavily in this relatively new phenomenon that it has taken on the characteristics of an addiction.
My desire to see Earth clean and caressed by our species is so deep I feel it in my chest. I don’t think it is possible to be more “green” than I. I have visions of the future, neigh, designs for the future of clean air and water, of land like pristine parks, beaches like post cards, forests like Ents, and animals that love and trust us. I care! I also know that we have gone so far into the development of our transportation system that we cannot pull away from it quickly without causing ecological tragedy; yet we must change it.
Growing up in Texas with a father who loved to fly airplanes led me to think that air travel would soon replace ground travel as the primary means of getting around. The advantages of air travel are obvious and the safety issue has a solution, in my opinion. So what is the hold up? I will say it is vested interests. We have put so much into our ground transportation system that we cannot get away from it. Too many jobs depend on the continuing use of internal combustion engines operating on gasoline and driven over paved roads. It will not be easy to change and there are probably some who would not be willing.
Great wealth and power have been gained by the human effort to create the transportation system we enjoy. Those who are reaping the wealth and power harvest of what must be the largest focused effort ever exerted by the human species cannot be expected to just quit. Sadly, it doesn’t really work that way.
I suspect that there are better ways to get around on Earth. Rolling along in vehicles over roads cannot be the ultimate way. The negative aspects of our current transportation system are too many. We must develop a better system, but we must do so carefully and the changes must be made using intelligent transition techniques. Our habitat Earth cannot endure the abandonment of our transportation system, nor many of our other systems. Humans have been very busy! We have worked very hard for a very long time, and the work has only just begun. Eventually repairs become stupid. Replacement becomes the only intelligent option. We can replace most of the systems we have built by means of evolution more than by genius and wisdom, though there has been plenty of those virtues. By now we can see more vastly, more comprehensively, and we can achieve more incredible heights by design. There are many of us. Imagine what we can accomplish by working together. It was not really very long ago when we rode animals, when we could only communicate at the speed of horses. The potential of today is greater than it has ever been.
I would love to paint a verbal picture of the future for you. Vision compels my essence! Bliss suffuses my very being! I see wonders and beauty. But this is not an article about the big picture. It is about improving the driving experience tomorrow. So, I will stick to the point.
There is one thing I cannot resist mentioning before I move on. Peace! Perhaps I should say “the end of war.” As a species we have invested so much of our time and energy making war that there can be only one word that appropriately describes it, “insanity.” If we had put all that energy, time, and resources into better pursuits, life might be more like paradise today. Life can realize such potential as to defy the imagination of any of us today. Yet, even today we expend ourselves in insane behavior. The killing and destruction goes on around the clock. What is it for? What is it supposed to accomplish? It appears we are just wasting ourselves. Please, make peace your only motive. Let’s make peace and reach out together. Know that your own personal fulfillment is always there waiting for you to reach out and pull it to you. You cannot create it; you can only discover it. It has always existed.
It became clear to me early on that my thoughts about traffic jams were precipitating concepts that could be distilled into words that would be very helpful. Various observable phenomena begged definitive names and descriptive words. I suspect that such terms have already been devised. If so, I am unaware of them and loyalty to my methodology necessitates creativity. The English language uses words that have many contextually defined meanings. I do not think this is a good way to design a language, but our language was not designed, it evolved. I will evolve it a little more here. In this article, I can define ideas and objects strictly and I mean to do just that. Some of the terms are a mere convenience. Below are some of the conveniences. Later I will examine in detail what is meant by other terms, such as “traffic jam.” You will see why.
First I must establish that the relative word “Intensity” will be used to describe the characteristic of a traffic jam pertaining to the reduced rate of vehicle movement compared to the posted speed limit. For example; when traffic repeatedly slows abruptly to a few miles per hour or less for a moment then surges ahead quickly a short distance on a road that has a sixty mile per hour speed limit, it is an “intense” traffic jam. When traffic is only getting slowed to ten miles per hour below the posted speed limit of sixty miles per hour, the traffic jam is not as “intense.”
Another aspect of a traffic jam is its “severity.” This word will be used to describe a traffic jam that causes a complete stop in the flow of vehicles. The longer traffic remains stationary, the more severe the traffic jam. In a very severe traffic jam vehicles remain stopped for a long time and only move ahead briefly and slowly. The most severe traffic jam is one that is completely stopped and doesn’t move, such as when there has been a traffic accident or construction delay.
In traffic jams vehicles often become stationary for a period of time that will be called the “pause.” Pause can be momentary or prolonged. I see a wide range of pause when I am out there.
The term “size” will be used here to represent the length of the line or lines of vehicles waiting to resume a rate of travel closer to the speed limit. It can include many lanes or just one. A large traffic jam involves more vehicles than a small one. It is just a relative term that is useful when referring to traffic jams.
The “duration” of a traffic jam will be defined in this article as the amount of time traffic is slowed to less than the maximum allowed rate of speed, regardless of what that rate might be. When traffic begins to slow until it begins to move at “full speed,” (the speed limit) again is the duration of a traffic jam.
“Traffic” is the presence of more than one moving vehicle on a road, as I define it. Drivers, roads, signs, signals, laws, vehicles, wildlife, fauna, pedestrians, and weather are some of the “active ingredients” of traffic. These ingredients are limitless subjects each, but we do not need to exhaust the subjects to solve the traffic problems. We need but factor them into the analysis accurately and appropriately. In every one of the active ingredients I find causes for traffic jams. This means that solutions are also to be found there, so I will address some of them.
The complexity of the traffic problem demands long trains of thought. This article is quite long and many fundamental concepts must be put together logically to come to a sensible solution. In this time of Attention Deficit Disorder, long trains of thought have fallen out of style, but I feel sure there are some among us who are still free of this disorder and I will do my best to keep things as understandable as possible and as interesting as I can. You will not find paragraph-long sentences in this article. I have been disturbed by such writing styles too many times to be guilty of it myself.
A shallow analysis of traffic will not reveal its most concealed secrets. Solutions lie hidden to the casual observer in areas of understanding that might seem unrelated to traffic. Philosophy comes into the equation in many places and creates areas of contention fostered by personal views. Human psychology is a huge element of traffic, obviously. It may surprise you to learn that politics play a role in the presence of and the solution to traffic problems. The act of driving a vehicle involves much more than the mechanics of operating a vehicle.
What Is a Traffic Jam?
What is a traffic jam? It seems obvious, but solving problems is much easier when definitions are clear and limited. A traffic jam is the impediment of the flow of vehicles to unacceptable rates of movement, not the vehicles themselves. What we see in a traffic jam is vehicles. What is happening is vehicle movement being impeded. My intention is to label the impediment a traffic jam. The distinction is crucial to the understanding.
A traffic jam can involve just two vehicles, such as a vehicle being driven in a no passing zone while being followed by another vehicle driver who wants to pass. Of course, the more vehicles involved the greater the size of the traffic jam, but, for logical reasons, I am establishing that even one driver can force another driver to drive slower than permitted and desired creating a little traffic jam. As we will see, this two-car traffic jam is often the precursor of the larger version. When we are driving on a multi-lane freeway with everyone just inching along with lots of stops and starts, we recognize a traffic jam, a big traffic jam. Unless otherwise noted, I will use the term “traffic jam” to refer to the larger version as a matter of convenience. I am sure we all know what a traffic jam is, but did you ever think about the exact definition of the term, “traffic jam?”
The traffic lanes of highways are not the only places traffic jams occur. In fact, we must consider the entrance and exit ramps, the access roads, and the streets that cross them. Neighborhood streets get pretty nasty traffic jams too. There seems to be no pathway for vehicles that are not subject to traffic jams of some sort. Matters of severity, intensity, size, duration, and other characteristics of traffic jams beg more literature than this article is attempting, but this article will not fail to apply them to the analysis.
Terms for Road Use
Inevitably, contemplating the number of vehicles on the roads compels me to consider the maximum number of vehicles a road can handle. The variables involved in determining how many vehicles a road can handle are many, and when applied, yield so many different numbers that it becomes more statistical than helpful. I do not need to know how many varied types of vehicles a certain type of road can handle in all the variable conditions and allowed rates of travel. I only need to maximize the quantity and that can be done without a detailed analysis of the variable quantities that can be determined.
Still, to guide my reader to the understandings I intend to reveal, I need to be able to discuss conceptually the number of vehicles a road can accommodate. Roads surely have limits to their ability to accommodate traffic. So, what shall we call that limit and how can we improve it? The answers are on the way. First we need to consider the limit or “capacity.”
What is the capacity of a road? This is a strange question. Roads are sort of endless and therefor unfillable, but we must be able to discuss a road’s capacity with some degree of coherence. We certainly experience segments of roads that appear to be filled to the brim with vehicles during traffic jams. The entire road is not filled but a segment is packed to the max.
I tend to think of “capacity” as a maximum amount of something and that is how it will be used here. “Traffic” is a word we use for something that moves; it is dynamic. “Capacity” implies something that is not dynamic, such as the capacity of a jar, a theatre, and so on. The dynamic aspect of traffic forces us to dissect the term “capacity of a road” into different types of capacity; static and dynamic.
In its simplest form, we can consider a length of road and the number of vehicles that can be parked on it end-to-end without space between them, which is virtually what we experience when traffic comes to a complete stop on the highway and even at a traffic signal or stop sign. This aspect of capacity must consider vehicle length, which is so varied that numbers begin to become meaningless. Still, a value can be used that will be helpful in discussion and evaluation. I have chosen fifteen feet. This may not be an accurate average vehicle length, but it is close enough for this exposition.
If an average vehicle length is given as fifteen feet, a mile of one lane road can park 352 vehicles bumper to bumper. I will establish here the term, “static capacity” to represent the number of fifteen feet long vehicles that can be parked end to end on a segment of road with no space between them, which is 352 per mile.
In an equation that yields the static capacity of a road, the only thing we can change is vehicle length. A mile of road is always a mile of road. We can add more lanes, sure, but we will only be adding static capacity, not changing it. Smaller vehicles can increase the static capacity of a road, and I am all for this change. I would love to see the world convert to smaller vehicles, but I don’t want to drive a very small vehicle among much larger vehicles. It is too dangerous.
This presentation of solutions to our traffic problems require that I have a conceptualization of the maximum number of moving vehicles a road can accommodate, which I will refer to as its “dynamic capacity.” Calculating the dynamic capacity of a road is a daunting task. Most roads have no actual end; they go on and on, as does entering and exiting, so filling them is impractical. Even if a road had a beginning and an end, other variable factors defy analysis. Rate of travel, distance between vehicles, vehicle length, maneuvering, and countless other factors are highly variable. I can imagine charts and graphs that could be used to study the variables, but that is something for the experts. For me, the dynamic capacity of a road is merely a term for discussion and conceptualization. When the capacity of a road is considered, I will be restricting the term to a certain length of road. For example; consider a mile of highway with two lanes for each direction of travel and the number of vehicles that can be moved over it at different speeds with different spaces between vehicles. The maximum numbers possible are the dynamic capacity of that mile of highway. A freeway that passes through a metropolitan area reaches its dynamic capacity during the rush hours in just that area; in just that limited length of road.
If you want to know what the “absolute maximum dynamic capacity” is of a road, I proffer a simplified way to consider it here. All you need do is add a rate of speed to the static capacity of a road. Choose a speed, any speed. Choose a length of road, any length. Then do the math. If vehicles were linked together like a train and moved ahead at a certain speed over a certain length of road, the absolute maximum dynamic capacity of that length of road with that group of vehicles on it traveling at that speed will be reached. This is absolutely the maximum number of vehicles that are possible to get on a road. Of course, this leaves no room for some essential parts of driving, like changing lanes or entering and exiting. It is devoid of safety considerations and useful only for theory and discussion.
I have devised the term, “useable dynamic capacity” to use in practical applications. To calculate the usable dynamic capacity of a road all the factors involved in driving would have to be included. I am not attempting such calculations. I can, however, do some rudimentary calculations that are helpful. At sixty miles per hour 325 vehicles fifteen feet long pass over a mile of road every minute when there is no space between them. So, the usable dynamic capacity of a road must be less since we cannot drive without space between vehicles. If there is a vehicle length of space between vehicles, the number of vehicles is reduced to about half of 325 and the math continues to adjust the results as factors are changed. Here you can see how the useable dynamic capacity of a road can be manipulated; change some of the factors in the equation.
The purpose of this analysis of road capacity seems obvious to me, but I fear it may be less obvious to others. We have traffic jams. If our traffic jams are not the result of the roads being filled to capacity, there are ways to improve traffic flow. Since traffic consists of vehicles that have destinations, as opposed to driving without ever reaching a destination and getting off the road, the capacity of any road is fluid; capacity can be reached but as some get off of the road others can get onto it. Consider a glass of water. If I put the glass under the water faucet and turn the water on, it fills and begins to over flow. The overflow water is being replaced by new water. Traffic is like this. If I can get the old traffic off of the road, new traffic can utilize it. The road will be at capacity, but it will still be able to take new traffic as the old traffic exits. Now, here is the real use of the concept. The traffic does not have to actually get off of the road; it only needs to get out of the way; as in further down the road where there is more room. Can you see where I am going? I thought so. Now, watch where you are going!
During holidays like Thanksgiving, traffic on the Interstate Highways nears its usable dynamic capacity over incredible lengths. I have driven from Dallas to Austin when vehicles are so numerous there is virtually no room for maneuvering over the entire distance. That section of the freeway was at its usable dynamic capacity. It is quite incredible! This is probably happening across the nation. If there were rush hours during such times the traffic jam would be impossibly huge. It is just a fortunate pairing of circumstances that long distance holiday travelers are traveling when fewer people are commuting to and from their jobs. Roads have limited capacity despite their seeming endlessness.
All roads have the same purpose. Roads “process” vehicles. When a driver goes from one place to another, the roads process the vehicle being driven. This is a simple statement and idea, but it requires stating. It also requires deeper understanding. This unassuming term bears fruit when nurtured with thought. Aristotle demonstrated the value of examining the meanings of simple terms. Vehicle processing is the job of the road.
A road can only process so many vehicles. There are limits that can be reached, but there are variables involved that give us the opportunity to reduce or increase the number of vehicles a road can process. Clearly roads can process more vehicles when the vehicles move at a faster speed, and, inversely, roads will process fewer vehicles when they travel at slower speeds. This understanding gives us incentive to keep traffic moving at higher speeds. We are not getting that during a traffic jam, now are we? Roads must efficiently process all the vehicles that use them, even during the rush hours and in the metropolitan areas.
Now that I have defined some terms I intend to use, it is time to consider the causes of traffic jams. There are many, as I am sure you know, but did you know that the way people drive is not all there is to it?
Cause of Traffic Jams
Why? Why do vehicles get slowed and stopped on vast open highways? A freeway that has as many as five lanes in densely populated areas for both directions and goes across the nation without one stop sign or traffic signal becomes like a parking lot in both the approach to and the exit from a metropolitan area. Miles and miles of free flowing traffic extend between the areas where the traffic jams occur. Why do they occur just in and around the metropolitan areas? The first thing to enter my thoughts when I experienced my first traffic jam was “why.” I am still thinking about it decades later.
At this point I feel I must address a phenomenon that I manifest. When I think about a topic, I discover things I didn’t already know. I doubt this is peculiar to me though my interactions with others seem to indicate it might be less common than I would have thought. (Is that enough qualifiers for you?) I have trained and taught many people many things during my life. I have discussed things at length with people. I fear that mental activity is not often productive; rather a circulation of things already produced. New data derived from productive thought processes are mental discoveries. Not necessarily new for the world at large, but new for the thinker. I discover things. I am no better than anyone else, just unique, as are we all. I am not proud of the fact that I discover things by thinking, just happy about it. I have grown used to this phenomenon, which began in earnest when I was twenty. I turn my thought to a topic and new information begins to fill my memory banks. Following up on the information usually verifies the information, though I make mistakes, which I am delighted to discover because it signals the end of an error (pun intended) and the path to greater understanding. But, enough about me! I just felt the need to explain how and why the next paragraph exists.
I think I have discerned a root cause for the traffic phenomenon we call traffic jams. The root cause of traffic jams is the slowing of vehicle movement. It sounds like a symptom more than a cause, I know, but deep analysis reveals that the cause is the slowing and the slowing has its myriad of causes. It is a simple deduction. If traffic does not slow down, it does not become a traffic jam, except for drivers who can’t pass and drive at the rate of speed they desire (remember that my definition states that a traffic jam is the impediment of the flow of vehicles, even one by another.) By reducing the root cause to this simple form we can establish parameters that will facilitate this exposition and the solutions extraction. No matter what occurrence we examine, we ultimately see that the vehicles slow down and faster moving vehicles behind them that cannot pass begin to accumulate in ever increasing numbers that can become a traffic jam.
So, what happens in the traffic flow that causes a vehicle to slow down? Naturally, the driver causes the vehicle to slow down, but the reasons they do so are the causes I seek. There are many of these, more than I will even attempt to delineate here, but I mean to delve into some of them so that we can see the common factors that we must grasp and assimilate if we are to do anything to alleviate the problem. Drivers slow down for good reasons and others that are not so good.
Obstructions are the most understandable cause for traffic jams. If there is an accident on the road or if a vehicle malfunctions and stalls, traffic must slow or stop and a traffic jam results that is quite natural and understandable. There are many forms of obstruction that can interrupt the flow of traffic. They are easily comprehended and commonly understood, so I see no reason to delve deeply into this cause. Of course, reducing the occurrence of obstructions will reduce the number of traffic jams and removing obstructions as quickly as possible will facilitate traffic’s return to maximum speeds. Also, there are plenty of ways to mitigate even this type of traffic jam.
Number of Vehicles
Most of us probably think a traffic jam that has no obstruction related cause is caused by the sheer number of vehicles using the roads, the “quantity.” This is not correct thinking. It is not the number of vehicles using the roads that causes traffic jams! It is vehicles moving too slowly that causes traffic jams. Even one vehicle moving too slowly can evolve into the nightmares we commonly refer to as traffic jams. If traffic does not slow down much below the speed limit we do not feel we are in a traffic jam. Indeed, by definition it is not a traffic jam because the rate of travel is acceptable. Driving in dense traffic can be an unhappy experience even when moving at the maximum allowed speed, but it does not constitute a traffic jam.
I see drivers traveling two hundred miles per hour without slowing down very much unless there is an accident or signal forcing the slowing; NASCAR and the like, of course. The Indianapolis 500 car race looks like a traffic jam only in the compact groupings of vehicles and the inability to pass. Those drivers are not slowing down to unacceptable speeds. It is a traffic jam, by definition, but the professional drivers are purposefully impeding other drivers. The slowest drivers in the race are forced by rules to allow the faster drivers to pass.
I see in the car races proof that large numbers of vehicles can travel at acceptable rates of speed without becoming a large traffic jam. Traffic jams do not have to occur just because the number of vehicles rises. It is not the number of vehicles on the road that cases traffic jams. It is the drivers of the vehicles slowing down to unacceptable rates of speed that cause traffic jams, with some exceptions which I will address.
The design of some of Austin’s roads causes traffic jams. We have “freeways” that suddenly change to four lane roads with traffic signals. We have an elevated segment of freeway over the older segment that ends at just the point where the traffic influx reaches its maximum, right in the downtown area. That traffic jams will occur due to these designs is a foregone conclusion.
Austin’s segment of Interstate 35 has entrance ramps in the downtown area that are far too short and way too dangerous. It is a commonly known problem in the design of the roads here. I have had many occasions when it was necessary to hug the concrete wall dangerously while trying to merge into the flowing traffic. It just cannot be done cleanly every time. I will dare say that most drivers using these entrance ramps force the flow of traffic to slow down sharply to avoid accidents and to accommodate the merging vehicles. Traffic jams are caused by this design of our infrastructure, but even this can be cause cans be dealt with by driving techniques.
Austin roads also have a surprising design problem, surprising to me anyway. If you had asked me to design an exit ramp for a freeway, for example, I would not have anticipated the line of cars backed up from the traffic signal at the first intersection on the access road all the way up the ramp and onto the high speed lanes of the freeway. I have seen cars backed up nearly a mile waiting to exit the freeway. Now I ask you; Whoda thunk it? The same type of problem at entrance ramps and at left turn lanes can be seen around the city. I just would not have anticipated, when those roads were built, the number of vehicles that have come the use them. I can’t fault the designers.
Traffic jams have many causes that are closely related to the infrastructure that we know as roads, with all the supporting physical objects. Drivers are not the only reasons we have traffic jams.
Traffic laws cause traffic jams. In Austin there is a freeway that runs north and south through the heart of the city including the downtown area. The speed limit on Interstate Highways is usually seventy miles per hour and this highway is no exception. Where the freeway runs through the more dense areas of the city the speed limit is slower. In the heart of Austin the speed limit has recently been raised from fifty-five to sixty. In both directions the traffic traveling seventy miles per hour runs into a constriction created by the speed limit. It seems obvious to me. Traffic traveling seventy miles per hour is going to slow down when it runs up on the traffic traveling at the slower speed dictated by the law and begin to pile up. It seems that someone, somewhere, has realized this simple fact, finally, and raised the speed limit, but not enough.
Even water builds pressure behind a constriction of the flow. Traffic is no exception. Traffic moving at seventy miles per hour will build behind traffic simply obeying the speed limit. It piles up in a bizarre type of pressure. It is a simple equation. The speed limit itself causes traffic jams. Now, this is greatly complicated by other factors.
In a city people are entering and exiting the freeways in large numbers. Lane changes are inevitable. Some drivers are not familiar with the area and are navigating as they go. People don’t pay attention one hundred percent of the time; we are humans, not machines, though most of our laws and systems refuse to realize this and to make accommodations for this fact. Many people drive in fear and like to drive slowly to feel safer. These factors and many more combine to create slow moving vehicles. So, in the heart of the interstate highway that runs through Austin, Interstate Highway 35, drivers tend to slow too much for many reasons other than the speed limit and the faster moving traffic coming into the city piles in one vehicle behind the other until there is a traffic jam. But, even if drivers only slowed because of the speed limit there would still be traffic jams where the speed limit is reduced.
The law sets the maximum allowed rate of speed for all roads. If you desire to travel at a different rate of speed, you are only allowed to drive more slowly. This set of laws forces traffic to become compressed into groups of vehicles driving as fast as they are allowed, and often tailgating. If this line of vehicles encounters a slower moving vehicle and is unable to pass, a traffic jam occurs. Since people drive according to personality, they might drive at different rates of speed but the speed limit prohibits this individuality when it would compel one to exceed the speed limit. I see here a law causing traffic jams. Now, we all know that countless people drive over the speed limit when they think they can get away with it, and I say they are getting off of the roads more quickly by doing so, thereby reducing traffic. But this is not allowed by the law.
The traffic laws are the subject of a section of this article. I have a lot to say about the laws. There are laws other than the two mentioned above that cause traffic jams. You will find more about them in the later sections. Hopefully, I have established to your satisfaction that the laws cause traffic jams. If not, I think I will have your conviction later, and not of breaking the law.
I will bet that this topic hits some nerves; the driving of drivers. Not all traffic jams are caused by drivers, as mentioned above, but I think driver error is a very large factor in the causes of traffic jams, and judging by the road rage stories I hear, others feel the way I do. There are many errors that drivers make which cause traffic jams and accidents. But, overall, human transit routes display an incredible sophistication and beauty. We just have a few bugs to work out, and most of the bugs can be found in drivers.
Have your ever heard someone praise the driving of another driver encountered on the roads? How about the opposite? If you listen to what people say, you might think no one can drive well. The complaining of a driver about other drivers has become a refrain. I have heard some very nasty criticisms voiced to drivers who can’t even hear what is being said because they are in another vehicle. I have done so myself, even when no one is riding with me, and I’ll bet I am not the only one doing it.
Of all the factors that make traffic, the driver factor is the most manipulatable, in theory. In actuality, it could prove to be the least manipulatable. One can but try. Drivers can do a lot to prevent traffic jams, to remove traffic jams, to prevent accidents, to make driving a more enjoyable experience, and much, much more. There are a lot of things that need improving in the driving of drivers. Who among us drives perfectly all the times? If you don’t, you need improvement. Who knows everything there is to know about driving? If you don’t, you have things to learn.
That being said, it seems that everyone thinks they are excellent drivers. I seldom hear someone denigrate their own driving other than those who are debilitated in some way, such as age making one incapable. My mother knows she can’t drive well enough and now refuses to drive. I also know people who will not attempt to drive in this city because it scares them, but they still consider themselves to be good drivers. I have heard teenagers I am teaching to drive characterize themselves as very good drivers, even during the training. I find this hilarious and disturbing. I want to make my opinion very clear; inexperience makes a driver a poor driver, always. Furthermore, experience alone does not make a driver a good driver. I would not credit a professional race car driver as a good driver automatically, just likely. The skills and characteristics of a good driver, as I see it, are too numerous and complicated for this piece of work. The aspects of being a good driver that can be used to cope with the traffic congestion and traffic jam problems are the ones I will deal with here.
I suspect you may wonder what I think of my own driving. When I was younger, I was a good driver for a while. These days I do not pay attention well enough. I seldom notice traffic signs and I remember a time when I never missed one. I have been in a few fender benders, but I was never at fault. People will hit you sometimes and there is nothing you can do about it. I think I have driven well over two million miles by now. I can handle just about anything on the roads. I have driven all night on deep ice and snow without having to drive below the speed limit. I don’t have to slow down because the roads are wet and still drive safely, because I have lots of experience and practice; because I know my skill level and stay within it. I can manage a vehicle in a skid. I can avoid accidents without losing control. I am a pretty good driver, but I can be better. We all can.
I began driving standing in the seat in front of my father. I remember it well. He got two traffic citations for letting me drive like that, but that didn’t stop him. I logged many miles of driving before I got my first car when I was twelve. I didn’t have a license at twelve, but I had a car. It was a 1953 Plymouth that I resurrected from the junk yard. I was already a pretty good mechanic at twelve years old, and I overhauled the engine in that old car and swapped out other parts with good ones I found on other junk cars of the same make and model until I had a good car. Oh the stories I can tell! A twelve year old boy with a car is rich material. My dad sold that old car and gave me a newer one as an eighth grade graduation present, a 1961 Corvair Monza. I loved that car. I drove it without a license until I got one at fourteen. I have been burning up the roads ever since.
Good Cause for Braking Sharply
Sometimes drivers cause traffic jams when they do not commit an error. Indeed, the best possible reaction to a driving problem can cause traffic jams, as we will see.
I heard people talking on the radio about a phenomenon of traffic that is quite funny in a way and it shows how good driving can cause a traffic jam. (I have not been able to avoid all input from other sources, hints sneak in.) The story can be summarized as follows. A driver has to brake sharply and suddenly due to a deer darting across the road. The car following the first car has to hit the brakes hard and suddenly. Then the car following that car has to hit the brakes suddenly. This process continues down the road car after car. Each car has to slow even more sharply and suddenly than the previous car due to reaction times. The braking continues back down the road in a sort of wave effect until vehicles are coming to a complete stop and sometimes even colliding with the vehicle in front of them far from where the first car experienced the animal. Of course, the first car to hit the brakes to avoid the animal did what was required to be a good driver. That driver only slows briefly and then resumes a faster rate of travel all the while the traffic behind them is piling up into a long plug of stopped vehicles long after the initiating event. The person relating the story was amused by the fact that the person who started the traffic jam is long arrived at the destination before the traffic jam dissipates.
The above incident is very telling. Many factor are involved and some of them are worthy of analysis. I find one irresistible and must bring it up here. Consider the fact that a vehicle following another has to hit the brakes hard to avoid a collision with a car that slows sharply. Do you see something here that could be a clue about the causes of traffic jams? You should. It’s “why.” Why does the car following another have to slow drastically when the car in front slows suddenly? Don’t you wonder why? Do you think the answer is obvious? The answer tells a lot, and I am not referring to the avoidance of a collision. Think about it. If the car following the car that avoids an animal is far enough behind the animal-avoiding car they will not need to brake sharply and suddenly. If the driver in front of you does something suddenly and you are prompted by self-preservation to do the same, you are following too closely. If the car in front of you brakes sharply to avoid hitting a deer, that driver is not committing an error, but you are if you are following too closely and have to hit the brakes hard to avoid a collision. Following too closely to the car in front of you causes accidents and traffic jams.
“Following distance” is the space between two vehicles moving on a road. The term “tailgating” has become a relatively new verb in the English language that means to follow too closely, and it is a common phenomenon of traffic. My analysis of traffic has convinced me that tailgating is one of, if not the, largest causes of traffic jams. Since following distance is created by drivers, it is an area of driving that we can address with solutions. Changes to the infrastructure and the laws would facilitate the process, and perhaps such changes must be implemented before it will be possible for drivers to make adjustments in the following distance factor sufficient to affect the solutions, but there is much that can be done now that will improve the situation greatly. Following distance warrants deep analysis; and following too closely warrants warrants sometimes. (Just kidding.)
There are laws about following distance. Driver training includes guidelines for following distances. These guidelines are presented for good reason. I think the most common accident on the roads is what we call a “rear-ending.” You know the term; a car hits another from behind. I think there are very, very few, if any, cases where a rear-ending does not result in a citation from the police, the recipient being the person that hit the other car in the rear. We are loaded with the responsibility to follow at a distance that makes it possible to avoid hitting the car in front of us if it has to stop or slow suddenly, and I intend to show you that tailgating also causes traffic jams thereby making it even more imperative that we follow responsibly.
Boy! I hate to have someone follow me too closely, and not just because it is dangerous. It is rude! It is akin to shoving. Please, don’t shove me. I don’t like it. For sure, don’t shove me into a wreck. I have been hit from the rear twice. Fortunately, I was not following too closely and did not hit the car in front of me, but the car that hit me, in one of my cases, did so because it was hit from behind by another and shoved into me hard enough to cause me whiplash. The driver that hit me was stopped behind me as we had stopped momentarily with the rest of the traffic ahead of us. In fact the driver is a friend of mine who was actually following me to our destination. But, that’s an aside.
I can’t count all the times I have seen multi-vehicle wrecks on the highways. Some of them involve so many vehicles that it is considered a headline news item. Guess what! You guessed it; rear-endings, a sequence of them, one after the other. If you just notice when you are on the freeway, you will see that most drivers are following way too closely, illegally close. Miles of vehicles travel virtually bumper-to-bumper in every lane in both directions. I don’t get it. Why is this happening? Could it be they are attempting a misguided effort to achieve absolute dynamic capacity? It can look like an oval track car race. It is no wonder we have so many rear-endings, and it is no wonder, to me, that we have traffic jams.
During the course of the day traffic usually moves relatively freely until the rush hours, which is when the number of vehicles entering the traffic increases dramatically. There must be adequate space between vehicles already on the road to allow other vehicles to join the flow and to maneuver. When drivers follow too closely, drivers trying to merge must merge into spaces that are too small disrupting the flow of traffic. Drivers entering the flow of traffic sometimes do not do so adroitly; to be polite. When merging vehicles are not moving at the speed of the traffic already on the road, and when those vehicles on the road are following too closely, traffic gets forced to slow down to avoid accidents. A road that has a high number of vehicles following too closely on it cannot accommodate much disruption of flow without becoming a traffic jam.
When vehicles follow too closely, speed often gets greatly reduced spontaneously and naturally causing a traffic jam. This is just instinct, I think. The danger present compels drivers to drive more slowly when there is little space between vehicles. It is a natural response, and probably a wise one.
The law says that following distance must increase as speed increases and can decrease as speed decrease. Slowing down when a lot of drivers begin to follow too closely, what I call “tailgating parties,” is compliance with the law, though I doubt many drivers are slowing down just to comply with the law. Self-preservation appears to be the reason.
I have seen bumper-to-bumper traffic in the left lane moving at high rates of speed. This is obviously dangerous, but if anything happens to cause the pack to slow down, even a little, a ready-made traffic jams results. The vehicles are already packed closely together and are suddenly driving slowly. Something almost always happened to force the pack to slow down. Probably most often it is just a driver driving more slowly, but other things happen too.
When the rate of travel of a vehicle increases there is supposed to be an increase in the distance maintained between vehicles. I have seen that what is supposed to happen often does not happen, but for these postulations we will include an increase in following distance as speed increases. This causes a bit of a trade off in a roads capacity. The correct following distance between vehicles traveling at sixty miles per hour is greater than that of vehicles traveling at twenty miles per hour. You can get more slow moving vehicles on a road than you can fast moving vehicles, but which set of factors will get you where you are going more quickly is what matters. Simple calculations reveal the answer.
In the old days we were taught to keep a car length per ten miles per hour between vehicles. Today we are taught to keep about three seconds between vehicles. Let’s just use the old rule for simplicity. At twenty miles per hour the following distance would be two vehicle lengths, or thirty feet for fifteen feet vehicles. So, two vehicles driven at twenty miles per hour with proper following distance would occupy sixty feet of road. This means that 176 vehicles traveling at twenty miles per hour should cover a mile of road and they would travel a mile in about three minutes. At sixty miles per hour with proper following distances two vehicles occupy 120 feet of road and 88 vehicles traveling at sixty miles per hour occupy a mile of road, but they could travel a mile in one minute, or 264 in three minutes. Clearly the higher rate of speed gets more of you where you are going more quickly even with the greater following distance. This type of calculation is just a simplified example, but it shows that more of can get where we are going even when we use legal following distances. I want you to comprehend the fact that bumper-to-bumper driving at slow speeds makes getting where you want to go take longer than when you are driving faster and keeping your following distance appropriate for your rate of speed. It seems obvious to me, but now it is demonstrated mathematically. Packing more vehicles on a road by putting them closer together does not translate into a higher processing rate or get you where you are going more quickly. In fact, it is a traffic jam.
There is a dynamic aspect of following distance that is causal of traffic jams. Again, it is a driver-created phenomenon and, therefore, one that we can manage to solve our traffic problems. I have devised a term for the phenomenon.
The Accordion Effect
Most of us know how an accordion works. The bellows of an accordion open and close sequentially one segment at a time. When the sides of the instrument are pulled apart the first segment begins to move and when it has moved far enough it begins to pull the segment next to it. This goes on segment after segment until it is fully opened. The same occurs in reverse when the sides are pushed together. Vehicles begin to move, slow, and stop on a road much like those segments of the bellows in the accordion being opened and closed. I will use the term, “accordion effect” to describe this phenomenon of traffic.
It seems that people are not comfortable moving ahead from a stop until the car in front of them is well ahead. Sure, sometimes the driver is not paying attention, but that does not explain away the indication that drivers are uncomfortable moving ahead until the vehicle in front of them has gotten too far ahead. It makes me think they don’t care if I, the person way back toward the end of the line, get through the light or not. Nah! That couldn’t be right. It is unlikely that people don’t care about other people. Right! It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the flow of traffic.
I think drivers more often than not place their vehicles too close to the vehicle in front of them when they stop at a traffic signal. If you stop very close to the vehicle in front of you, you will have to delay your restart until the vehicle you are behind gets far enough ahead of you. Whereas, if you allow more space between vehicles, you could begin to move ahead at the same time and at the same rate as the vehicle in front of you.
The easiest way to comprehend the accordion effect is to imagine or witness the long line of vehicles that begin to move forward when a traffic signal changes to green. The first car in the line begins to move ahead. When it gets far enough ahead, the next car begins to move. This continues down the line vehicle after vehicle, albeit without the uniformity of an accordion bellows.
In the above example, people demonstrate the direct opposite of the behavior they demonstrate when driving on a highway at high rates of speed. They follow way behind the car in front of them. It drives me crazy. I know! It’s a short drive for me. I just think that the slow rate of travel from a dead stop warrants a shorter following distance that is increased as speed increases. It is unlikely you have not experienced sitting in a line of cars at a traffic signal without even moving before the signal turns red again. The accordion effect is what kept you from moving.
The flow of traffic is a core factor in the analysis of traffic jams. At a traffic signal the flow of traffic is stopped and started repeatedly, the flow of traffic is greatly impeded. When the signal turns green the line of cars begins to move forward in staggered starts like the segments of an accordion bellows being opened, but this is not peculiar only to traffic signals. The same phenomenon occurs on multi-lane highways where traffic is stopping or slowing. Understanding traffic jams requires an understanding of this phenomenon comprehensive enough to reveal solutions to traffic jams.
In the same way that drivers stage themselves close together in a line at a traffic signal, they stage themselves close together on a highway when they encounter vehicles that are stopped or moving slowly. Being true to their character, when traffic begins to move again, the drivers start ahead in the same accordion effect that is seen at traffic signals. In both cases, at traffic signals and at stops on highways, the accordion effect reduces the number of vehicles the road can process. It is a phenomenon of traffic that causes traffic jams, increases the duration of traffic jams, and increases the severity and intensity of traffic jams.
Now, realize that the accordion effect that we see when traffic begins to move also manifests in reverse. When a driver approaches a stopped or slow moving vehicle it moves in close behind that vehicle and the vehicles line up one after the other in a manner similar to an accordion closing.
So, we have the accordion effect occurring for stopping and for starting. This is a major cause of traffic jams that we can do something about, as drivers.
A line of vehicles stopped at a traffic signal can begin to move forward in unison, much like a train. (For your information: the cars of a train do not actually begin to move forward all at the same time. The slack in the couplings, though small, is enough to cause some accordion effect. In a long train, the engine moves considerably before the last car moves. I have spoken to men who work on trains and I have observed for myself. I was surprised.) I have been able to observe that when the accordion effect is eliminated or reduced during a commencement of forward movement when a traffic signal turns green more vehicles are able to cross the signaled intersection than are able to do so when the starts are staggered in an accordion effect. It is something that seems obvious to me, but I fear assuming that what is obvious to me is obvious to everyone.
Exaggeration can be useful when considering a phenomenon. Imagine a line of cars at a traffic signal waiting to begin moving forward. Now imagine that each car waits five minutes after the vehicle ahead of it begins to move before it starts to move. Few vehicles would make it through the intersection before the light turned green. Obviously! In the same way, any increment of delay of forward movement commencement reduces the number of vehicles that can get through the intersection. There is a clear and distinct reduction in the number of vehicles that can achieve a certain distance of forward progress when there are start delays. A unified synchronous movement is the only way to maximize the number. In other words, a reduction in the degree of accordion effect makes processing of vehicles more efficient, and this is just considering the starting. The stopping is much the same.
The accordion effect in lining up behind a stopped vehicle is, in effect, sequential queuing. The more precipitous the braking and stopping in the line, the longer the line can become before movement is restored. This happens even for queuing without actually stopping. A long line of vehicles takes longer to return to maximum speed than a short line when the accordion effect is involved.
So, the accordion effect applied to both stopping and starting reduces the processing capacity of roads. From above, a freeway demonstrating the accordion effect during a traffic jam resembles the wave-like movement of the legs of a walking centipede. A friend of mine likened it to the way a slinky toy moves one ring at a time. I like the simile. It makes it easy to see that one can move the toy across a surface more quickly when all the rings are prevented from stretching out and moved in unison. Traffic is this way too.
On the highways vehicles tend to pile into lines of closely spaced vehicles when forced to come to a stop, and even when only forced to slow down. I can find no good reason for this driving technique. Drivers can follow at appropriate distances and they can slow and stop while maintaining the same distances between vehicles. There is no reason to create the accordion effect. It is just something we do, perhaps mindlessly; certainly heedlessly. That doing so causes traffic jams seems to have escaped us.
When traffic moves like an accordion through the metropolitan areas, the ability of the stream of traffic to accept the influx of commuters and new traffic is sharply reduced. Traffic jams become horrible with stops that last minutes and never moves more than a few miles per hour for only short distances until the traffic jam begins to dissipate. The accordion effect is a traffic flow killer.
I hope I have done a fair job of relating the accordion effect to you. It has not been easy to put into words. That the accordion effect must be reduced or eliminated from our driving is the vital understanding. It causes traffic jams.
I am including this topic mostly to cover causes more completely. We all know that an animal or bird can get in the road and cause traffic to slow. Naturally, this can cause traffic jams, especially on heavily trafficked roads. There are things we can do about this problem if we are willing and I think we should do something. It bothers me to see the callous disregard for the animals that get killed on the roads. It seems the thing that concerns people the most about it is damage to the vehicles. I am a different sort of person.
Like wildlife this topic needs to be included to be thorough. Working with the fauna to keep it out of the roads is an aspect of the business I operate in Austin. When a tree falls into the road, traffic gets interrupted. When trees grow too low over the road, traffic has to veer out of the way to avoid hitting it and often interferes with traffic. These are but a couple of the ways fauna causes traffic jams and the solution to this problem is obvious, I think. Unfortunately, freeways are relatively devoid of fauna.
Since I don’t know who you are, I will not presume you have weather to deal with in your driving. Just kidding! Weather is a considerable factor in the impediment of traffic flow. From ice to heat, weather ruins the flow of traffic and causes accidents. This is an easily understood cause of traffic jams and I will not go into much detail about it except in the solutions section. Rain always destroys the flow of traffic in Austin, and snow and ice send cars careening out of control in comical skids. We don’t get much practice driving in ice around here.
I would like to say that we can get our roads out of the weather if we want. We would have to sacrifice the enjoyment of scenery. That is a big sacrifice! I might be willing to do it under the right conditions. I will cover this in the part of this article that deals with the infrastructure section of the solutions part of this article.
Now that I have established some basic concepts and some terms for discussing them, it is time to present the solutions I have worked out. I will provide driving techniques, infrastructure changes, and law changes that will improve the traffic problems we face in Austin. Other areas of the world will be able to apply some of these solutions, too.
The objective here is to devise methods that prevent traffic jams as much as possible and others that deal with traffic jams once they have occurred, but other driving aspects will be included. There are things that can be done to mitigate the size, severity, intensity, and duration of traffic jams. Prevention is not the only type of action we can take, though pound per pound, preventions is more valuable than cure. (I couldn’t resist the re-wording of the old Franklin adage.)
I tried to restrain myself, but found that it is illogical and impractical to attempt to limit this article to the topic of traffic jams and omit what I have discovered about driving in general. So, you will find plans for the advancement of general driving skills here as well.
My plan is to remedy traffic problems. Plans require methods. I am presenting methods. There are likely to be flaws in these methods. I concede this possibility, or likelihood, depending on who you talk to. The method to invent the light bulb was flawed for a long time, but the plan was not. Let the expert think tanks devise the methods that are less flawed. I am but a single individual getting no help from anyone. In fact, when I try to discuss the things I am writing here, people seem to be uninterested. They begin to have a distant look in their eyes and tend to change the subject unconsciously. They are without interest. But, I am not without ideas.
We have heard that necessity is the mother of invention. We have plenty of necessity when it comes to transportation and a plan to meet that necessity requires recognition, analysis, invention, refinement, implementation, and continuous evolution. I am in the “invention” stage. I know that if I can get a filament to glow bright enough long enough I will have a method that fulfills the plan, so to speak.
I am aware that the experts may have already arrived at the information I am proffering. There have been many times in my life when I have discovered something and later learn that it has already been discovered. Inventions that I have conceived completely on my own have usually shown up out there by the hand of another. Discovery is something that happens to me so often I have become quite inured to the experience, as I am sure we all are. Still, on the slight chance that I have something to offer that has not been discovered already, I am presenting the methods I have discovered.
The sooner you get where you are going, the sooner you get off of the road. Right? That means we can reduce the number of vehicles on the road if we can get where we are going more quickly, and one way to cure the traffic problems is to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Logical! I know this seems like mundane simplicity in repetition, but I think solutions have been hiding behind the reluctance to pursue this simplistic mundanity.
Notice that when the demand on the roads reaches its highest levels, such as during the rush to and from work, the ability of the roads to process the demand gets reduced dramatically and the roads tend to near static capacity. So, it stands to reason that something must be done to reverse this effect.
During the rush hours on the highways that pass through metropolitan areas, the traffic consists of both through traffic and commuter traffic. The large influx of traffic that enters the highways and exits relatively quickly invariably causes traffic jams that endure for incredible lengths of time. Since the roads must accommodate this heavy influx of traffic, we must find ways to make it possible for them to do so without causing traffic jams.
As drivers, we have to drive at or near the speed limit as much as possible without slowing. Remember, the root cause of traffic jams is the slowing of vehicle movement. Even if traffic must slow down some, it doesn’t need to devolve into traffic jams. Safety is the most important factor in driving a vehicle and I do not suggest that we make it more dangerous by driving too fast, but I do say we must keep the speed as high as we safely can to prevent traffic jams.
It is imperative that we maintain highway speeds while allowing traffic to enter and exit during peak usage times. To do so we must stage vehicles that are traveling through the areas in positions designed to accommodate the heavy influxes of vehicles we experience in traffic jam prone areas. I can see that optimal speeds and following distances will have to be determined and implemented for the traffic entering and exiting the areas. The determinations must be designed to make it possible for commuter traffic to use the highways without disrupting the flow. For example, through traffic coming into the traffic jam prone areas can stay in the left lanes as much as possible and assume following distances a little greater than is necessary for safety concerns. Traffic in the right lane can move a little slower than the rest of the traffic with even longer following distances that are adjusted as traffic enters the flow. As lane changes are made following distances will have to be adjusted, but such maneuvers will be easy when drivers are not tailgating.
There can be only small increments of slowing as traffic enters the areas and vehicles must be permitted by the law to accelerate to close the gaps that open when vehicles leave one of the traffic lanes. Little precision is required, but general guidelines will have to be met. Likewise, traffic must be allowed to speed up beyond the speed of traffic entering the areas where traffic jams routinely occur when it gets to the end of them. What we will have then is slightly slower, well-spaced vehicles that are permitted to adjust following distances by speeding up to close gaps as they enter and traverse heavily used areas that usually develop traffic jam and then speed up to higher speeds outside the areas. The accordion effect must be minimized as traffic speeds up to close gaps and to accelerate out of traffic jams areas. Attentive, cooperative driving will be required, and drivers who have driving skills that are not up to the task must improve their abilities. Virtually anyone can do it. Who is willing?
In depth calculations can be done to determine optimal speeds for different areas and the speeds will have to be adjustable to fit the changing locations of traffic flow problems. I see no benefit to be gained by driving seventy miles per hour only to get in line at the back of a traffic jam. When traffic begins to approach becoming a traffic jam in a certain area, the traffic coming to that area must slow down while the traffic beyond the area is accelerated enough to prevent a drastic reduction in the flow. Again, the accordion effect must be minimized. Accelerating traffic must accelerate in unison as much as possible.
The rate of travel along a length of highway can be adjustable. Speed need not be a fixed number carved into stone and legislated into law enforced by expensive public employees. Adjusting traffic speed to fit the circumstances is a good way to prevent traffic jams.
I see people driving twenty to sixty percent or more below the posted speed limit virtually every time I am on a highway. I don’t know why they are driving slowly. There are probably countless reasons, from their perspective, but I suspect that they, at least many, would not persist in this behavior if they knew that they are causing traffic jams and other problems. People have to change their driving behavior. It sounds easy, but it is far from easy. Of all the ways we can improve traffic, getting people to keep moving without slowing down too much and to drive to prevent traffic jams could prove to be the most difficult aspect of traffic to affect.
People slow down on highways for many reasons. Sometimes it is necessitated by factors outside driver control, but more often it is simply driver behavior rooted in psychology. It can even be philosophical, such as when a person believes it is better to drive slowly because it is safer. To devise ways to keep traffic moving it might be necessary to cover some of these different reasons.
The demographics of drivers are widely varied. People are sometimes terrified to drive on the highways, but they do it anyway. People drive on the highways that have only recently learned to drive. People drive all sorts of vehicles, some of which cannot accelerate or brake quickly. People often don’t know the roads and are trying to navigate. There may be infinite reasons for slowing down on a highway. None of them are good for traffic flow.
I think that the simple act of making people aware of the fact that traffic jams get caused by slowing on a highway will prompt many drivers to pay more attention to their driving speed. Many just haven’t even considered that driving slowly causes traffic jams. When they do they will do a better job of keeping their speed up. See! I have faith in you despite what others say about you.
So, the first way for you to prevent traffic jams is to keep your rate of speed at the maximum allowed without slowing. If you slow at all, make it as little as possible and for the shortest amount of time possible. Accelerate back to the maximum sharply. If you are not comfortable accelerating sharply, practice or train. Become competent getting your speed back up.
You should be able to find training that will increase your comfort zone while driving. If not, there is opportunity for some enterprising person or persons. Advanced driver training schools seems an opportunity long overdue.
The distance one allows between themselves and the vehicle in front of them is a vital component of driving. The safety aspect is obvious, but the way it causes traffic jams is not, and that maintaining good following distances can do a lot to prevent traffic jams is even less obvious.
I have yet to be riding along in a traffic jam when drivers do not get dangerously and senselessly too close to the vehicle in front of them. Traffic jams will be less frequent, of shorter duration, less severe, and less intense if drivers will simply allow a greater following distance and manipulate it wisely.
Following distance should not be held static. Let the following distance expand and contract in sympathetic adjustments to the flow of traffic. Try to avoid forcing the traffic behind you to slow down by not slowing down yourself. Think about it. If the car ahead of you slows down momentarily, you do not necessarily need to slow down too. However, if you are following too closely, you must slow down, and sharply. This forces the car behind you to respond, and if they too are following too closely, they must slow even more sharply than you did. This continues back down the line car after car until there is a traffic jam. Alternatively, if the driver behind you is maintaining a sensible following distance while you are doing the same, the space between vehicles is even more capable of absorbing the surging and slowing of traffic ahead of you.
Following distance is an aspect of traffic that is within our control. The strange aspect of it is that people seem to have little or no comprehension of its use or its effects. Instead, people appear to have terribly flawed judgment when it comes to following distance.
My experiences have led me see that some think the best way to follow during a traffic jam is to get as close to the vehicle in front of them as they can. I have had drivers behind me gesticulate dramatically at me if I allow an adjustable following distance to develop in front of me. Others think that they must get very close to the vehicle in front of them as a signal to mover over out of their way; they want to pass. Some may think that the road can better accommodate traffic if vehicles are packed as close together as possible. The dynamic capacity of a road can easily reach static capacity.
Have you ever wanted to change lanes and been unable to do so because there is no room between the vehicles in the lane you want to merge into? I have. It becomes necessary to attract the attention of a driver and gain their assistance in letting you move over. I have seen drivers neglect to request assistance and merge into a space little longer than the vehicle they are driving. This, of course, causes the person driving the vehicle in the back of that space to hit the brakes and set into motion an accordion effect that cascades down the line until it reaches some wise individual who has kept sufficient following distance in place and who allows that space to close without braking sharply, or the queue ends.
Have you ever had to hit the brakes in desperation when someone merges into your lane right in front of you? You have to hit the brakes so hard it throws things into the floorboard and your passengers into their seat belts. Don’t you just hate that! Well, you were following too closely. Yep! I set you up for that, but it makes a point. You can manipulate your following distance to keep traffic moving, but not by following too closely.
When a driver is following closely, the short interval of biological reaction time can be too long to avoid an accident. When distraction and lack of attention are added to the mix, accidents happen. If you look away from the traffic in front of you for a second while following too closely, and the driver, or even the line of drivers in front of you, comes to a stop or slows drastically, you are likely to hit the vehicle in front of you before you can do anything about it. It happens often and everywhere. It is a lot less likely when following distances are maintained within proper parameters.
When traffic enters a metropolitan area at seventy miles per hour with legally prescribed following distances between vehicles, the people trying to get to or from work have to merge with the flow of vehicles in the spaces available to them. When the local traffic enters the flow of traffic the space between vehicles automatically becomes shorter and the drivers must make adjustments to restore it. Doing this while maintaining a maximum rate of speed is something drivers can do to prevent traffic jams in the areas where the quantity of merging vehicles rises precipitously. It can be done.
Traffic Jam Mitigation
As I said, a plan must be developed that is designed to deal with traffic jams after they occur. When you are trapped inside a traffic jam, you can manipulate your rate of speed and your following distance in a way that improves driving conditions for you and those behind you. I discovered the technique and have experimented with it for some time now. I think I am not be the only one to employ this technique for I see others behaving similarly. I hope they are actually using this technique instead of just appearing to be. In any case, I will present here a technique for driving that reduces the duration, intensity, severity, and size of traffic jams by manipulating speed and following distance.
Traffic jams vary. Sometimes a traffic jam forces one to stop completely for different lengths of time. Others merely cause us to drive slowly. Some traffic jams demonstrate fits of high speed surges and precipitous braking. If you are out there often enough paying attention, you will begin to gain knowledge of the various characteristics of the variety of traffic jams. Such knowledge will help you employ the technique I am explaining.
It is a daunting task to explain something newly discovered. The conceptualization is hard enough, but I will do my best. It will help if you will try to understand in a cooperative spirit instead of trying to shoot holes in the technique. The psychology of humans repeats over and over the tendency to find flaws, oversights, and mistakes in a concept that is new to them. If you do not believe me, just try it; present anyone you know with an idea you have had. You will see what I mean. Now, try to understand that you can manipulate the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you in a way that will reduce the intensity, severity, size, and duration of traffic jams. It is easy; the mitigation that is.
When you encounter dense traffic that is moving below the speed limit, while matching the speed of the traffic ahead of you, stay as far back behind the slow traffic as you can, within reason. Well, I probably should expound upon the term, “within reason.” One man’s reason can be another’s stupidity. Let me put it this way; don’t let the traffic in front of you disappear into the distance and become a cause of further traffic jam problems yourself. Follow the car in front of you at the average speed of the pack of vehicles with a following distance that is long enough to permit the vehicles you are following to surge, slow, and stop without causing you to do the same. You will have to adjust your speed continuously, but do so as little as possible.
When traffic is moving very slowly or is stopped, you can let the gap between you and the vehicle in front of you close to the length of your car or less without entering the danger zone. You may need to experiment a little, but you should be able to determine the average rate of speed at which traffic ahead of you is moving. Don’t think the surge speed is it. The average is the general rate of progress, not the variable speeds you will encounter. Put your vehicle at the rate of speed you derive. Now, let the traffic ahead of you speed up without doing the same; it always speeds up and then slows back down, even stops. A larger and larger gap will form in front of you until the traffic ahead begins to slow again. Let the gap in front of you close when this happens. You will find, if you have done it right, that the traffic will begin to surge forward again before you even have to slow down. When it does, let the gap build again. Experiment with the gap. Find the right size, the one that can be closed without causing you to stop.
If you find yourself coming to a stop no matter what you try, just wait for the vehicles ahead of you to start moving again and start moving at the same time. Then, let a gap develop that increases in length as you slowly accelerate to the average speed you have found traffic to be moving. This time let the gap get a little longer than the time before when you had to come to a complete stop and attempt to avoid stopping again. Think of it as a little game if you like. In some traffic jams you will be able to maintain a steady pace through the length of the plug. At other times you will come to stops frequently, but you will not wait as long as the other drivers ahead of you, and I prefer to remain stationary as little as possible. You will often have to drive very slowly and adjust your speed continuously.
On the highway that runs through downtown Austin the plug of vehicles in a traffic jam progress very slowly in the downtown area and then picks up speed to near normal just past downtown. Don’t let this surge fool you, for that is all it is. For some reason there is an area just south of the Colorado River, or Town Lake, where traffic usually gets back up to speed but shuts down again to long pauses in less than a mile. From there it remains slow well past the edge of town. Austin has many such areas and I suspect there are areas on most roads that experience such recurring phenomenon.
Learn where traffic surges appear to be the ends of the traffic jams when they are actually just areas of better progress that don’t last. When you get to the area where everyone ahead of you happily speeds up thinking they have finally escaped, just hold back. Let a large gap develop and hold your speed below that of the other drivers. Don’t fall way behind and speed up some if necessary, but when the drivers ahead of you throw on the brakes to avoid hitting the vehicle in front of them you will be letting your gap close and slowing a bit in an attempt to avoid stopping. It works! I have done it many times.
I keep an eye on the traffic behind me when I drive, always. I especially watch behind me when I am manipulating my speed and my gap. I can assure you that the drivers right behind me are maintaining a more steady pace while I am manipulating my speed and following distance to keep flowing. Since I can’t see all the way to the beginning of the traffic jam, I can’t speak for the conditions far behind me, and I suspect that drivers way back there are back to the old habit of surging and stopping regardless of my efforts. That’s ok. I am having a better time, as are some behind me. If this technique is employed by others behind me, the benefits are compounded.
I have had many occasions to alleviate the severity of a traffic jam by manipulating my speed and following distance adroitly. I drive along at about the average rate of speed manipulating the space between myself and the vehicles in front of me while everyone else is surging ahead and slowing sporadically. They maneuver for position, veer out of collisions, and generally have a horrible experience. Don’t join the pack. Manipulate your speed and following distance to make your ride steady and smooth. Mitigate the severity of the traffic jam that has trapped you.
You may find other drivers unhappy about what you are doing, but a child will be unhappy when you don’t let them do something they want to do. That is just how people are, even those that are old enough to get a driver’s license.
When you allow a long following distance to develop in front of you during a traffic jam, people will merge into your lane in front of you. I think drivers are surprised that they can move over into your lane so easily. It is a rare treat, after all. Be happy for them. Don’t get angry, like some of my passengers have done. Just adjust your speed a bit to restore the gap to the one you have determined to be appropriate for the traffic you are encountering. Let the other drivers pound their vehicles to death and annoy themselves with surging and stopping.
If you manage to utilize this technique successfully, you will experience a steadier ride and you will be helping vehicles behind you keep a steady pace. Fuel consumption will be decreased, brakes will be preserved, and you will be an unsung hero. You might even find yourself enjoying a traffic jam…maybe, a little “might.”
It is vital that you do not tailgate. When you tailgate you break the law, you increase the danger factor, and you increase the likelihood of traffic jams. If you are in a hurry, don’t cause a traffic jam.
Drivers will close their following distances to pass. When they cannot pass, as it often the case on crowded roads, they accumulate in tailgating queues. I see it all the time. They are miles long sometimes. They don’t always cause traffic to slow, but they often do. Therefore, when someone wants to pass, mover over and let them pass. It doesn’t matter how fast you are going. Someone who wants to pass will get off the roads faster than you will.
I am certain that some do not let a faster driver pass because they would have to slow down to move over into another lane, often because the traffic in that lane is slower. I think that is poor judgment. If you are not willing to drive as fast as someone behind you, you should be willing to move over and slow down a bit to let them by. Experience will show you that you will still arrive at your destination at about the same time. Not letting someone pass you causes traffic jams.
I frequently see drivers in the fast lane driving well below the speed limit casually enjoying the drive with no desire to hurry somewhere at all. Vehicles pile in behind them angrily willing the slow driver to move over. I have seen very long lines of cars lined up behind such drivers and they still will not get out of the way. This is surely unacceptable driving. The slow driver is causing traffic problems by driving too slowly and the faster drivers are causing problems by tailgating. Prevent traffic jams by keeping your speed as high as you can, by letting all who desire pass you, and by never tailgating.
Good judgment is a great virtue. Be a person of good judgment. Follow the vehicle in front of you wisely. Manipulate the gap in front of you to avoid slowing down. Be kind and let others pass you if they want to. You will be mitigating traffic jams. You might even find yourself to be a happier person.
Unplugging a Traffic Jam
Vehicles entering and exiting the roads create fluctuations in the number of vehicles on a road. During the peak usage times more vehicles enter the roads than exit them. As the quantity of vehicles present rises, traffic begins to exceed the usable dynamic capacity. The spacing of vehicles must be adjusted constantly as traffic enters and exits the flow. When this does not happen, and it seldom does, following distances get reduced and traffic slows. I think it is simple instinct that causes drivers to slow when the following distance becomes too short. Most drivers are not race car drivers, and the increasing number of cars spaced too closely usually results in a reduced rate of travel. This, of course, causes traffic jams and the number of entering vehicles along with the accumulation of vehicles that were traveling at higher speeds back down the road increases the length of the line of vehicles involved in the traffic jam. This line of vehicles waiting to get back to maximum speed is the “plug” in the flow of traffic.
At the time of this writing there appears to be absolutely no technique devised or in place to remove the plug of vehicles lined up in a traffic jam. It just works itself out, eventually. It takes an amount of time proportionate to the number of vehicles involved. When the number of vehicles using the roads is low, the traffic plugs dissipate more quickly than when the number of vehicles is high. I have seen many subtle variations of traffic jams. As mentioned, I have not researched the literature to write this article. If there is a technique designed to unplug traffic jams, I apologize to its inventor and hope it is a better technique than mine. My research has been through experience and cogitation. If there is a technique devised, I have not encountered it and suspect it does not exist yet. Mine follows.
In many cases roads are continuous. They don’t have an end. There are exceptions, but for the most part we are driving on roads that go on and on. The traffic jams are usually confined to certain areas on the seemingly endless roads. In Austin, the traffic jams on Interstate Highway 35 occur in roughly the same areas every time. The areas where they occur have long multilane expanses of road ahead of and behind them where there is no traffic jam and far fewer vehicles. That there is a way to unplug a traffic jam using the more open segments of the roads seems obvious to me.
I think the primary way to unplug a traffic jam is for you to accelerate out of it when you reach the open part of the road. When you finally get to the end of traffic jam, (not when you are just at a short surge area) speed up sharply and reduce the following distance as much as you can while preserving safety. I would like to see the laws changed so that this could be facilitated. Until then, when it becomes possible increase your rate of travel as much as you can and stay with the driver in front of you. Keep the following distance at a minimum. This does not mean to tailgate. Following distance must be kept safe, but don’t let it stretch out like you would to prevent a traffic jam or like you would when you are inside one. By speeding ahead sharply, you make it possible for the driver behind you to do the same, and the next driver back can do the same on and on down the line. If this is done well enough by all involved, the plug will disappear. We will have to break an old habit, though, the habit demonstrated at traffic signals I have referred to as the accordion effect, which is all I have ever encountered at the end of a traffic jam.
There are plenty of variables in this scenario, as usual, but the basic concept is simple enough. Traffic jams occur and when they do something must be done, in my opinion. I am not content to let the problem dissipate on its own because it takes too long. If everyone involved in the plug speeds up uniformly and sharply following the leader at the end of the plug while allowing the following distance to increase judiciously as speed increases, the plug will vanish. In a long plug the vehicles closer to the beginning of the plug will have to accelerate more sharply than those at the head of the plug, but that can be done. This technique will help the flow of traffic even if it does not completely unplug the traffic jam, but I think it will unplug them in most cases.
If you could achieve a bird’s eye view over a highway during the traffic jams, you would see that the entire highway is not clogged with slow moving vehicles. The plugs occur in segments of the roads. The useable dynamic capacity of the entire road has not been reached. An intelligent surge by the drivers in the plug can eliminate the traffic jam, momentarily at least. The surge will work better if traffic ahead of the traffic jam is allowed to drive faster than the traffic entering the traffic jam. The speed limit could be raised, at least during the traffic jam times to allow drivers to address a serious problem.
Though they seem to have virtually disappeared, there are police who direct traffic. I have ridden next to many police officers in terrible traffic jams. They just join the debacle making no effort to do anything about it. I can imagine officers stationed along the highways where traffic jams usually occur conducting traffic to unplug a traffic jam. It would probably recur, but it could then be unplugged again.
The officers could instruct drivers to speed out of the plug. It would require a lot of officers and I am not really presenting this as an actual viable option. I present it only to show you that something could be done to unplug a traffic jam. Preventing traffic jams is the best solution, but when they develop they can be undeveloped. I have ideas for signs that can do just that.
We certainly need a way to remove a traffic jam after it has occurred. The ideas I am presenting are just my thoughts on the matter. Better ideas would be great. Something must be done! I care not who figures out how to solve the problem. I just want something done. Hopefully someone will, or I have, or will still.
Reducing demand is a possible cure for the traffic problems, but great care must be taken. I am not in favor of some of the ways I can conceive to reduce the demand placed on our roads. I want everyone everywhere to be able to move about the planet as desired. Of course, some demand could be reduced by utilizing the railroads more and by changing our life styles and habitats, but that gets covered in the section about infrastructure. I have been involved in the resistance to one of the ways some would reduce the use of the roads, tolls. Tolls are a form of use restriction.
I detect a tendency among the people to restrict, and not just road use either. People seem to respond to the high use of roads and the subsequent problems by seeking ways to force people off of the roads. This is a psychological response that appears to me to be a very revelatory Rorschach test of sorts. I’ll save the insights of that test, though they are disturbing and interesting. To reduce the use of roads by restricting their use is undesirable to my psychology and my intellect. If a driver elects to avoid a road because they cannot handle the driving requirements, freedom is not compromised. Then, logic follows to the next way to reduce the demand for road use.
I have been finding information, true or not, that there are those among us who would reduce the number of people on this planet in order to save the planet. Whereas this could certainly reduce the demand for road use, there is no wisdom to be found in such thoughts. I know many who feel there are too many people, and there are countless others. This is not the place for an argument or a population analysis. I am happy to endeavor into the topic, just not here. I want to make just one point on the subject.
I want to clean up the mess we have created in our air, water, and land around the planet and there are not enough hands available yet. I want our species to spread into outer space, and we need more hands to do that. I want to rebuild our entire infrastructure and there are not enough people to do it. If you could snap your fingers and reduce the population of Earth to, say, five hundred million, the devastation that would result from the loss of maintenance and clean up would be a terminative ecological catastrophe. I shudder at the thought. We need social systems that can accommodate even more humans than we already have. The systems are the cause of the problems our population demonstrates.
I have even heard there are some who would use violence and biological weapons to reduce the population, that is, kill off large numbers of people. This horror is deeply related to and rooted in the psychology I mentioned earlier in the Rorschach reference. I do not know anyone who professes to be of this ilk, so I do not know enough about such people. If they are out there, I will say this to them: there is more to life than meets the eye. It may be impossible to reduce the population by killing. (Another book would be required to explain.)
History is replete with stories of atrocious violence that reduced the population. Yet, here we are, the largest population in recorded history. So, how effective is violence in saving the planet. The destruction and pollution from war is rampant across the planet. (I seldom hear an environmentalist raging against war because it pollutes and destroys habitat. Everything else is regulated and raged against.) Human wars are insane. Using violence to reducing the population to save the planet is insane. If you can’t see this as a fact, you need to see a psychiatrist. Something is terribly wrong with you.
We could charge for access to the roads and, possibly, reduce the number of vehicles using the roads. It is just a possibility, not a certainty. This seems obvious to me. I think the end result would be greater travel expense and no relief from traffic jams. There are so many variables in such an idea that discussion becomes tiresome. For example: how much do we have to charge to actually reduce the use of a road? When does the inconvenience and inefficiency of alternate routes make the fee acceptable and thereby ineffective? It goes around and around. One thing is certain, poor people would just be hammered again, an historical president that asperses our species; oh the shame of it.
There are those among us who believe that there are limits to resources. They must not be able to grasp the fact that the Universe is pretty big. When I consider things, I see limitlessness. If we are stuck on this planet, we could reach the exhaustion of resources, possibly. I have read books by economists that argue very cogently against such exhaustion, but in theory we tend to see a limit on this planet. We don’t live in theory and we are not bound to this planet. We might be able to pollute away the vital requirements of life, but I do not believe we can consume everything or even deplete our reserves to the point of global catastrophe. The statistics bear this out for me. Don’t be sucked in by those who benefit by the shortage scare. (Notice the word, scar city)
We need a way to accommodate the travel needs for everyone. If we invent new transportation systems, change the way our cities are laid out, change the core systems of society, and other such things; and I can think of far too many to include in this article, thereby reducing the demand on the transportation system, that might be okay. Simply restricting use by way of laws or monetary impediments is going in the opposite direction of freedom and quality of life. It discriminates against the less financially capable and increases the costs of transportation to society. There are many other good reasons to avoid the restrictive techniques. I don’t need to convince you of the validity of this statement. I need to convince you that the ideas I am presenting here to solve the problems of traffic are valid, so I must cover the possible alternatives first. If I convince you that traffic would be better if there were fewer cars on the roads, you might start to think that reducing the population or restricting access to the roads is a good solution and I intend to nip such sophistry in the bud. I have talked to people about these ideas already and I have gotten some disturbing responses. Come on! Let’s make traffic better for everyone. We can do it!
Someone once said that if you build it they will come. This is certainly true for roads. Good roads attract people until they are not so good anymore. Has anyone ever said enough is enough? I am saying it! We have too many roads in and around Austin. I don’t want to see any more of Earth destroyed for roads and I want to apply our resources and power to other things, like getting off of the ground to travel. The foot print of the human species is far too large. Not because there are too many people or because it must be, but because we have outdated stupid systems and because we are restrained by vested interests. We can function with the amount of space we have already acquired on this planet, even less.
I contend that we can all live better with far less space and have beneficent effects on the planet. I have visions of the Earth being one giant park where all living things are nurtured and cared for while our species grows into the rest of the Universe; where we would be welcome if we could attain a better degree of beneficence. I see a world where everyone attains fulfillment and lives fulfilled lives. No amount of money can buy such a world. So, even the rich can improve their lot with more right “ways.” Notice I did not write, “right-of-ways.” We need less right-of-way, not more. In this article I will deal with ways to improve traffic with the roads we already have. Building more roads is not a solution to the traffic problems.
Imagine everyone on Earth having their own car. Everyone needs to be able to move about the planet. We only need a plan to make it happen that meets all the requirements of a good plan. My mind sees a whole new transportation system, but that is yet another subject for later. For now we need a plan to make it possible for everyone to move about the planet easily and efficiently with the current transportation system modified enough to make it possible. Such a plan will require some major changes and a lot of people. So what? It is something to do. I don’t want to just sit around eating. Let’s do it. Greater minds than mine can put it together. In fact great minds working together can do things that seem impossible, like reduce the severity and duration of traffic jams, perhaps even eliminate them. The traffic problems we have are our creation and the solution will be our creation as well.
There are many things that can be done to the transportation infrastructure that would improve traffic without building more roads. The signs, traffic signals, intersections, ramps, shoulders, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and much more need improvements that are designed to improve the flow of traffic. The possible improvements seems vast to me. I dare not attempt to deal with them all, but some are unavoidable, starting with traffic signals.
Austin and the surrounding towns have traffic signals that cause traffic to wait in lines two lanes wide that are sometimes two miles in length. This is totally unnecessary because the drivers waiting to cross the road with the assistance of the traffic signal are few. When the signals turn green a small segment of the line moves ahead and the rest of the line is forced to wait until the next cycle of green only to repeat the process. It takes a long time to get past those lights. Traffic signals cause traffic jams.
Traffic signals need not cause traffic jams. The reason they do is because they have no intelligence; idiot lights, as I call them. They often back up large numbers of vehicles so that a few vehicles can cross the road or merge onto it. The cure for this problem is easy. We just need a mayor or some other person in an official position to take action and change the cycling of the traffic signals. It seems a politician would like to increase his job approval by fixing this simple problem. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that one. If you are a person who sits in one of these long lines at a traffic signal, complain for goodness sake. Don’t just sit in the line waiting! Do something. Call someone. Call everyone. Don’t stop until the problem is fixed. I am calling and stirring up action, but I am not getting any help.
I think traffic signals can be made intelligent. That is, they can respond to traffic rather than cycling mindlessly. Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to stop at a traffic signal when there are no vehicles on the cross street needing access? How about not being forced to stop when there is no other vehicle behind you? An intelligent traffic signal would be able to see that it could let you proceed and then turn red without stopping anyone. It would turn red only when someone needs to merge or cross and then only for the amount of time required to complete the task. I believe such a signal can be invented, if it has not yet been invented.
Traffic signals should be calibrated, the stupid ones that is, so that the busiest road has priority. There is often a disparity in the amount of processing cross roads do. I see traffic signals stopping busy highways far too frequently for roads that have little traffic. Many times I stop for an idiot light, when no one needs access. This is totally unacceptable, especially in this economy and in this pollution condition.
I once saw a service technician working on a traffic signal that was the only one on the street that caused traffic to stop. All the other lights on the street were sequenced to allow traffic to flow. I stopped and asked the technician to adjust the clock that cycles the light in coordination with the other lights. He informed me that there was no way for him to do that. He said that there is a multi-million dollar computer system downtown that controls the lights. I was shocked and embarrassed.
I have never forgotten that experience and I have never been able to understand why such an investment is necessary. I am aware that this could be my own ignorance again. In my opinion the computer was not doing a very good job and it seems to me that all that is necessary is a repeating cycle mechanism in the traffic signal. Just calculate the rate of speed allowed on the road and sequence the lights so that the traffic does not have to stop.
If there is a computer regulating the traffic signals, why is it demonstrating such ignorance? I think the signal should have its own intelligence rather than be connected to a central computer. Of course, the central computer control system can be used for many other things besides keeping traffic flowing.
There is one more factor regarding traffic signals that I want to touch upon, and that is accidents. Many people are killed at traffic signaled intersections. It is usually the same old story; someone ran a red light, as we say. Humans make mistakes. When you cross a street make sure a human is not making a mistake that will hurt you, kill you, or damage your property. Don’t assume that the crossing traffic will heed the traffic signal. This is just good sense, but humans get conditioned.
We know that traffic is supposed to stop at red lights. The law demands it. It usually works. So, we begin to take it for granted. Well, not me! I know people are humans. They can’t function perfectly all the time. Pay attention! Don’t go through a traffic signal or any other intersection without watching the crossing traffic. You don’t want an intersection.
Traffic signs can be used in the process of keeping traffic flowing and in the process of unplugging traffic jams. I have seen electric signs over the roads that can display different messages, unlike the painted types. Such signs can be used to advise drivers that there is a traffic jam ahead of them or that the conditions are favorable for a traffic jam. I would like to see traffic monitored and analyzed by computer programs that return instructions to various signs in the areas prone to traffic jams. We might refer to these signs as “intelligent signs.”
I can see many useful ways intelligent signs could be used to assist drivers. The first order of business would have to be assistance in accidents, emergency vehicle assistance, and other motorist assistance functions. Traffic flow could be the next order of business.
If you know that the traffic is stopped ahead of you, you might as well slow down. Doing so will reduce the size of the traffic jam blocking your progress and less time will be required to relieve it. An intelligent sign can advise you as to the best rate of speed you can travel to achieve the relief. If you just speed along to the back of the line, you are making matters worse and it will take you even longer to get where you are going. If nothing else, we need signs that inform drivers that there is a traffic jam ahead.
While the intelligent sings are regulating traffic that has not reached the plug, other signs at the other end of the plug can be informing drivers of what they must do to unplug the traffic jam they have gotten through. A series of signs along the traffic jam areas of the roads could function as a series of traffic cops would. They could instruct drivers to speed up and stay together in an effort to unplug the traffic jam.
Plans can be devised and hardware invented that help traffic flow. I have thought that the roads could have continuous rows of lights installed in the highways that pulse at rates designed to cope with the current set of driving conditions. Drivers could stage their vehicles next to a set of the lights that move along at a rate that is determined on a continuous basis to be optimal. Vehicles could be staged to fit the conditions and moves at a rate that maximizes efficiency. Inbound traffic could be slowed and staged in proportion to the influx where traffic jams occur and outbound traffic could be accelerated to keep a plug from occurring or to unplug one that has already occurred. The design of such a system is beyond my current ability, but I can envision it.
This is just an idea. It seems impractical to me, but someone could improve it and make something that helps us keep traffic flowing. I thought the notion of covering the land with towers that could relay a weak signal from a wireless telephone was impractical. Perhaps my idea for guiding lights on the roads is not as impractical as it seems.
The laws that regulate and govern the act of driving a vehicle in the USA are what I would call a crime against humanity. They are dictatorial and totalitarian. They are enforced upon us and the enforcers are authorized to use deadly force to carry out the enforcement. If you get caught breaking one of the countless traffic laws, even accidently, you can be punished. The punishment is usually in the form of money, but jail is also used. If you don’t make much money, a traffic fine can cause your children to go hungry, whereas a wealthy person goes unscathed. Some think this is justice. I am not one of them.
I believe it is no less than highway robbery to fine people for traffic law violations. I think that the politicians, judicial system, the enforcers, and others all work together to get more money for the system that employs them. How can there be justice in a court where the accusing officer, the prosecuting attorney, and the judge all represent and work for the same entity? I believe it is not possible. Fines that get collected go into the coffers of the system that legislates, enforces, and adjudicates the laws. It may be disguised to make it look like it does not go to the judges and the police, but I am not fooled. I know that the salaries for all those involved in the system get their money from the governmental entity that employs them and that the fines they collect go into that entities coffers, if indirectly. I say here and now, all fines should go to charity.
No governmental entity should be allowed to gather funds by administering its function. The people must bear the burden of government by way of uniform tax. When government can invest and profit, when it can fine, when it can levy fees such as tariffs or any other of the sort, and/or can acquire funds by any means other than appealing to the people for it, freedom is jeopardized, justice is jeopardized. Imagine all import tariffs distributed equally to the people. Of, by, and for! That is what was said.
Who decided what the speed limit on a street would be? I have no idea. Someone, or someones, somewhere decide what the speed limit will be. That is certain. But how do they determine what that number will be? They might use demographics and road assessment. I am only guessing, but one thing is certain, when that number is chosen, you are forced to abide by it and there is no excuse, not even ignorance, not even a common human error like failing to stay focused. Furthermore, where is the representation of the people in the matter of setting laws regarding speed and such things?
You may have noticed, as I have, that the police frequently set up in the some locations to catch people driving faster than the sign says. They know where we are likely to drive faster than someone somewhere decided we will be allowed to drive and they set up their radar instruments there. Notice that radar is required to make the determination.
The difference between thirty-five and forty-five miles per hour is hard to detect with simple human senses. They need radar to make the detection and prove the fact. So why do they know where we are likely to drive faster than is allowed? The answer is obvious, to me anyway. It is because they have detected people speeding in those areas many times. Clearly people feel comfortable driving faster than is allowed in that area and are likely to do so, especially if they are just driving on instinct rather than protecting themselves from the law. Such locations are great places to gather revenue for the system. The claim that the speed traps are set up to keep us safe does not compute for me.
I am aware that there are those who disagree with me. I have spoken to some of them. I find comfort in remembering that there were those who disagreed with Galileo. It always sends my thoughts to the field of psychology.
I am a person who is curious about why people think and behave the ways they do. As I have said before, these are my thoughts derived completely from my psychology. I do not begrudge those who disagree with me; I just hope they are a minority. That being said, I think a survey or study should be conducted to determine where on the roads people feel comfortable driving faster than the speed dictated by the signs and then the speed limit should be raised.
Would you lie by idly for a speed trap on an interstate highway where the speed limit is lowered to thirty-five miles per hour so that a lot of speeding tickets could be issued? Why not? If that does not sit well with you, the radar traps that are set up where the speed limit is too low shouldn’t either. How did the speed limits get set into stone?
Furthermore, why do we have traffic laws? I am asking why must there be laws that govern traffic. It is a simple question that I have asked others many times. It appears that you, the other guy I have heard so much about as mentioned earlier, would not behave rationally without the laws to force you to do so. It appears that survival is insufficient to compel you to drive safely.
What I want you to consider is that driving is replete with laws that have been put into place and enforced for a long time now. Laws! Laws are commands, commands with consequences. You are forced to obey and you will pay the cost of the promulgation of the laws, their enforcement, and their adjudication. Were you asked to participate in this? I don’t think so. You are subjected to it at the point of a gun; much like a gang would force you to stay away from a territory or to pay a fee to avoid harassment. We live in a society of laws, even traffic laws. I will ask you this; why not have suggestions instead of laws.
We could have signs posted that inform us of the opinions of experts. The experts could determine what they think is a safe speed for a given area of road and post a sign to that effect. There could be a sign that informs us that there is a cross road ahead and that we should yield or stop Why does it have to be a laws? It doesn’t! We are simply accepting the laws and doing nothing to create and place a better way.
Consider stop signs. If you do not stop for a predetermined length of time at a stop sign, you will be punished if you get caught. I paid a fine as a teenager for not making my wheels stop rolling for a full second. I almost did, according to the Department of Public Safety officer, but not good enough. I paid the fine, even though I was driving safely. I almost came to a complete stop for a full second making sure that it was safe to proceed. The officer was parked in plain view at the intersection. I didn’t even know I had committed an infraction. I stopped, but only briefly. The law has changed a bit, but it is basically still the same. You must come to a complete stop whether or not there is another vehicle on the roads; no matter what time it is, no matter what the conditions, and regardless of whether or not there is a vehicle coming. There will be no exceptions! The law is the Law! If the roads are deserted, it’s three o’clock in the morning, the view in both directions at an intersection you need to cross is long and easily seen, no matter what, you must stop completely or face the punishment. This is ridiculous, in my opinion.
If you have ever driven in deep southern Mexico, you know what it is like to be allowed to cross a street without stopping at a stop sign completely if it is safe to do so. I was startled when my friends didn’t stop completely at a stop sign while a police officer was parked in plain view monitoring the intersection. I was told it is considered poor driving to waste time and fuel stopping needlessly. Seems to me they have good sense in Mexico.
Our great country just needs a little tweaking. We have allowed things to get out of control. The USA is the country governed by the consent of the people. Unfortunately, the people have gone to sleep on the job. We don’t even know where the traffic laws come from or who promulgates them, much less why the fines are what they are. We just go along with things. We accept things that are rather than question and examine, even when it hurts. We must take our power back and wield it. We can make traffic much better if we will take control of the governmental entities that are dictating to us how we will drive.
When we get through a traffic jam and finally return to the normal rate of speed we must not exceed the dictated speed limit, even if doing so would alleviate the traffic jam behind us. If we were allowed to accelerate to eighty miles per hour or more for a time, we could restore traffic to its full rate of speed.
I think the traffic laws are causal of traffic jams, traffic accidents, social distress, personal stress, inefficient travel, and a general ugliness of life. The negative effects of the traffic laws defy listing.
If you think the statement above is incredible, relax, I have toned it way down from my actual feelings. I see no need to carry on like I really feel. I have deep emotions boiling around the way the world was when I got here in 1950 and in many of the ways it has changed.
I was born into this Texas, USA society. I was never given the opportunity to consent to be governed. I was told that I must comply and that I must support the many governments that were already in place when I got here or face the consequences. Then I was told ours is a representative form of government. It has shorted out my mental circuits ever since. Wow! Talk about non-sequitur!
I have been told that I should love it or leave it by people who are in the same quandary I was born into. They were never given the opportunity to consent to be governed either. But they claim to love it. Again, Wow! Still, I could leave it and go somewhere else to face another established government of a different nuance. The whole world has been conquered. There is no place left to be free. So, I am faced with a problem similar to the one I face with the traffic; a puzzle to solve.
I found the answer a long time ago and life has been undiminished bliss for me since; for me, notice the words. You may not feel that you live in bliss; I don’t know. I haven’t found anyone who says they live in bliss, but that only means I haven’t found anyone. The funny thing is that when you live in bliss, you soon discover that you are not among people in a similar state. The thing that can improve my bliss is to live in a world of life forms in bliss. I will settle for nothing less.
It has long been my opinion that others will be more likely to find their bliss if they live in a world that is free of the many deterrents to that blissfulness. So, I have been working on those deterrents for over forty years now. If you study people today in the area where I live, you will find that traffic is a constant deterrent to bliss. This article is designed to deal with that deterrent and it has arrived at the factor the law places in the mix.
Are you going to run out there and kill yourself and perhaps others with your vehicle the day the lifting of the traffic laws is announced? It certainly seems that some are convinced that you would do exactly that. They apparently feel and think that the only thing that makes driving a vehicle safe is the laws that govern it. This is in the face of the certainty that driving today is the cause of more death, injury, and property damage than any other human activity. Are you having a mental short circuit trying to comprehend this crazy form of logic? I sure am!
Apparently you must be forced to drive safely. I know for certain that I do not need to be forced. I don’t think you need to be forced either. Clearly someone thinks we must be forced. I have spoken to a few who think the traffic laws keep us safe. In every case they were males in advanced years. Not that this means anything. It is just my experience. However, there can be no denying that the government seems to have decided its job is to keep me safe, unless I break one of the countless rules they call laws that is, then I am in great danger. There is a huge army of heavily armed people out there hunting for any who would disobey, even accidentally, the rules that they call laws.
Drivers! That is what most of us in this country are. People have more than one vehicle in many cases. There are all types of drivers and vehicles. You know this! I know you do, but humor me a moment. Consider all the different skill levels demonstrated by all these drivers in all these different types of vehicles. I can see why so many die in traffic. It seems to me to that tragedies in great numbers are inevitable. That drivers can improve their driving skills is a foregone conclusion for me.
In Texas you can get your driver’s license while you are still a teenager. You have to learn to drive and pass a test. It is very easy to get a driver’s license. I think the other states have similar requirements. You may think this is leading up to a case for making it harder to get a driver’s license. Well, I have fooled you again. I do not want to make it harder to get a license to drive, but I want to offer advanced driver training.
We could have businesses that teach people how to drive in rain, snow, sleet, and wind both day and night. We could teach drivers how to manage a skid, how to stomp the accelerator to the floor and race ahead at maximum g-force, how to hit the brakes as hard as possible and screech to a stop, how to drive backwards at high rates of speed, and much more.
Doesn’t it seem reasonable that we have a place to learn to drive in heavy traffic? I don’t mean just how to handle a vehicle safely in heavy traffic, but also how to keep traffic flowing. I have touched on some possible things that could be taught, but there must be more and better to come. There are so many different situations in heavy traffic that demand a high level of driving skill. I think we need schools that help us develop those skills.
We need training in navigation. The drive from Dallas to San Antonio is not an easy navigation and the traffic can be a nightmare, especially during holidays. The ability to navigate that route without having done it before requires much of the driver. It requires so much that many drivers slow down too much just to determine what lane they must be in to stay on Interstate 35, the road that makes that run. I have made that run many times. It is still not easy for me. I can imagine how difficult it could be for others.
The roads that we drive have evolved over time. Sometimes additions are made to the existing roads. Merging roads and intersections get upgraded a lot over the years and we end up with path designs that are only the best we can do without starting over. Eventually navigation becomes like following a spaghetti noodle around in a bowl of spaghetti; I exaggerate, I know. Drivers could use a good plan that has been designed to teach techniques for navigating our roads. If this seems like an impossible plan to you, consider the simple act of paying attention to the signs. We can teach people to do that better. We can teach them how to change lanes without causing problems in the flow of traffic and without causing accidents. I think there are many other things that could be put together to create a navigation curriculum for drivers, and I am just a lone guy trying to consider the possibilities.
When I was thirteen years old, I had the opportunity to drive my car onto an empty parking lot that was covered by ice. It was loads of fun for me at the time. My younger brother rode with me as I threw the car into skid after skid. I was spinning multiple 360 degree circles. I had no mishap. I could get going fast enough to throw the car into a sideways or backwards skid that took me all the way across the parking lot. We really had a blast! But, I learned how to control a skid. It is instinct for me now. I don’t have to think about it. My body knows what to do. It sounds like a good thing to teach drivers.
Another thing that I was fortunate enough to do as a teenager is car racing. I loved to drag race and went to the tracks. I even won a trophy once at the old San Antonio Drag Raceway. Of course, I was in many street races as well. I didn’t get into long races. There was no place to do it. I know I would have enjoyed it though. I liked to modify cars so they could go a quarter of a mile from standing still more quickly. It was a lot of fun, and it taught me how to accelerate.
I was shocked to discover how many drivers have never stomped the accelerator to the floor of a car and hold it there until top speed is attained. From where I stand, it seems few can manage a vehicles full power. I don’t know what you think, but I think drivers should be very adroit with the power of the vehicle they are driving, and it seems like a simple course to have in a driving school.
Have you ever been on a country road that has few areas for passing another vehicle? If not, you haven’t driven much. If you have, you have probably ridden along behind some slow moving vehicle that has several, even many, other vehicles behind it driven by people who are desperate to pass. The problem is often that there is a driver in the group ahead of you that doesn’t feel safe passing in the areas where they are permitted to do so. Passing is a frightening operation, on any road. Some of the roads we have around here are very dangerous for passing, because it is complicated by wild animals, ranchers’ driveways, no shoulder on the roads, and other things. A lot of dead people didn’t pass right. A school for drivers could teach passing skills that make drivers safe and competent passers; not passersby.
I feel I could continue this list of things I would like to see taught in advanced driver training schools. Alas, I am starting to get tired of writing this article. I have gotten close enough to the end that my mind is already looking to my next monomania, song writing. I get bored near the end of things. The learning and the challenge are what interest me. The puzzle fascinates me, but I don’t want to continue playing with it after I have figured out how to solve it. That is what is happening to me here.
I think I have made my points. Hopefully there are people out there who find more pleasure in working out the details than solving the puzzle. I am sure there are, and they are welcome to it. Thankfully there are many kinds of people.
We have all inherited the transportation system we use. It was set in place before most of us were born, even though it is a relatively new human endeavor. Clearly, we have inherited all the work of our ancestors. This includes inventions. Unfortunately, we have other systems in place that do not like some inventions. This must be changed and new systems of transportation must be invented, if not already invented, and implemented.
I am desperately eager to remove the control of high speed vehicles from the hands of humans. The death toll is too high when people must be relied on for attention, control, and judgment. Humans are humans. To be human is to make mistakes. To make a simple mistake that takes the lives of ourselves or others is to be expected. Whoever thought that humans could drive in opposite directions passing mere feet from each other over miles and miles and decade after decade without smashing into each other? Who thinks that humans could drive roads that cross paths without accidents? We are going to make mistakes. It is clear from the limited experience of my own life, and if the reports are trustworthy, it is clear from the experience of others. The utter tragedies that have been tolerated in our transportation system are beyond grief.
When I was a kid there was a popular toy set going around called, “slot cars.” In the movie Jurassic Park, full sized cars were used for the park tour that ran on tracks that resembled the slot cars. Humans did not participate in the operation. Computers were used to enhance the experience, but the cars themselves ran on what appeared to be a raised rail. You can see already where this is going. We can use similar systems to remove the controls from the hands of mistake prone human beings.
What I propose is a merging of two very large systems into one. There is plenty of potential for integrating other systems as well. For now, consider, if you will, the merging of our electrical transmission grid and our transportation grid. If we put our electrical grid into the roads, we can construct a piloting system that at the same times transfers the electricity to our electric engines.
The exact way this could be done has been an area of interest to me for a long time. I have a lot of ideas about it. Ultimately, the design would have to go into the hands of engineers; a lot of them. It can be done. We could travel in electric cars with batteries only large enough to get us around when we are not on the main grid, and the grid would charge the battery when we are using it. We could ride along on the grid until we have to leave it to achieve our destination that are not on the grid without having to even stay awake or to pay attention. I can think of many things I would do if my vehicle was traveling on a grid. It would be like riding a train or a street car, except it would be private and always available.
This system would make it very easy to get rid of the city bus system and replace it with a system that offers users their own little vehicles; no more would users have to stop at every stop along their routes. They could drive all the way to their destinations instead of having to walk from the bus stop. There would no longer be a bus stopped in the road making everyone driving in that lane wait for the loading and unloading. I think most people would rather not ride a bus when they can take a little electric car and leave it when they are done.
A lot of work would have to be done to design this system. That means good jobs. Putting the system into service would create many new jobs and dismantling the electrical transmission lines would create even more new jobs. Such a change would certainly require a transition. The economies of the world depend on our current system of transportation and electrical transmission. Change has been shown to be difficult, but the death toll, the environmental impact, the property damage, the health problems, and many other factors demand solutions. What makes change desirable? Is not over 40,000 deaths and countless lesser wrecks a price that would compel us to tackle the difficulties of change?
This is not an article about new systems, but a new system would do a lot to relieve the traffic jam problem. That is, it could if designed to do so. However, I will leave this topic where I have taken it and hope that some interest has been stimulated.