Why Does Traffic Build Up?

Everyone has been stuck in traffic and everyone hates it! “There must be a way to cut traffic”, is a though that many people have had, but to answer that question you must ask how traffic gets built up in the first place. Well, there are many factors to this, but the main one is obviously us, the ones doing the driving. Let’s get into how traffic happens and how we can possibly minimize it.

So, humans are the ones causing these traffic jams. How? Well, it is hard to regulate your speed. Everyone slows down and speeds up at least a little bit and we cannot easily fix this. Autonomous cars can fix this, but right now not that many people can afford an autonomous vehicle. It is almost impossible to solve traffic by keeping people aware of their speedometer because we aren’t perfect and even the smallest tug in acceleration or deceleration will ripple and eventually cause a traffic jam. There was an experiment on a roundabout and people were put into equal spacing and the drivers were asked to maintain the same speed. In about 5 minutes, there was a traffic jam because people over-adjusted or people braking or speeding up. So, regulating speed is not going to work, so what is the next proposed solution.

How about we reduce the amount of people on the road? Well, who will want to? If people are willing to stay in traffic jams and move 3 feet every 5 minutes, what makes people think that drivers will volunteer to not drive in favor of some other means of transportation. Studies show, author Tom Vanderbilt, that if only 1% of drivers got off the road, then traffic is reduced by 18%. This option is certainly plausible because there are options like busing, subway systems, carpool vans, and more options such as the Hyper loop that are being developed. But for people not in a metropolitan area, this may not be viable (yet again, if you aren’t commuting to or living in a metropolitan area, then you don’t experience terrible traffic). But the mentality is that driving will be faster, despite having to deal with traffic because it gets you specifically where you need to go without having to wait for another mean of transportation. This is a valid argument that many can get behind because when you are stuck in traffic crawling forward every 5 minutes, at least you are in air conditioning, listening to your favorite music, you are guaranteed to be seated, and you can go on your phone without worrying much about accidents.

So, will traffic ever be fixed? I would say most definitely, but not until either everyone gets an autonomous vehicle, if a more efficient system is put into play, or if less people are on the road, which either of these options are going to take a long time. For now, just try to regulate your speed and spread the word to minimize traffic, even if it’s just a little bit.