What Kind of Traffic Study Could Christie Have Held?

Walk signal

Courtesy Flickr/Ian Sane

Last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie admitted to a terrible mistake.  A political move, he’d shut down several lanes of traffic to a city whose Mayor he had beef with.  To justify the move, political aides sent out notices claiming the multi-lane highway was undergoing a “traffic study.”

While this turned out to be untrue, there are several interesting traffic studies they could’ve been running.  (Although as Wonk Blog points out – most studies can be done without rearranging traffic at all, thanks to the magic of computers.)  Just from the last year:

road construction

Courtesy Flickr/Chris Waits.

Researchers in Belgium determined one of the best strategies for getting traffic to slow down near construction sites was to use curved road paths, as opposed to general gates just before the construction site. They call this, rather nicely, “traffic calming.”


Courtesy Flickr/Cristiano Betta.

While this may seem like standard news for the U.S., they’ve just positively correlated drunk driving (or “drink-driving” as referred to in the paper, which for some reason sounds more quaint) and road traffic fatalities in Ghana.  Interestingly, the incidence of drunk driving among truck drivers is 1.8 times higher than car drivers.

Traffic jam

Courtesy Flickr/epSos .de

The “Comfortable Driving Model,” as examined by researchers in Germany, confirms that there are three different traffic phases – free flow, sychronized traffic, and wide moving jams (which is a very nice name for a very terrible nightmare).  Their most interesting finding was that traffic doesn’t typically go from wide open highway to terrible snarl – it often goes through an intermediate phase first.  We can only hope understanding this model will help future cars drive themselves seamlessly down city streets.

However, next time, we’ll likely all know to call bull when a politician claims traffic for science; A team from Japan, Thailand, and Australia successfully created a test environment that can recreate a real driving experience for smart cars, including other cars and environmental factors like stoplights and road signs.

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