Monday, December 25, 2006

Traffic Smoothing

So I read this post on digg a while back about how this one Seattle dude decided he would try to rid himself of the trouble of stopping and starting in stop and go traffic by traveling at a constant speed no matter how fast the cars around him were going. He was essentially trying to go at an "average" speed, letting a good length of space develop ahead of him as cars would speed ahead, only to meet those same cars a few moments later as they are inevitably stopped while he chugs along.

He noticed that while the traffic around him was stop and go, the cars behind him were traveling smoothly (since he was making the effort to travel smoothly). What an awesome idea!

I got to thinking how this would be great if everyone tried to do this in stop and go traffic. Smooth it out, travel a bit slower, and we'd be so much more efficient traveling in smooth, but slower traffic, with less hassle and frustration. How could we do this? The effort that this guy put in was his estimation of "average speed." He may be off and have to brake, and he'd have to adjust his estimation, and all this would take enormous concentration. How could we make this easier?

My idea is to post a sign on the freeway that simply indicates the average speed of traffic in the upcoming segment of freeway. While this would most often simply show the speed limit during times of free-flowing traffic, this would be critical information in stop-and-go. It would let me know what speed to aspire to, so that I wouldn't have to brake that often. It would smooth the traffic behind me, and with a number of people on the road doing as I am, hopefully we would smooth out the stop-and-go waves. Where would I source the information? Form FastTrak, of course, the same source as used by Yahoo Traffic maps, that show the speed of freeway traffic. FastTrak has sensors that don't take money from your account that just simply track the presence of your sensor. At regular distance intervals they record your sensor, and can calculate the average speed through the previous segment. Yahoo Traffic maps just take this data and splash it onto their maps feature. This makes an easy method for supplying information for the traffic smoothing speed signs!