How To Fix Traffic Congestion

By Tom L. Pittman VII

This is the kind of backward thinking you get when you fail to define the problem correctly, and thus solve the wrong problem.

The good news is that the studies are right: if you want to alleviate *congestion*, then wait until the last possible moment, then merge. This traffic pattern results in traffic not being backed up as far (a.k.a. congestion).

OBVIOUSLY this traffic pattern is NOT the same thing as speeding past cars cued to go through the bottleneck, then insisting they let you in.

The bad news is a surprising number of people don’t seem to know the difference between congestion and throughput.

When a lane ends, congestion is not the problem; it is merely a symptom. THROUGHPUT is the problem.

If there are 100 cars backed up behind a bottle neck, then there are 100 cars backed up behind a bottle neck.

=> Just because the cars are waiting in 5 lanes instead of 4, that does NOT mean that the bottleneck can let cars through any faster.

The only thing a fixation on congestion does is determine the order in which cars travel through the bottleneck.

Given that 100% of the cars in the lane that is ending will be in the next lane over, the FAIR way to handle the merge is for the lane that is ending to merge at the last possible moment, that way everyone more or less keeps their place in the lines.

If, for some reason, the traffic isn’t doing that, that only means the merge is happening earlier, which is fine, but this merging pattern does not mean the bottleneck is letting cars through more slowly now.

Traffic is moving along at EXACTLY the same rate as it would have with a different merging pattern.

Drivers speeding past waiting cars and then forcing their way into the bottleneck should not be rationalizing that they are somehow doing this for the greater good of those waiting.

They are only serving themselves and no one else.

Bottlenecks are fixed math: they let through exactly so many cars per minute, regardless how the cars are cued up behind them.

No merging pattern expedites throughput; all we are doing is prioritizing who gets to go through first.

That’s not just logic, that’s the truth.

And this is why one of my favorite sayings is: “A problem well defined is a problem half solved.”


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How To Fix Traffic Congestion