The RAC Foundation have today published a report that concludes there are many subtle nuances in the timing and control of traffic signals that can make significant differences to the flow of traffic without impacting other important criteria such as road safety. For example, from page 17 (emphasis is mine):-
…reducing the green man – ‘invitation to cross’ – stage from ten to six seconds in accordance with DfT guidelines…
…Vehicle throughput on the priority arm observed increased by 6.5%, with no significant impact on safety.
A difference of 4 seconds…doesn’t sound much and it isn’t - at 15 miles-per-hour a car travels about 26 meters in that time, that’s approximately 4 or 5 car lengths.
Now, if you can increase road capacity by 4 car lengths every time someone activates the crossing using such a simple timing reduction - imagine the impact of that multiplied across a busy, congested city?
It makes you wonder what other tiny changes can be made to traffic infrastructure or driving behaviour that will yield big results?
Well, I did some more research and came across Traffic Waves - http://trafficwaves.org/. Bill Beaty, the author of that site has some fascinating explanations of how just one driver’s behaviour can prevent certain types of traffic congestion from occurring in the first place.
Bill claims that simply leaving a little more space between you and the vehicle in front to absorb the small slow-down/speed-up cycles that occur will prevent the cars behind you over-braking and stop the domino-effect in the first place.
I shall definitely be trying this out next time I’m on the road.
This is the first post on the Solving Traffic Congestion blog so we’d like to take this opportunity to explain a little more about our idea to solve congestion and why we think it is a serious contender.
As drivers ourselves we’ve spent more than enough hours sat in traffic jams or crawling along at speeds slower than pedestrians; the simple cause of this - too many vehicles attempting to use the road at the same time.
The social, economic, environmental and psychological impacts of journey delays are well documented elsewhere. The scale of the problem has led to many solutions: building new roads, bridges and tunnels, installing intelligent traffic control systems and schemes to reduce the number of road users through offering alternatives or simply punitive congestion charging schemes.
Big, slow and costly
One thing these have in common is that they are large, if not huge infrastructure projects. They each require investment of £millions if not £billions and the timescales are measured in months, years or even decades.
Attempts to reduce the number of road users often fail to account for the fact that for many people using the road is simply a necessity - sure we’re all waiting eagerly for the day we have flying-cars or Star Trek-style transporters - but in the meantime we need solutions that are a little more down-to-earth!
This led us to think about the practical steps that can be taken now to help you and I avoid traffic congestion whilst trying to reduce the shear size and occurrences of it when it does happen.
We started to realise that as drivers we avoid congested areas if we know about them but often the information just isn’t available or it’s available too late. For example, there is a delay to information reported by local radio stations - by the time you hear about it you’re probably stuck in it.
Information about congestion needs to be available as early as possible
We decided our solution needs to detect congestion as soon as it occurs - in real-time. It also needs to deliver news of congestion within seconds - vital if you hope to avoid it.
We’ve observed that congestion isn’t limited to major trunk roads - motorways, highways & freeways, but it spreads to minor roads. In many cities & towns often the smallest streets are congested. As a driver this leads you on a tense search for a way through without knowing whether the next street is better or worse.
Information needs to be available for as many streets as possible
This led us to believe that coverage is vital - that we need to understand the traffic conditions on all roads to be really useful. Many of the existing ideas for detecting congestion cover only major routes due to the cost of the infrastructure and effort involved in installation.
Crowd-sourcing & low-cost technology is the only way forward
With this in mind we realised that our solution needs to be as easily deployed on a narrow side street in a small town as it can be on a major motorway into a capital city. Additionally it requires a massive number of “sensors” to cover all these areas at once which means it needs to use cheap, readily available technology.
The solution became obvious to us - we need to deploy our “sensors” with drivers in their vehicles.
Modern smart-phones such as the iPhone & Android phones with built in GPS receivers and 3G internet connections have exactly the features needed. Creating an app to install on the phone and do all of this automatically is no longer rocket science.
We also believed that it was about time those who suffer the most from congestion felt they could do something to help rather than be at the mercy of large, slow projects whilst also at the sharp-end of congestion charging.
We felt it would be a little cheeky for us to ask 100,000’s of drivers just to run our app without giving you something back so we decided to offer a rebate against some of the £1 monthly service simply for taking part! I hope you feel that’s a reasonable deal?
Over to you
We’re looking to get as many road users as possible to sign up for our initial trial so we can prove the concept. The trial will be free and we’re hoping for 15,000 people to join in. You can join easily over at out main site www.solvingtrafficcongestion.com.
We’d also love to hear your thoughts, feedback and comments - this is early-days for this project so you can help shape it. Thanks for taking the time to read.