The Mathematics of Traffic

A study from MIT's Department of Mathematics provides new means of understanding how traffic jams form.

The mathematicians discovered that "jamitons" (their name for the equations that describe traffic jams) are strikingly similar to the equations that are used to describe detonation waves produced by explosions.

"The equations, similar to those used to describe fluid mechanics, model traffic jams as a self-sustaining wave. Variables such as traffic speed and traffic density are used to calculate the conditions under which a jamiton will form and how fast it will spread.

Once such a jam is formed, it's almost impossible to break up -- drivers just have to wait it out, says Morris Flynn, lead author of the paper."

Full Story: Mathematicians Take Aim At 'Phantom' Traffic Jams: New Model Could Help Design Better Roads
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Another Solution

Though these jams could be mitigated by roads with greater capacity, this would only work until more cars enter the stream.

These wave effect of these phantom jams can be dampened better by a much neglected rule from driver's ed: the two second following distance. Two seconds is a "distance" unit of time, so distance varies with speed. Two seconds is a reaction time (a conservative one); when a driver in front of you hits the brakes randomly, that two seconds between you (or more if necessary) can absorb the wave shock. If jurisdictions want to minimize these phantom jams, they need to increase enforcement of following distances. Where laws aren't on the books, they can call it reckless driving.

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