Cell Phones Teach Us Something About Traffic Jams

GPS traffic Data from Cell PhonesDid you ever sit in a traffic jam and think “I bet just one idiot on his cell phone up ahead caused this… jerk…”. We all know it’s probably unrealistic, but it’s much easier to blame one person than it is to blame the whole crowd around you. Well… Your inner thoughts may actually be correct. Using cell phone tracking data, thanks to a traffic study by MIT, we have learned a few things about when, why and where traffic jams start, and how they spread out from other areas. It’s not just one singular person, but the data does show that it only takes a select few to send those paved roads into utter chaos.

Cell Phones in Traffic the Obvious Reasons

Besides a few obvious reasons, such as accidents or tailgaters that press on the break frequently (which is proven to cause some congestion behind them), the real reason for some traffic jams may surprise you.  It seems MIT, using anonymous GPS data from cell phones, was able to track where traffic originated from in the city of Boston. What they found was that neighborhoods with  underdeveloped roads for larger traffic leaks out into major traffic zones, causing jams. Essentially they narrowed it down to a few folks who may live, or use back roads to cut rides shorter, causing those roads to become over trafficked. This overflow of cars, that aren’t designed to be there in the first place, causes people to be backed up in off ramps to those neighborhoods, which then leaks into the highway system… and you can guess what happens then.

But what does this data mean for us? For starters it’s revolutionary for city road planners. Now they get a live feed of where traffic flows and how they may be able to alleviate the congestion. By using this technique all over the US, all cities and towns can update roads they may have overlooked by adding lanes, better on and off ramps, or updating their mass transit system. MIT showed that the only real fix a city can do is by offering more mass transit options. The neighborhoods that cause backups may have inefficient bus or subway access, causing those neighborhoods to rely on automobiles instead. This causes more cars to be on the road than there needs to be.

Data from cell phones can be used to help the environment

Data from people using cell phones can also help with the environment, by helping to get more mass transit to people that need it we take more cars off the road. By taking more cars off the road we can cut down on air pollution. You can check out more about MIT’s traffic data here. The data is very interesting and may usher in a new age of mass transit and efficient road updates in the new future.



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