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Some traffic jams have no apparent cause — no accident, no stalled vehicle, no lanes closed for construction. There is no easy way out of these maddening messes once you're stuck in them, but a new study has figured out how to reduce the odds of them forming at all.
These phantom jams can form when there is a heavy volume of cars on the road. In that high density of traffic, small disturbances (a driver hitting the brake too hard, or getting too close to another car) can quickly become amplified into a full-blown, self-sustaining traffic jam.
A team of MIT mathematicians has developed a model that describes how and under what conditions such jams form, which could help road designers minimize the odds of their formation.
'Jamitons' — how they form and spread
Key to the new study is the realization that the mathematics of such jams, which the researchers call "jamitons," are strikingly similar to the equations that describe detonation waves produced by explosions, said Aslan Kasimov, lecturer in MIT's Department of Mathematics. That discovery enabled the team to solve traffic jam equations that were first theorized in the 1950s.
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, said Morris Flynn, lead author of the paper on the work in the May 26 in the online edition of Physical Review E.
However, the model could help engineers design roads with enough capacity to keep traffic density low enough to minimize the occurrence of such jams, says Flynn, a former MIT math instructor now at the
The model can also help determine safe speed limits and identify stretches of road where high densities of traffic — hot spots for accidents — are likely to form.
Source and Full Story: MSNBC