New study says congestion could be lessened by reducing a small number of trips from certain neighborhoods

A new study suggests a targeted reduction of trips from certain locations could greatly reduce congestion:

To learn more about traffic congestion in the hope of finding ways of relieving it, an international team of scientists analyzed road use patterns in the San Francisco Bay area and the Boston area. They used mobile phone information from more than 1 million users over the course of three weeks to map out where drivers were concentrated on roads. (The data was rendered anonymous before the investigators looked at it, the study authors noted.)

Based on their analysis, the researchers suggest that certain neighborhoods in these urban areas were home to drivers that caused major congestion. The scientists found that canceling just 1 percent of trips from these neighborhoods could drastically reduce travel time that was otherwise added due to congestion.

“In the Boston area, we found that canceling 1 percent of trips by select drivers in the Massachusetts municipalities of Everett, Marlborough, Lawrence, Lowell and Waltham would cut all drivers’ additional commuting time caused by traffic congestion by 18 percent,” said researcher Marta González, a complex-systems scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In the San Francisco area, canceling trips by drivers from Dublin, Hayward, San Jose, San Rafael and parts of San Ramon would cut 14 percent from the travel time of other drivers.”

The location of these neighborhoods apparently makes it easy for them to impact their cities. “Being able to detect and then release the congestion in the most affected arteries improves the functioning of the entire coronary system,” González  told TechNewsDaily.

There are many ways people might reduce the number of drivers hitting the road from these key neighborhoods, the scientists said. For instance, the authorities might encourage alternatives “such as public transportation, carpooling, flex time and working from home,” González said. Mobile phone apps that connect people using the same roads might help them coordinate carpooling, she added.

Two things stand out to me:

1. It seems like the advantage to this method is that it allows officials and drivers to target traffic flows from particular locations and then plan accordingly. More often, we settle for traffic solutions like adding more lanes over a stretch of highway or extending mass transit to a particular location. But this kind of analysis is able to help people target particular areas rather than having to apply catch-all solutions.

2. Collecting and using this data sounds very interesting. This is big data at work: taking information that is collected about over 1 million cell phone users and then using that information in a new way. It also allows researchers to see the system as a whole.

My next question would then be is it be easy politically to target particular areas for congestion reduction?

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