Sunday, November 30, 2008

Traffic Simulation as an Enabler

On an IBM website, there is a June, 2008 announcement about a software simulation program for traffic congestion:

Kyoto University and IBM's Tokyo Research Laboratory have developed a system that can simulate urban transport situations encompassing millions of individual vehicles in complex traffic interactions. A simulation can predict, for example, what will happen if a new office building, sports arena or other major facility is built and lead to improved planning of roads and public transportation.

"Imagine having the ability to ease congestion while curtailing pollution and accidents," said Prof. Toru Ishida, Department of Social Informatics, Kyoto University. "IBM and Kyoto University have found a way to do this before expensive and disruptive construction and other changes impact Kyoto's economy and its citizens. This is an example of how technology can aid smarter decision-making."

One such use for this predictive software is to help cities design congestive pricing schemes, as reported in the NY Times in an article by Ken Belson called "Importing a Decongestant for Midtown Streets"

In a taste of the future, Singapore, which has dabbled in congestion pricing perhaps longer than any city, is working with I.B.M. and others to develop technology that will predict traffic up to an hour in advance. The system fuses congestion fee data with information from video cameras, G.P.S. devices in taxis and sensors embedded in streets.

I laud the achievements of all involved in developing this very sophisticated software. I don't feel, however, that it will ever allow transportation based on wheeled vehicles to be much better than it is now. Better predictions of traffic flow will help traffic management specialists, for sure, and will let them make wiser choices about adding capacity, or restricting traffic with congestion pricing. But, no amount of predicting will ever allow automobiles and trucks to function smoothly in ice, snow, driving rain or fog. And no simulation will truly expand capacity as required to handle the extensive slowdowns that all metropolitan areas - suburbs as well as inner cities - experience. These periods of peak congestion often called "rush hour", but more appropriately "rush hours", having stretched out in many cases to three or four hour periods twice each work day.

As for congestion pricing, it can work in some ways where there is an alternative to driving a car in the restricted zone. Inner cities with mass transit, like London, have reduced car usage to somewhat because the mass transit of subways and buses does allow an alternative for those who don't want to pay the congestion surcharge. But, this will not work where the automobile is the only means to commute, and for the USA, at least, that is the case for the majority of people needing to travel. And even inner cities, by increasing demand on the mass transit, are still relying on either exceptionally costly to expand subway systems, or buses and perhaps light rail, which are at the mercy of the weather, just like all wheel based vehicles.

The only real answer to congestion is a transportation system where capacity is easily expanded, and works in all communities. The Aeroduct System that I have developed, and which I have discussed in numerous other blog posts, is transportation as it should be. Of course, it will still be important to predict in advance peak transportation periods, but in conjunction with the Aeroduct System, such simulation software can truly be of use. With its lightweight, easily elevated and stackable guideways, lower cost vehicles, inherent automation, weather immunity and numerous other advantages over wheel based systems, no community will ever experience long, frustrating periods of congestion. No community's transportation will be completely shut down due to the vagaries of weather. Traffic management will become an enabler on a scale magnitudes better than would ever be possible with cars and trucks.

I invite all those who are trying to make today's transportation better to investigate the Aeroduct System. They will find that their goals can finally be achieved.

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