Traffic congestion physics?

May 25th update: turns out that not only were comments disabled while MSDN blogs were being upgraded, but the three posts I made during the upgrade got deleted, too! So I shall repost them now. Looks like I have some CSS work to make things look right again too. Sorry for the inconvenience…

While sitting in my car on the way home from work last night, I found myself wondering about the physics of traffic flow. I know this resembles fluid dynamics (for instance traffic can have standing waves), but I would be fascinated to learn more about it.

It is obviously important for city planners to understand the math behind traffic congestion, and every aspiring politician has strong views on the matter, but I wonder how much proper peer reviewed scientific research has gone into this? Anyone have links or books to recommend?

Comments (7)

  1. katt says:

    Don't have any good links but I read years ago that if people slowed down during rush hour in most places, they'd get to work faster.  The high speeds plus the starting and stopping and the slow reaction times of most people makes cars "pour" through roads a lot more slowly.

    I'd be interested to see if you do anything with Damyan's links.

  2. Marc Ueberall says:

    My university has got a department for Physics of Transport and Traffic ……/home

    You can find all relevant publications on this website.

  3. Daniel says:

    Shawn there is a severe lack of posts going on…

    I am sad 🙁

    Also a few years ago I made a small traffic simulator for a uni thing… It taught me that traffic congestion sucks. Alot.

  4. Adam says:

    A friend from college has written his PhD about something similar. You should probably be able to find some more references in it:

    Traffic Simulation Modelling of Rural Roads and Driver Assistance Systems…/FULLTEXT01

  5. Mike says:


    This months WIRED has an article on the subject of traffic jams.  It squeezes the whole thing nicely into a single formula.  Interesting stuff.

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