China’s record jam and examining traffic math

In China last August, a massive traffic jam on the Beijing-Zhangjiakou highway in Huailai, caused by road construction in Beijing, stretched for dozens of miles and lasted for over ten days. The stretch of highway has been frequently congested, especially since large coalfields were discovered in Inner Mongolia.

It prompted the Wall Street Journal to write an article exploring the advances being made by mathematicians, engineers and planners in assessing and explaining traffic congestion. Whilst radar and GPS devices help pinpoint cars and relay traffic data in real time, sophisticated models can explain maddening phenomena such as phantom jams, when cars slow down even without congestion. But traffic mathematic’s strides in reducing congestion are modest, simply because the number of cars often exceeds roadway capacity.

The article explores a number of different groups grappling with research on traffic and ‘urban mobility’, and how traffic engineers are working to mitigate the challenges of ever-increasing traffic. It’s a thought-provoking read and gives an insight into the challenge of traffic modelling and planning.

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