Selfish “Traffic”-ing

In February’s Scientific American, you will be astonished to learn that closing streets and removing traffic lights expedites urban travel (see “Detours by Design”).  According to Michael Gastner who is a computer scientist at the Santa Fe Institute, traffic congestion is facilitated by “selfish drivers;” those individuals who seek the shortest route by means of utilizing side streets. Such selfishness is taxing on drivers who act unselfishlly, that is, they coordinate their driving stategy in a manner that benefits the entire group (i.e. by tailing each other [but no rubbernecking, please!]). Hence, selfish drivers antagonize this strategic coordination, and increase what Gastner refers to as the “price of anarchy.”

Moreover, closing roads and removing traffic lights will prevent selfish drivers from choosing alternative traffic routes, and will ultimately reduce the “price of anarchy.” This experimental design has already been instituted in Seoul, and has tremendously improved traffic flow.

While reading this article, I thought about my own driving experiences in New York City and Boston. In New York, it takes 20 min to drive 30 blocks on Broadway uptown. In the outbounds of Boston, a drive of a comparable distance is 4 times as long. Perhaps this disparity is explained through the fact that New York City has four main roads of travel (Amsterdam, Broadway, Park, and Fifth) while Boston has Boylston, Charles, Park, Summer, Berkeley, Massachusetts Ave…etc etc…

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