The term traffic is a term that is employed regularly. It has a strong potential to surface in a conversation any time we discuss a car ride, a recent plane trip, or website performance insights. The two first examples illustrate the concrete notion of traffic: moving vehicles on a road or highway. However, the third example involves data as the moving units, which is an abstract concept. Besides, any form of traffic encounters limitations at one point or another. When vehicles are concerned, the constraints could be the number of wheels on the roads, their widths, their associated speed limits, the number of stopping points, etc. If data is concerned, the main obstacle is bandwidth. It is, thus, more convenient to solve issues relating to data traffic than to solve for any other limitations encountered through vehicle traffic. It is, therefore, completely normal to notice car traffic more than website data traffic. We then become fully aware of transportation infrastructure shortfalls.
The first time I, as a driver, encountered a traffic jam was when I joined my friends on a road trip to Toronto. Before we engaged in the drive, the three of us had all agreed to switch drivers every one-third of the road ahead. I was not a very experienced driver as I got my full driver’s license four years ago, and I didn’t regularly drive for the last two years. As such, I decided to pick the second third of the ride as my share. It allowed me to avoid driving in Montreal or in Toronto. I wanted to avoid the high confluence of vehicles in the cities and the increasing number of highway lanes found near Toronto. It turns out that traffic jams can happen anywhere, especially halfway down the road.
From my perspective, being stuck in a traffic jam has never been a tremendous cause for distress. I realized that traffic jams are bound to occur if you add enough factors into an equation, such as the time, the speed limit, potential accidents, road maintenance, etc. In my case, the location and the time had a lot to do with the traffic jam I encountered near the Greater Toronto Area. However, for some people, this is a genuine cause for urgency. They will attempt dangerous manoeuvres to get ahead of traffic at all costs. This situation had happened right in front of me. A car was tailgating us and started acting rather annoyed. We were in the left lane, and the driver behind us was trying to wiggle his way into the right one to attempt an illegal overpass. Yet, the traffic was so thick that the effort was in vain. Still, the driver seemed positively undeterred and tried his luck on the left side of the highway. Upon coming back onto the road, he lost control of his vehicle, at least for a moment. As far as I know, there was no accident, but this irresponsible behaviour certainly had the potential to do as much.
Even though losing our temper and attempting dangerous manoeuvres are, at the very least, discouraged and at the very worst completely illegal, many people are engaging in such behaviours. The chances of encountering such conduct are definitely in our disfavour. However, that does not explain why people get so annoyed in the first place. I suppose that it could potentially stem from a contribution of both our past experiences dealing with traffic and our intrinsic appreciation for control. From the first moment we learn how to drive, we become well aware of the tremendous lack of responsiveness other drivers display. Over time, the accumulation of these experiences, where patience is required, can wear away our efforts to remain cool-headed.
What became extremely evident when I drove for the first time was the amount of time wasted at stops. It certainly did not matter if it happened at a circulation light or a sign; the result was the same. People are generally slow to react, which can cause either confusion or delay, if not both. This observation has led me to think of ways to optimize traffic fluidity. If everyone follows the three seconds stop rules at the signs, there would be no delays. However, given that, naturally, our reactions are delayed, this is nearly impossible. There are many factors at play here. Familiarity and experience can significantly increase responsiveness, but fatigue and distraction can also greatly decrease it. The best situation would require you to be well-rested, alert, experienced and familiar with the surrounding. We all can agree that it is a lot to ask.
As for new drivers, becoming familiar with the logistics of stopping and then driving again necessitate time to acquire. However, even the most experienced driver can encounter a situation at a stop where some specifics are unknown, although the chances are small of a similar situation happening. Thus, we could extrapolate that experienced drivers are by default more responsive, but it’s not what usually happens. The more experienced we are, the less we tend to favour alertness. Driving then becomes routine and somewhat automatic. We tend to demonstrate overconfidence and take on risks that in normal circumstances should have been avoided. The best we can manage is to try our hardest at optimizing our responsiveness. That is to drive purposefully and to the best of our abilities.
Nonetheless, the variable responsiveness of drivers causes our waiting time to be longer than expected. Over time, these extended halts can lead to the manifestation of impatience. My solution would be to tie all cars going in the same direction head-to-tail to have only one main driver in charge of the response. This way, we could avoid the cumulative and sometimes amplified effects of everyone’s lingering. In reality, this option is not reasonable since all of our destinations are different. This solution would require us to change the connection manually each time, which would oblige all cars to stop. Fortunately, many governments explored alternative methods to improve traffic fluidity, one of them being roundabouts.
The notions acquired from biological systems were a great inspiration for the creation of roundabouts. Our blood doesn’t have to wait at intersections for its turn to pass; it merely follows the current that already exists. Roundabouts simulate this current by having a one-way circle-shaped road with multiple branches. If the traffic is slow, the waiting time nearly vanishes. Only when traffic gets thicker and confusion kicks in that waiting time appears again. So, to some extent, this solution was a worthy one.
However, all I’ve said so far was regarding slowing down traffic fluidity as an impediment. This image is not entirely correct. In some situations, reducing overall traffic speed is an honourable quest. Take, for example, small roads where lots of children are playing. You certainly don’t want the kids to be run-over, although sometimes you may very well be tempted to tell them to go play in traffic. There are two legitimate solutions adopted in this case: the establishment of speed-bumps and the implementation of additional stop signs (out of intersection perimeters). All that said, different approaches need considerations depending on your objectives. Still, we all need to keep in mind that we are not alone getting annoyed by traffic. For this reason, let’s work extra hard to keep our cool.
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