Press release issued: 28 May 2008
'Gridlock', featuring the work of Eddie Wilson from the University of Bristol, will go out on Channel 4 on Thursday 29 May 2008 at 9.00 pm.
Understanding the mechanisms that control these phantom stop-and-go jams lies at the heart of research being carried out by Dr Eddie Wilson at the University of Bristol, where a mathematical framework for forecasting traffic flow on motorways to help manage congestion is being developed. The aim of the project is to create a system that can use real-time information to predict traffic jams.
"In busy conditions, the action of just one driver is enough to cause a ripple which can magnify into a wave of traffic chaos," he explains. “The resulting queues are like waves, which move upstream against the traffic flow, and this is why you don't usually see what caused them because it may be many kilometres downstream."
Wilson will demonstrate how this works on Thursday 29 May in a TV programme called ‘Gridlock’, going out on Channel 4 at 9.00 pm.
“Congestion is here to stay and it's going to get worse,” Wilson added, “but we should at least give drivers some idea of how long their journey will take, by closing the gap between telling them what the speeds are at the moment and what the speed will be in a few hours time.”
In future, it will be possible to tap into a web page at home for advice on how long a planned journey will take. “We want to do traffic forecasting rather like we do weather forecasting already,” said Wilson. “The big difference is that in traffic you always have to take account of the complexity of human behaviour, whereas in weather the underlying physics is completely understood. The key to predicting and preventing jams is to understand drivers' behaviour in detail – that could take some time!”
To model driver behaviour more accurately, Dr Wilson is taking advantage of data collected as part of the Highways Agency's M42 Active Traffic Management system, to develop mathematical models of driver behaviour. His ultimate aim is to predict the initiation and propagation of stop-and-go waves in motorway traffic.