June 16, 2009

New MIT model could lead to better roads

Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematicians have developed a computer model describing how and under what conditions traffic backups occur.

The researchers said countless hours are lost in U.S. traffic jams every year and most frustrating are the jams that occur with no apparent cause -- no accident, stalled vehicles or lanes closed for construction.

The MIT mathematicians found a key to their research was the realization that the mathematics of such traffic jams, which the researchers call jamitons, are strikingly similar to the equations that describe detonation waves produced by explosions, Aslan Kasimov, a MIT lecturer said. That discovery enabled the team to solve traffic jam equations that were first theorized in the 1950s.

The scientists said their model can also help determine safe speed limits and identify stretches of road where high densities of traffic -- hot spots for accidents -- are likely to form.

The research that included Morris Flynn, MIT math instructors Jean-Christophe Nave and Benjamin Seibold and Professor Rodolfo Rosales appeared in the May 26 online edition of the journal Physical Review E.