We recently covered Braess’ paradox in class which involved a game in which drivers choose between two lanes, one which becomes increasingly slower as more and more people decide to use it, and the other which remains constant. After a certain limit the lane which was originally faster than the constant becomes slower and slower as more people decided to drive their cars using this lane, partially, if not theoretically, explaining the factors which cause traffic, namely here being an abundance of drivers making a similar decision which affects their travel time, for the worst. In real life this model doesn’t work as neatly as the smallest of decisions can have drastic effects on the traffic network at-large. For example, all it takes is one driver having an accident to increase the travel time for all the other drivers using the same road. In fact, a recent study would suggest that traffic doesn’t result from a macro-wide cause of too many drivers using the same road, it’s actually a micro-level problem with a couple individuals being responsible for the jam. Up until now recording traffic data was extremely tedious with data extraction taking months to years, but with the recent standardization of mobile smartphones, researchers are using cellphones to track commuters routes as well as travel times. What researchers found was that the majority of roads in the Boston Area were usually under-used during peak rush hours and the 2% that were overused were probably so because of their “betweeness” as they connect drivers to other popular roads. Therefore, they concluded, that traffic arose because of the tendencies of only a small sample of drivers who’s frequent use of a problematic lanes during peak hours caused congestion not only within the vicinity but far from it as well. Thus, to reduce the amount of time one spends in traffic you would have to make decisions based not on the level of traffic near you but rather far away as traffic generally functions as a ripple effect affecting those farthest from it as much as those closest to it. It seems that even given the breakthrough in the methods of studying this problematic phenomena it will continue to be a headache for those of us who drive.