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Boston Using IBM Engineers To Solve Traffic Problems 178

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-parking dept.
vu1986 writes "Boston won the opportunity to pick the brains of six IBM engineers — including one from Tokyo — who flew in to check out its traffic situation and figure out a way to consolidate, analyze and use existing traffic data feeds as well as new data sources including (of course) Twitter feeds, to ease the city's notorious traffic jams."
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Boston Using IBM Engineers To Solve Traffic Problems

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  • Don't forget nuclear explosives.

  • by Cornwallis (1188489) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @05:29PM (#40512465)

    Easy peasy. Give me a billion dollars or so... let me build a really, really big tunnel... that'll solve all the problems... I'll call it the "Big Dig" so everyone can have really folksy stories about it. Problem solved!

    Oh, wait...

  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @05:40PM (#40512505)
    All the IBM engineers will do is decrease the issue of traffic by a couple of percent, maybe raise efficiency by 10-20% here and there, but the real issue is cultural. Cars suck for a dense urban environment, you need people on bikes, carpooling and the most important thing: good public transportation.

    Good public transportation means though forcing cars out from city centers by creating bus lanes, creating tram lines on previously car-only roads, building enough parking space at the edge of the city where people could switch over to public transport, etc.
    • by garcia (6573)

      In my limited experience in Boston, the problem wasn't the people living within the dense urban environment, it was the people coming in from the suburbs that was the problem. In fact, it was only some of those people because many drove to train stations and rode those into the urban center.

      Now, contrast that with Los Angeles where people can live less than five miles from work but still drive in knowing it will take 45+ minutes--at least twice as long as it would by bike and almost as much time as it would

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        when I was in LA, I walked

        I'm not from the US but I feel fairly confident in stating that walking is illegal in LA..

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      All the IBM engineers will do is decrease the issue of traffic by a couple of percent, maybe raise efficiency by 10-20% here and there, but the real issue is cultural. Cars suck for a dense urban environment, you need people on bikes, carpooling and the most important thing: good public transportation.

      Good public transportation means though forcing cars out from city centers by creating bus lanes, creating tram lines on previously car-only roads, building enough parking space at the edge of the city where p

      • by dr2chase (653338)

        Do you really need electric assist on the folding bike that you use to commute? This seems like one of those best-is-enemy-of-the-adequate situations. Or if you have a hilly commute at the home end, get some sort of a cargo bike with electric assist, carry the folder to the train, take the folder to the train. Note that the combined cost of a cargo bike with e-assist AND a quality folding bicycle ($5k ought to do it) is a fraction of the cost of a new car. Used cars are cheaper, but so are used bikes (a

        • by rolfwind (528248)

          Actually, my point was that I wanted to use full size bikes with transit, as their electric options are vastly cheaper than an electric folding bike (which is already expensive). But with a lot of mass transit as it is today, only a folding bike (such as the brompton) is the only thing allowed on board. Add electric to that and it becomes at least a $2500 proposition. A regular shitty electric bike can be had for $500.

          My nearest rail station back then was 25 minutes (+ train ride of 20 mins) so yeah, cut

          • by dr2chase (653338)

            Full size bikes are actually a problem, and I speak as someone who wishes it were easier. If you look at the "bike cars" run by CalTrain between San Jose and San Francisco, they devote half the floor space (i.e., 3/8 the capacity of one car) to a mere 40 bicycles (8 stacks of 5). That's a big capacity hit (if Caltrain actually ran full of people on a regular basis). The time to load and unload is also an issue; it takes longer, and that can delay trains, which can delay the trains behind them.

            I don't do

      • I used to have the same problem, then I got fit enough to ditch the train for all distances under 25 km (also uphill).

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @06:20PM (#40512649)

      The problem with public transportation, is that the rich folks think that's how the poor folks ride to work. Rich folks ride to work in a big 'ole SUV, because if they use public transportation, they won't feel rich anymore.

      So all you need to do, is to introduce 1st and 2nd class compartments in public transportation. That way, rich folks can still feel rich by traveling 1st class, and the poor folks can feel better about themselves, because they ride in the same transportation as the rich folks.

      Obviously, a win-win.

      Oh, and maybe free in-transit lap dances in the 1st class would make it even more attractive.

      • Depends on the location.

        In my time on the MBTA, my informal observations have been as follows:

        In dense core areas, usually covered by the subway portion of the MBTA system, you see a pretty fair proportion of suits and techies and whatnot. Certainly times and places where the urine-scented/vaguely menacing/talking to voices only they can hear can be found; but the pleasure of crawling through traffic and paying exorbitant rates for parking is not a luxury good. Subways aren't all fun, of course; but d
        • by dr2chase (653338)

          The busses-to-the-burbs go about the same distance as my happy-to-bike-it range, but my bike is cheaper, has more flexible hours, and is (door-to-door) faster. People need not sweat, if they're allergic to exercise; small scooters (electric or infernal combustion) are faster than the bike, have adequate range, and not as likely to cause traffic jams (because they are smaller).

      • No, because traveling by car is better than traveling by train. A lot of people feel so (including me), regardless of richness or poorness. You get there faster, you don't have to worry about transportation to the station, you can pick up a carload of groceries on the way home, etc. In short, a car gives you more flexibility, freedom, and speed.

        Of course, in a really dense city, with bad traffic, the speed issue goes away, but there aren't many US cities like that.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        The problem with public transportation, is that the rich folks think that's how the poor folks ride to work. Rich folks ride to work in a big 'ole SUV, because if they use public transportation, they won't feel rich anymore.

        Slap SUVs with a big fat fine if they want to enter the city center, like London but even more money. Then spend the money on improving public transportation... Having first and second class compartments won't work, but you can have first and second class public transportation. It's called taxis and buses, respectively. Often there's even fancy taxis and generic taxis.

      • by bosef1 (208943)

        I agree with the sentiment that people feel like public transportation is for the "poor", especially the bus. I have often felt that you could actually encourage more "rich" people to take the bus for communiting if you changed nothing about the experience but raised the price to, say $5-7 for a one-way trip instead of $1-2. That would serve to exclude the creepy homeless guys, dangerous teenagers, etc. You would still have to run $1-2 busses for the "poor", and all the busses would run on the same route

        • You could call them Express and stop are more only at more appropriate stops.

        • They would have to make different stops, nobody in an armani suit wants to stand within spitting distance of some down on his luck guy in grubby clothes and dishevled hair.

          • LOL. Are they afraid that the guy with grubby clothes will spit on them, and they want stay out of his spitting range?

      • Again, it's cultural. In Shanghai, I see all sorts of people taking the bus, taxi, and subway system. The population density is so high that owning a car is to troublesome. Especially during rush hour (LA California has nothing on Shanghai, trust me). So for all the shoving and pushing around, no one takes it personally. Income ranges from the rich to the dirt begger. In America however, what you suggested might be the only way.

      • by ljw1004 (764174)

        Or do it like the Paris metro, where 1st and 2nd class carriages in the train are absolutely identical, but tickets for the 1st class carriages cost more.

        It's an elegant self-adjusting mechanism to make the 1st class carriages less crowded and hence more desirable.

    • the real issue is cultural

      Yeah, and they didn't need to import talent to figure this out.

      Some guy at MIT published a paper a few years back indicating that people driving like assholes in Boston creates traffic waves which increases congestion by NN % where NN is some large number.

      I need to journey down to Mordor once in a while, and I'll tell you - using a turn signal on the highway near Boston is considered a sign of weakness that needs to be punished by the herd.

      Oh, but IBM was twenty years late and fift

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @05:57PM (#40512563) Homepage Journal

    Have you ever been to Berlin? I was there several years ago and watched the traffic from the old East German TV tower that was nothing to do with spying at all, not even a little bit. It was amazing how smoothly the traffic ran. It was like clockwork.

    According to a local colleague a) they adjust the lights to favor traffic moving away from busy areas and restrict it entering the jams and b) anyone blocking an intersection is taken out und geschossen.

    Contrast that with Brussels or Paris where you can sit through three green lights because some imbecile on the cross street is stopped in the middle of the intersection.

    • You would be surprised - or maybe not - at how hard the concept of "Don't block the box!" is for Americans to grasp.
      • by Bigbutt (65939)

        While I don't ride in rush hour any more, when I did, I found that if I left any space between me and the car in front of me, some pinhead would slip in and take it leaving me at the light anyway. So it's block the box or add 5 or 10 minutes to my commute.

        I switched to commuter rail and motorcycle, then moved to a less congested part of the country and now ride a bicycle or motorcycle to work.

        [John]

  • by decora (1710862) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @06:10PM (#40512609) Journal

    right under the city? it would probably solve those traffic problems for good! also, it wouldn't cost that much, and it wouldn't take that long.

  • by Ichijo (607641) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @06:32PM (#40512697) Homepage Journal

    Given that traffic congestion is a shortage of available road space for the number of motorists who want to use it at a particular time, the solution is obvious to anyone with an ounce of economic sense: stop setting the price below the going rate determined by supply and demand [wikipedia.org]. Get rid of the government-imposed price ceilings on freeway travel, and suddenly the traffic jams will start to clear up [sfgate.com].

    Ideally, the price should rise and fall throughout the day [wikipedia.org] to keep demand constant and prevent overcharging anyone.

    • Re:Free the market (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @07:23PM (#40512929) Journal
      The trick with market-based pricing of 'public' infrastructure(whether or not this is an argument against it is a matter of taste) is that it requires you to take a sharp, and not uncontroversial, stand on the purpose and meaning of 'public'...

      There are really three-ish basic possible positions(though it is certainly possible to mix and match and hedge and squirm a bit at the cost of some complexity, and certain sorts of 'public' things fit more naturally into one category or another).

      1. 'Public' in the sense that ownership is vested in some body that represents 'the people', but exploited under the usual conditions of profit maximization. This one crops up with mineral and other natural resources most frequently. The nominal owner is 'the people'; but the obvious expectation is that 'the people' will sell/lease/etc. the asset for the best possible price to some other entity and then rake in the cash.

      2. 'Public' in the sense that ownership is vested in some body that represents 'the people', and that the property in question is, in some sense, 'for' the people as well as owned by them. National Parks are the most obvious example. They are 'owned' in approximately the same sense as above; but public opinion would likely be hostile if we simply sold them off and cut everybody a check. There is a sense, often poorly articulated; but reflected in generally low ticket prices, that 'the people' should have enjoyment of them, as well as ownership.

      3. 'Public' in the sense of being a necessary response to market failure. Utilities are the most obvious example. Unlike #1, 'the people' are both the owners and the customers, so profit is generally seen as a bad thing; but unlike #2, where appeals to intangibles like 'national heritage' are common, public opinion generally just wants the system to run not-for-profit; but as efficiently as reasonably possible.

      If you adopt market-based pricing for roads, you are (though it is not polite to say so), adopting the theory that, if enough people cannot afford access to this 'public' feature, it will be more efficient, and more pleasant for the remainder who can. This isn't necessarily wrong; but it implies that you are essentially rejecting the notion that 'the people' have any right, beyond that of 'customer', to the enjoyment of a 'public' facility. This is pretty uncontroversial in something like a mineral deposit(Show of hands: would you rather have the right to grab your shovel and go get your share of the bauxite, or just sell the mineral rights to FooCorp and get your share of the proceeds?); but becomes a bit thornier when the 'public' asset is something more like a utility. Is a 'public' road a thing that 'the people' have the right to use, or is it something that 'the people' sell, by means of their representatives, to the subset of them that can afford the equilibrium price of access?
      • Re:Free the market (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Ichijo (607641) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:37PM (#40513483) Homepage Journal

        If the revenue from congestion tolling a road is invested back into the road, it lowers the amount of money that must be collected from the gas tax in order to maintain the road. Therefore, congestion pricing transfers wealth from people who can afford the market rate for travel during peak periods to those who can only afford the off-peak rates.

        And because the gas tax and other user fees only cover 65% of the cost of the roads [subsidyscope.com], then congestion pricing also reduces the road's maintenance burden on people who cannot afford to drive at all.

        • The case of non-drivers may well be so, depending on the locality's tax structure and road funding; but the 'wealth transfer' from peak users to off-peak users is a phantom that only shows up if you ignore the fact that they are getting two different products. More or less tautologically, 'peak periods' are whatever times are most desirable for driving, so the people paying more are the people purchasing the better product and the people paying less are the ones unable or unwilling to buy anything other tha
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Given that traffic congestion is a shortage of available road space for the number of motorists who want to use it at a particular time, the solution is obvious to anyone with an ounce of economic sense: stop setting the price below the going rate determined by supply and demand [wikipedia.org]. Get rid of the government-imposed price ceilings on freeway travel, and suddenly the traffic jams will start to clear up [sfgate.com].

      Ideally, the price should rise and fall throughout the day [wikipedia.org] to keep demand constant and prevent overcharging anyone.

      Meanwhile, in the real world, most people have to get to and from work at pretty set times determined by their employer. There is no "free market" or "supply and demand" although the right wingers will, of course, say that you can always leave your job, start up your own consultancy business and so on.

      Public roads should be for everyone to access equally. If you're really that rich that you can't face using the same roads as the plebs, buy a fucking helicopter, (but take care not to have too many lesso

  • My results (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slashmydots (2189826) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @06:49PM (#40512783)
    My lab of engineers have came up with this. Take away the 1% of drivers who have no business driving and hold up hundreds of people behind them and get in multiple accidents that cause a 10 mile backup and traffic will move a hell of a lot better than 1% better. There have been numerous studies saying 1 person can affect hundreds of people in any traffic system. So get grandma, the 20 year old semis, and borderline psychological problems people off the road and that'll do better than any AI routing.
    • The secondary problem is that there are a lot more than just 1% of the drivers being lousy drivers in the Boston area. It's not unusual to run into problems with drivers that a) will not let other drivers merge (resulting in traffic jams around on ramps), b) will speed up when the light turns yellow, c) will sit in the middle of the intersection after the light turns red, and d) change lanes without signaling their intentions followed by slowing down.
    • by rhsanborn (773855)
      It's a lot more than 1% in most situations. Poll drivers on their driving habits, and almost every one will tell you they are a good driver, and everyone else is bad. Ask them if they think they are capable of text and driving and they will say they can, but others are dangerous when they text and drive ...
  • CSMA/CD (Score:5, Funny)

    by PPH (736903) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @06:49PM (#40512787)
    Everyone goes. When a collision is detected, everyone backs up and tries again.
  • Here's an idea: (Score:3, Informative)

    by Voogru (2503382) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @06:57PM (#40512819)
    Get rid of the damn traffic lights.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZS_wjo378h4 [youtube.com]
    The only problem is they can't put red light cameras for free money, oh no.
  • TRAFFIC "EXPERIMENTS" AND A CURE FOR WAVES & JAMS
    1998 William Beaty Electrical Engineer

    My first 'experiment': accidentally erasing waves!
    Once upon a time, years ago, I was driving through a number of stop/go traffic waves on I-520 at rush hour in Seattle. I decided to try something. On a day when I immediately started hitting the usual "waves" of stopped cars, I decided to drive smoothly. Rather than repeatedly rushing ahead with everyone else, only to come to a halt, I decided to try to move at the ave

    • by baegucb (18706)

      There is no I-520 in Seattle. Wiki shows an I-520 in Georgia. There's a Washington state route 520. And slowing up to 35 on that route rated for 55 will make your commute easier, not so much for the people behind you. (The big slowdown has been the floating bridge, which is being replaced, and is now tolled).

    • I've done this on occasion and it seems to work quite nicely as I find I'm rarely braking. The cars behind me enjoy a nice smooth flow and since there is usually a space in front of me others can easily merge.

      Don't confuse this with driving slow. One average I'm going approximately the same speed as the stop-and-go cars in front. If I see congestion up ahead I take my foot off the accelerator and try to time it so that the car in front is just starting to get going again just as I arrive.

      • If I'm in the right mood I've done this, and semi truck drivers seem to routinely drive like this, probably more out of self interest than altruistic intent. Avoid shifting, avoid brake wear, probably minimizes fuel usage too.

        It seems to have a positive impact on traffic flow. Plus there's always some asshole behind you who's just furious at you driving "slow". Pissing off that guy can be fun.

        In fact you're staying next to the same set of about 10 cars in the other lanes the whole time, so there's no negati

      • by loom_weaver

        I've done this on occasion and it seems to work quite nicely as I find I'm rarely braking. The cars behind me enjoy a nice smooth flow and since there is usually a space in front of me others can easily merge.

        The only problem with this method is that it just doesn't work on multi-lane roads. There are always asshats that jump into the gap and braking...

        m

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      That's great, but it only works with a competent, conscientous driver, and most people aren't.

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @07:27PM (#40512945)

    The IBM guys are going to insist that every car's firmware gets a license for Lotus Notes.

  • 1) Throw in a number of round-a-bouts where stop signs are (round-a-bouts are much better than stop signs for handling traffic flow). 2) re-time a number of stop-lights. 3) a new layer of traffic: Basically add in rail underground, or better yet, and much cheaper, put elevated monorail around the area.
    • by Ksevio (865461)
      They gave that a try in a few places - it didn't really work out as you can see in this google maps shot: https://maps.google.com/?ll=42.334109,-71.104866&spn=0.001036,0.001206&z=20 [google.com]
      • by xaxa (988988)

        A modern roundabout [google.com] has spiralling lanes, that guide you to the correct exit. Remembering the UK drives on the left, follow a car through a right turn -- the innermost lane when entering the roundabout becomes the outermost lane when the car reaches the correct exit (or next-but-outermost, sometimes, if the outgoing exit has two lanes).

        Roundabout aficionados may wish to follow the main road (above) east a little, to see this [google.com]. I can see eight.

  • could probably give them a few ideas regarding moving people around in a congested area.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      could probably give them a few ideas regarding moving people around in a congested area.

      But didn't IBM also employ their computing and engineering knowledge to help the Nazis more efficiently solve their Jewish Problem?

      • by i.r.id10t (595143)

        The record keeping at least...

        But then, IBM also made M1 Carbines during WW2, which were used to fight the Germans (and Japanese, and later Koreans).

        Of course, the M1 Carbines could also be used to solve traffic problems....

  • This isn't about solving a traffic problem. It's about solving an information distribution problem. IBM will not be working on traffic at all, but will be working with traffic systems to report on them, in real time, to the population.

    I've always had the idea that every car should have 3GPS in it (3G data GPS) that reports start and destination to a central server, and the central server reports back a preferred route based on real-time traffic and road conditions (including expected road conditions base
    • Because the guy in the garage doesn't have the proper credentials to go with what he knows.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Yes, I realize that the libertarian-leaning Slashdot would hate this idea, and I'm aware of the privacy and security issues. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't massively improve traffic flow at a relatively low cost.

      You don't have to force it on people; offer them subsidized GPS with the feature (show them ads when they route or something) and they'll flock to it in droves. And only a percentage of people have to have it for there to be a significant improvement...

  • BUT is is pretty expensive and you will have to step on LOTS of toes do it.

    So consider the following. The city of Melbourne has 75km of freeway that leads into and out of the city core. The rebuilt the road and did the following:>/p>

    • Instrumented the every lane on the freeway with detectors ever 500 meters
    • Instrumented the every off ramp on the freeway
    • Metered every on ramp to freeway.
    • Placed Multi-Function information signs WELL before every on ramp to the freeway
    • Placed variable timing centrally
  • Boston has a ridiculous street layout, probably a side effect of growing organically hundreds of years before cars.
    I wonder why cities with a good subway system have car traffic issues. (subway doesn't have the practical traffic issues or mental 'poor people only' issues that buses have)
    DC has planned grid streets and some of the same problems.

    • by dr2chase (653338)

      I think there are several reasons why a good subway system could be correlated with traffic jams.

      1) good subways are installed to alleviate pre-existing traffic jams, so there are already traffic jams

      2) good subways are correlated with old cities with weird layouts, so there are traffic jams

      3) good subways allow you to sustain more economic activity than could possibly be accommodated with cars alone. Some fraction of those people on the subway are "marginal" subway users, meaning, if the traffic were not

    • by MtViewGuy (197597)

      What is interesting is that in Japan, they have to deal with the problem of TOO many people using mass transit in certain parts of Tokyo and Osaka.

      For example, Shinjuku Station in Tokyo can be a nightmare for pedestrian traffic control, considering that 1) JR East has a LOT of trains going through that area, including a lot of trains that start and stop at that station, 2) Odakyu Electric Railway has its main station here, 3) Keio Corporation has its main station there, 4) both major subway operators in Tok

      • by xaxa (988988)

        That's not just Japan. At peak times many of the central stations in London have more people waiting on the platform that can get on the next train (generally you can get on the one after, and they're every 2-5 minutes, depending on the line).

        At exceptional times, like after a large event somewhere not-so-central (e.g. rock concert in a park), or a exceptionally large event somewhere central (maybe Gay Pride this weekend, which I think is the biggest event in London, although that doesn't have a "finishing

  • by xaoslaad (590527) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:29PM (#40514383)
    I had to drive into Boston for a few days last week. 1:45 minutes to get into the city the two days I drove myself. Over two hours when I took the train, because first I had to get to the subway. Then I had to wait for the first train, which kept stopping, so it was a long and delayed ride. Then I got to the the Green line and had to wait for another train. Eventually I got where I was going. When sitting in my car is more comfortable and faster, there is little incentive to take the train. Make public transportation faster and more reliable and maybe I'll be more inclined to take...

    Furthermore, on both days that I drove 15 minutes of my ride was getting through a short section of MA Ave, where the lights were perhaps 10's of yards apart. First light turns green. But the light ahead is red, so no one moves. Green light turns red, red light turns green. Next time the light turns green I'm able to move up just enough to get through the intersection and wait at the next red light... I don't know, maybe like get the lights back in sync now and again so traffic can actually flow smoothly?
  • The IBM engineers will be a sort of "Traffic Ring" in which the major roads are used IN TURN, so that all of the lanes go the same direction. Each building will await it's turn, then all the traffic from that building will go out at once for a specific period of time. During that period of time, traffic from that building will have complete use of the roads until the turn passes and it becomes the next building's turn.

    To enable this, there will be a Token passed from building to building. Whichever bui

  • Perhaps they can ask the Linux kernel developers to solve unemployment by coming up with novel resource scheduling algorithms, and ask the engineers at Google help solve the problem of populistic voting by introducing their page rank system into the elections.

  • Boston should have gone to a grid system, like Manhattan has, long ago.

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