Every time we get behind the wheel we’re at the mercy of a multitude of variables that are simply out of our control. Weather, crashes and highway design flaws can all conspire to turn a short trip a drawn-out nightmare. But what is being done to minimize congestion? Municipalities can do a few things to reduce on-road problems, and so can you.
EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT IT, NOBODY DOES ANYTHING
Like calamine lotion on poison ivy blisters, real-time traffic displays can help alleviate uncomfortable congestion. Lighted billboards located alongside highways can alert motorists of potential delays and advise them to take alternate routes, saving time and helping reduce congestion.
Massachusetts is one state that’s implemented a system like this. So far 48 light-up message boards have been installed along their turnpike, Route 3. The displays operate seven days a week, from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Another way to help smooth out the flow of traffic is something known as ramp management. Traffic signals, signs or gates can be used to control the flow of vehicles entering and exiting a highway. Allowing traffic to merge at a steady, even pace helps balance demand with capacity, reducing incidents and delays.
When cars and trucks enter roadways in clumps, they introduce turbulence to the flow of traffic, which leads to slowdowns on both mainline highways and access ramps. That’s a double negative that results in NOTHING positive.
The implementation of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes is another strategy that can be put into practice by transportation agencies to help reduce problems. HOV lanes encourage people to carpool. If more individuals travel in fewer vehicles it results in lower overall congestion, plus drivers that take advantage of carpool lanes can generally expect shorter commute times and fewer hassles.
Beyond these strategies, municipalities can ration road space based on license plate-numbers. These restrictions prevent certain vehicles from driving in certain areas at certain times. It’s sounds like an uncertain plan but apparently it works.
Of course there are many other approaches to reducing traffic slowdowns. Governments can open up highway shoulders to handle extra traffic during peak travel times; they can charge greater fees on toll roads as necessary to help reduce congestion; they can even invest in reversible lanes that allow the flow of traffic to change direction based on demand. Believe it or not there’s a lot that can be done.
In spite of these congestion management plans there’s no magic bullet that will eliminate the issue. Funding and the space to build more roads is limited and increasingly drivers will simply have to deal with clogged highways.
IF YOU CAN BEAT ‘EM, AVOID ‘EM
Sometimes roadway congestion is simply unavoidable; it’s rush-hour, you’ve got to get somewhere across town and there’s only route available. However, if you’re headed to a destination and there are several different ways to take how do you choose the best one? Which course has the least congestion? Well, some more advanced navigation systems offer real time traffic data, but if you have an older car, don’t have navigation, or just don’t want to pay for a fancy new Nav unit, like just about everything else, there’s an app for that.
Waze is a nifty smartphone program that’s available for the iPhone, Android and Windows Phone platforms. It connects drivers and allows them to work together by sharing information about the road. It can help you steer clear of traffic, find time-saving routes and even avoid police speed traps.
How does this electronic sorcery work? Well, it couldn’t be simpler. You just open Waze, input your destination and drive. The app runs in the background and passively transmits road data and traffic information to other drivers using Waze.
But motorists can actively contribute as well. Waze allows them to report accidents or other hazards, which gives their fellow drivers a major heads up. Users can also go online and edit maps of their local area to make sure they’re up to date. They can even report gas prices so you can find the cheapest place to fill up.
All of this feel-good altruism may seem like a bit much, but it actually works. Millions of people use Waze – supposedly it’s the largest community of drivers in the world – and the little app has saved users untold hours of frustration.
As a sign of just how good Waze is, Google recently purchased it for $1.1 billion!
Traffic jams aren’t going away any time soon, or more likely any time ever. As more people hit the road congestion will likely become an ever-increasing problem. But as a driver you don’t necessarily have to take things sitting down. Aside from steering clear of peak travel times or poorly designed stretches of highway, smartphone applications like Waze are one tool you can use to help avoid on-road aggravation.