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Maybe the question is, why do traffic jams and congestion occur in the first place.

If a problem exists around traffic jams and the grid locks that create more pollution, higher fuel usage, loss of workplace productivity, pressure on infrastructure etc, then we should also be tackling the issues of why people are travelling in the first place and start the problem solving at this point. After all today there would be thousands, maybe millions of people around the world who work from home and don’t contribute to the problem of traffic jams and the associated issues from this. The technology to keep people closer to their homes exists and performs well today! Why does the majority of the workforce start at the same time each day, if we could stagger this it would have positive impact. Its possibly a mindset that we need to change, that where we work and play doesn’t always mean travelling to a city or similar.

  • Jun 22 2011: One "solution" might be more PR for public transport. My brother, who lives in California, has been fighting his way through traffic to get to work every day for the past 10 years - he didn't know (until I, the visitor told him!) that there is a bus at the end of his street that takes him almost directly to his office for ONE DOLLAR A RIDE! You can't really beat that economically or efficiency-wise. The trouble is HE DIDN'T KNOW! Advertising should make it HIP to travel on public transport! The slight lack of spontaneity is well compensated for in the added free time to read a book, nap, check eMails, meet new people or just ponder! Pondering is something we should all do more of anyway - that's when good ideas occur!

    And another thing I've always wondered about (when you live in Europe, you often wonder why people in the US do things the way they do ;-D ) is why there aren't more neighbourhood shopping facilities. Instead of building enormous malls outside the towns, why not plan the mall in the center (or several centers) and make it HIP to take the local shuttle or bike or walk? My impression when I visit the US is that people even get in their cars when it would be FASTER to walk!

    Less manufacturing, more PR - after all, TED is about "Ideas Worth Spreading". Let's spread the idea, not yet another system!
    • Jun 22 2011: Where in the world you can take a bus with 1$?
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          Jun 27 2011: My issue with public transit when I took it was the irregularity of them; I realise they have a schedule and stick to it in most cases, but often they were running ahead or behind schedule and more often then not I was either missing early buses or waiting on late ones. As well, unfortunately, public transit, especially in the States is seen as anything BUT 'hip'; it is seen as the domain of the plebians and certainly not something you'd want to be seen in.Therefore, the majority of vehicles on the roads are still private single (or family ) use vehicles, so the roads are still clogged and the buses are still stuck in traffic jams.
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    Jun 28 2011: Well, have a look at this article from the NY times - http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/science/earth/27traffic.html

    As is discussed, european countries are basically making it difficult to drive cars in their major cities. They do this by limiting the speed of vehicles to 10 or 20mph, reducing the routes accessible by cars and reducing the green-signal time to 20 secs(at max) hence giving putting pedestrians at priority. They are largely promoting public transportation and eco-friendly alternatives.

    For a country like US, which is 'built around cars', a Bus Rapid Transport system can possibly work since it dedicates a separate lane for the bus so that the congestion due to cars does not effect the speed of public transportation. Further, if somewhat crazy rules (like europe) are applied in US, it might end up working out.

    Talking of developing nations, like India, Well spread and effective public transportation systems like Metro Rails and Monorails can not be constructed over night. Here, it is important to concentrate on making Bus Transportation better at handling the requirements of people.
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    Kou M

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    Jun 26 2011: What? are you asking us to question our investments?!! our dreams? what sustains the 2% richest population of our country?!! You better be careful sir. You are making too much sense and jeopardizing a lot of infrastructure. Lets go back to using tax payers money to sustain this faulty system and come up with a good sounding story to create mooooore infrastructure to keep this broken wheel turning!!
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      Jun 27 2011: haha do I detect a hint of sarcasm? Until we wake up from our daydreams we have so blindly put ourselves through, no gridlock will be overcome. How about we install something like this transit system in our cities. It's called Shweeb!! Shweebs were first an amusement park ride but now the designer is working to incorporate these recumbent tubes into cities for public transportation usage. And one of the best things about them is they are self propelled so people are exercising as well as traveling! check it out... http://shweeb.com/
  • Jun 25 2011: The real reason why traffic jams occur is one of simple economics: there is a limited supply of roads, and there is an unlimited demand to drive on them. So, basically, there are two proper approaches to dealing with this issue: increasing supply, or limiting and decreasing demand.

    Increasing supply is expensive and time consuming. Not only that, but if demand is unlimited, then the benefits derived from greater road capacity will be short lived, as after an initial fall in congestion, it will start to creep up again, as demand inevitably grows.

    The far more realistic approach, then, is to deal with demand. How do we do it? There are many options: encourage car-pooling, public transport, walking/cycling... but most of these don't seem to be popular enough, no matter how much encouragement there is. People just like the luxury of having their own car, it's fast, private, and comfortable.

    One solution that has proved rather effective in London is something called the "congestion charge", this is essentially a road toll, but without the toll booth (which in itself can cause congestion), with a price set on driving through London. I'm not sure on the actual figures, but I think it's somewhere between £6-£8 a day, less for motorbikes and taxis, public transport vehicles are excluded. This works particularly well because it's a price mechanism, and it works like all prices: if the driver deems that the benefit derived from paying the charge and driving through London is greater than the cost, they will pay it, and they will drive. If they don't, then they will forgo the charge, and find an alternate route/method of travel.

    Applying such charges on other heavily congested areas could reduce traffic jams, encourage public transport and walking/cycling (both with health benefits), and all help plug some of the financial gap that cities, states, and countries are currently having.

    Also, we could help reduce morning congestion simply by opening the schools later.
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      Kou M

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      Jun 26 2011: economics my friend is definitely not the right window to look through when trying to solve the issues that were raised because of economics.

      "You can not solve a problem on the same level of thinking you had when you created them" Albert Einstein
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        Jun 26 2011: Your point is definitely the best to aproach this problems. But the pseudo thinkers goes in the same way because they don't want to lose the opportunity to win.
      • Jun 27 2011: Kou M - just about every approach to everything is an economic approach.
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      Jun 27 2011: I agree with London's charge method. I believe this idea would work well if integrated in the United States. Hopefully, cities would become less congested and more pleasant to walk or bike through.
  • Jun 22 2011: Population density.

    Regardless of newer and better ways to manage travel, As long as the population for a given area continues to grow beyond the intended capacity, there will be problems with traffic.

    The solution is obvious but not simple. Reduce the population density.
    • Jun 22 2011: By your logic suburbs are the best form of spatial organisation, the problem is far more complicated.

      A low population density is still a problem if they all choose to converge on a downtown area by car. There are massive efficiencies in increasing population density in order to make public and non-motorised modes feasible. The problem is American cities are designed around the car so of course buses, trains and bicycles look like a stupid solution. We need to think beyond cars, themselves. Ford's presentation was a technologists view, ignoring the softer options of better planning which reduces the need to travel.

      Of course, he sets out from the view that travel is good but never asks, why do we need to travel and can we get the same services by travelling less. People do not travel (commute) for the sake of it, they do it to get some benefit. The problem is cities have been designed around cars and not around people and why they live in cities in the first place.
    • Jun 22 2011: One good solution is to develop a new unbeatable virus to wipe out half of the world's population.
      • Jun 23 2011: Haha!

        Seriously though, that is only a temporary solution and prone to all sorts of problems.

        While the libertarian in me is strongly opposed to forced population control, it does make some logical sense. It would not solve all traffic issues as populations can always concentrate themselves into one area at one time exceeding the areas population density.
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        Jun 23 2011: ya lets just kill a few so i can drive my car places quicker. lol
  • Jun 22 2011: Absolutely right. Why should everybody travel to city every morning and travel back in the evening? That is certainly an un-sustainable civil planning.
  • Jun 22 2011: Our cars are separated because humans take time to react to changing conditions. We leave a couple of seconds gap between each car so that we don't smash into each other.

    Google's autonomous cars will resolve a lot of the problems. By letting computers drive cars, you can move 10 cars in the space currently occupied by a single car.

    By having cars tightly packed at high speed, cars become far more fuel efficient because only the lead car is pushing air out of the way. The rest run in each others slipstream.

    By letting computers drive our cars, the time spent in traffic can be recouped as you could work, read, sleep or whatever. Moreover, you're not tied to a train schedule - you go when you want and get the benefits of trains without the trains.
  • Jun 22 2011: Travelling cannot be stopped as it is the need of the hour, every day. Roads are meant for that. What is required is to modify roads in such a way that there are lesser signals more diversions to decongest the traffic.
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    Jun 21 2011: I once heard a talk by a German official from the ministry of transportations who mentioned that traffic jams actually often take place because one or a few people don't drive properly or disobey certain rules and that these small mistakes creat some sort of ripple through the traffic like a snowball effect leading more and more people behind to slow down.

    In my opinion the solution to this problem and to most others in transportation is an efficient central transportation system. Btw, I very much dislike the idea of personal smart cars, it's just an improved version of the old system.
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      Jun 21 2011: i tottaly believe this, its the people who drive too slow, causing people to drive faster, or people who cause other to slow when they cut them off in busy traffic to get a little closer to there destination.