Monday, July 09, 2007

Chaos

#265 Chaos

A recent report said two interesting things about traffic. Thing one: it's
getting worse as cityscapes spread farther and farther into the suburbs.


Thing two: traffic jams in the city of New York have diminished, probably, says
the study, for the same reason.

Well, to those of us who drive in New York City, even infrequently, the
diminution is hard to notice. maybe impossible to notice.


We all know the reason for traffic jamming in general. Too many cars, too few
people in the cars. Bad and/or inconsiderate drivers, mass transit that's less
seductive and less comprehensive than municipalities say it is.

Those explanations are all valid, especially in combination. But there's
another reason -- and this is one that no amount of road improving, driver
improving, subway improving, HOV lanes, rail connections, lecturing and
hectoring from officialdom will cure.

It is called chaos.

When most of us hear that word, we think of our everyday lives... and that's not
entirely wrong. In the course of daily events, chaos is kind of like Murphy’s
Law meets your appointment schedule.

In physics -- it's similar.

The best example involves us describing (oh goodness!) a lit cigarette resting
in an ash tray.

The smoke from the cigarette drifts upward in a column... and then at a certain
point, it begins to diffuse into the air. The part that diffuses into the air
is the chaos part.

Here’s how it works in traffic:

you're buzzing along the highway going a steady 65 on a straightaway. Traffic
is moderate, but moving.

Then, all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, you have to slow to a crawl.

the moving traffic is like the column of cigarette smoke, and all of a sudden,
you get to the part that's like the top of the column where the smoke goes in
every which direction.

What causes this on the highway?

Could be anything.

Here’s an example.

A mile ahead of you, someone's listening to this program on a car
radio and hears something outrageous. Or maybe the driver's nose itches. This
diverts the attention for a fraction of a second during which he or she let's up
a little on the gas... or changes lanes... or scratches the itch or changes the
station.

Drivers behind and to the sides see and react to it... tap their own brakes...
and all of a sudden, the average speed drops from 55 to 20.

You can cut this down by leaving the radio tuned to this program, knowing where
you're going and paying attention.

We can't help you with the itch.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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