Friday, April 2, 2010

The Cross Bronx Expressway, Traffic Congestion as Entertainment

Sam Dolnick writes in today's New York Times about the congested Cross Bronx Expressway, which is considered one of the most congested roadways in the US, with 184,000 cars traveling on it daily, according to the New York State Department of Transportation. What is particularly interesting about the article is that for many (not those stuck in traffic) but those who can watch (or hear) the traffic flow, the patterns and sounds are rather captivating and, sometimes, even soothing. For local residents, the traffic with multiple modes of vehicles from trucks to cars, provides entertainment and distraction. Some even gawk whenever the sounds of screeching wheels and brakes greet them (but it seems that accidents are rather rare).

Some drivers, on the other hand, will do anything possible to avoid the Cross Bronx Expressway, traveling dozens of miles via alternative routes. One of these, quoted in the article is Mr. Nolan, a traffic reporter for WPLJ-FM, who has watched the Cross Bronx Expressway for 30 years: I absolutely, positively, completely, totally believe that that is the worst road in the metropolitan New York area. I can’t imagine there being a worse road anywhere. He proceeds in the article to commiserate about relatives being stuck there for hours and holidays ruined, as a result.

Flows on networks fascinate and captivate. What I enjoy is modeling and studying the phenomena that traffic represents from transportation networks and logistical networks to bits and bytes on the Internet. Swarms of drivers, acting independently, ultimately converge and end up at their destinations, following the pathways of roads and byways. Transportation networks are complex organisms through which vehicles circulate. Flying in an airplane at night and seeing the lights of vehicles moving (especially over New York City) is a wondrous experience that I never tire of (but then again, I am not stuck in traffic but flying over it).

Also, I wonder what the pollution emissions are around the Cross Bronx Expressway and what kinds of particles the neighboring residents are breathing as the cars idle.