Sunday, February 2, 2014

60 Years of Urban Travel Forecasting - Traffic Continues to Fascinate

It is hard to miss all the recent news about transportation and traffic,  including the (in)famous so-called "traffic study" in New Jersey that closed lanes, which, in turn,  resulted in huge traffic jams on the George Washington bridge connecting the state of New Jersey with New York, lasting 4 days, and which has now even made international news as reported by the BBC.   The lane closures, it  seems, were instrumented under the guise of studying traffic flows, but, in reality, it is being alleged, they  were to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for "misallegiance." The scandal has even damaged the reputation and standing of the governor of New Jersey, Mr.  Christie,  a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Who would have thought that traffic mis(management) could be a political weapon or even the downfall of government officials?!

Travel forecasting, that our New Jersey "leaders" might have benefited from, has actually been studied for over 60 years!

And, there is a new book being written, a U.S. - U.K. collaboration between Professors David E. Boyce and Huw Williams, which, I am told, is nearing completion on this very topic. I was contacted by Professor Boyce a few weeks ago to review Chapter 7 of the book, which, I believe, will be published by Edward Elgar Publishing, and should be about 700 pages! Chapter 7 is on Transportation Network Equilibrium, a topic very near and dear to me. What I especially like about this chapter (and book) is the tracing of the intellectual history of the various discoveries in terms of mathematical model building and algorithms, coupled with tensions between academics and practitioners, in a sense, in that the former want to get the latest advances into practice as soon as possible with many challenges along the way.

Professor Boyce is a great colleague and mentor, and renowned in transportation circles, having received  the Robert Herman Lifetime Achievement Award in Transportation Science. He is also an INFORMS Fellow and an RSAI Fellow. I have not (yet) met his co-author,  Professor Huw Williams, although I know of his work. Last Fall, Boyce gave the talk, Urban Travel Forecasting: A 60 Year Retrospective, at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and  he gave me permission to post it on the Virtual Center for Supernetworks website, since I found it so fascinating. He has been periodically, as time passes, updating this talk.

You can access his presentation, in pdf format, here.

Seeing photos of such luminaries as Martin Beckmann, Dan McFadden at the Nobel ceremonies with Moshe Ben-Akiva,  John Wardrop, plus Michael Florian in the slides (with a surprise photo of Suzanne Evans and me), was a great trip in nostalgia. And, I also enjoyed David Boyce's great sense of humor as the two slides below, taken from his talk, reveal.

And, for all those researchers and practitioners out there in operations research, and transportation science, see what remains to be done below!
And for a musical rendition of the New Jersey traffic jam,  enjoy the video with Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Fallon below.