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Want to Avoid Traffic Jams? Study Ants.

by Elizabeth Ryan 

Tags: Ants, Traffic Jams, Transportation, GOOD, Audrey Dussutour, Elizabeth Ryan,

goodtransportcoverSolving the nation’s transportation woes will take some big ideas, but it doesn’t hurt to think “small” in this case. GOOD magazine picked the brain of Audrey Dussutour, whose countless hours of ant-studying (and even sabotaging) taught her that the tiny travelers are über-skilled when it comes to avoiding traffic jams.  

Dussutour chose ants to study because aside from humans and termites, they’re the only other species that aren’t just unidirectional, meaning: All other animals just flow in one direction, without inbound and outbound traffic. Ants are at an advantage because of their size, cooperative nature, and lack of rules. They move intuitively, but yet all follow a similar intrinsic code—giving the right of way to load-bearing ants and those with no space to move—which allows them to move faster collectively, even if it takes a little more time for each individual. They also are flexible and change routes when crowding starts, showing self-organized cultures can function efficiently (and often faster) then those with bosses making laws to instill order.

So what can urban planners learn from this? Dussutour says: Just remove the rules and it would work. I’m kidding, but if you look at videos from the south of Asia, Thailand, or India, sometimes traffic doesn’t seem to have any rules, but it works very well and has a very nice flow. It is like bikes and trucks, and pedestrians. It looks scary from our point of view, because we are not used to that. But if it looks like it works, why interfere?

Source: GOOD

evans pmcg
6/8/2009 1:11:59 PM

I like this idea, but I also spent a year in Nairobi, Kenya, where there is not a single traffic light to my knowledge. Instead, they have 3+ lane roundabouts that get completely log-jammed during rush hour until a police officer comes to the rescue to direct traffic. Organized chaos may work if people give way to those who are stuck, but when each driver is fighting over every inch to get his/her bumper in front of another to get the right of way, it makes for a very dismal experience. Looking at the US, it only takes one aggressive driver to make everyone else brake and alter their rate of speed, thus altering the overall rate of flow and screwing up the congestion for everyone (if I find the study I once read that backed this up in Discover magazine a few years back, I'll post it). A little sacrifice by each individual to keep the flow moving, and all will benefit overall. Let's not be too selfish. ;)