What if we solved traffic jams using mathematics?

Traffic jams at traffic lights concern a majority of motorists. It is this phenomenon that led the researcher Rik Timmerman apply a mathematical model to improve traffic flow.

According to Rik Timmerman, a member of the Stochastic Operations Research Group, traffic lights are usually the cause of traffic jams. According to his words, “they create a difficult problem to solve. You are dealing with a lot of different factors, and random ones. » The objective of his study is therefore to find a solution for to avoid as much as possible traffic jams through math.

The researcher defended his thesis on January 28 at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science for his thesis entitled “Performance analysis at the crossroad of queuing theory and road traffic”.

The current system leaves too much to chance!

At the traffic lights, the motorist faces different elements and factors that the researcher wanted to highlight. These include the weather, the number of vehicles, driver behavior, the different categories of traffic players, and accidents.

But the specialist in stochastic operations wishes to insist on the role that chance plays in these traffic jams.

“Chance also plays a role. Sometimes there are two cars at a red light, other times ten. And if an elderly person crosses at the same time, that also has an effect. »

Rik Timmerman

The researcher therefore combined all these elements in a queuing model: “the Fixed-Cycle Traffic-Light queue (FCTL)”. This should be able to provide better fluidity. This objective will be achieved by applying a new model in this poorly optimized circulation.

To do this, he analyzed different traffic scenarios. Take the case of pedestrians who block vehicles because both are on the green light at the same time.

When you analyze traffic lights, you are looking at situations that have happened before. In this way, you capture chance, in a way. »

Rik Timmerman

And what about self-driving cars?

Autonomous cars and their impacts on congestion at traffic lights are also of interest to Rik Timmerman in his research. Indeed, these cars can react faster, but also drive faster at traffic lights. These therefore save time. So a future with more self-driving cars therefore also means less traffic jams, according to his model.


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