The psychology of the left-turn lane: How human behavior influences traffic patterns

Apr 20, 2012
The psychology of the left-turn lane: How human behavior influences traffic patterns
DynusT is a simulation-based dynamic traffic assignment software program that supports engineers and planners in addressing transportation planning and operation issues. Credit: UA College of Engineering

University of Arizona traffic engineer Yi-Chang Chiu has embarked on a three-year traffic modeling research project to replace the 1950s model still used to forecast current transportation needs.

Chiu's new model incorporates individual human behavior traits into traffic modeling on a day-by-day basis, which will allow him and his team to forecast the evolution of behavior with a transportation system over a long period.

The project is known as VASTO, which comes from its full title, Evolutionary Agent System for Transportation Outlook.

"The deficiency in past practices basically lies in the inability to describe human behavior in a realistic manner," said Chiu, who also is director of the DynusT Lab at the UA College of Engineering. "In our past predictions, we treated everybody pretty much the same."

Previous models predicted population movement more on a macro level, Chiu said. "We simulate individuals."

The human behavior element will be derived from census data and metropolitan planning organization travel surveys. This will incorporate the range of human whims with driving decisions, such as stopping at the store or suddenly deciding to go straight if too many cars are in the left-turn lane. VASTO simulates habitual patterns with real-time reactions.

This proposed VASTO marks the first time that individual is at the heart of traffic modeling rather than relying on past traffic trends and extrapolating them.

Chiu's ambition for VASTO is to give transportation planners a robust behavior based tool to find alternative ways to provide adequate transportation without necessarily just adding more lanes or building more roads.

"Most cities keep on building to meet peak congestion hours," Chiu said. He wants to determine whether we achieve more by building less, or by not building at all. "In the past we did not understand the mechanics of behavior so we didn't know how to manage data," he said.

The overall goal of the project is to completely change the approach to traffic management. Chiu wants to know: "If I don't build it, is there another way to manage and influence behavior? That way we can better utilize existing infrastructure."

This planning tool will allow planners to see what would happen if, for example, traffic was rerouted because of bridge construction, or if construction of a cross-town freeway was proposed, or a regional shopping center.

"You can perform what-if analyses," Chiu said. "We have not been able to do this in the past because the computer has not been fast enough to run a model in a reasonable amount of time."

The size of the $1.2 million FHWA grant is an indicator of the significance of Chiu's VASTO research. "In transportation, this is a top-of-the-line grant size," he said. "For a single project, that's very large."

VASTO will ultimately be a free, open-source technology, although users will require extensive training.

Explore further: Four questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Simulations means 'smarter traffic decisions'

Jun 10, 2008

Kyoto University and IBM's Tokyo Research Laboratory have developed a system that can simulate urban transport situations encompassing millions of individual vehicles in complex traffic interactions. A simulation can predict, ...

New study examines traffic congestion on a university campus

Mar 25, 2008

Some researchers believe that the United States is in a “congestion crisis”. Indeed, national transportation statistics indicate that 42 percent more vehicles used each urban lane mile in 2000 than in 1980, tripling the ...

Cell phone signals help manage traffic

Sep 26, 2011

In a pilot project in Texas, Siemens is developing intelligent transportation technology for the fast and orderly evacuation of citizens. In this project, traffic light timing systems register traffic flow ...

Defectors take the car, cooperators go by bus

Feb 03, 2009

National economies are driven by the automobile, even during an economic downturn. Every day, hundreds of millions of people take their cars to visit remote places, to commute, and to reach the supermarket.

Recommended for you

Four questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

18 hours ago

Travelers at Asian airports have asked questions about the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Here are some of them, followed by answers.

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

Apr 18, 2014

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...

Freight train industry to miss safety deadline

Apr 16, 2014

The U.S. freight railroad industry says only one-fifth of its track will be equipped with mandatory safety technology to prevent most collisions and derailments by the deadline set by Congress.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

( —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...