How to Solve Traffic Jams

“Hi, my name is Sascha and I study urban planning here at the Stockholm University” I said, “great, maybe you can fix the traffic down at the bridge. It’s driving me nuts” the man replied. Last autumn, together with some other students from the planning program, I interviewed some people in Stockholm and that was my first conversation.

Since then I have spent quite some time in Stockholm’s traffic jams. As much as I love public transport and cycling, every Monday and Tuesday I have to take the car. If I would take the public transit, making all my appointments on time would be impossible. The distances are too great to use the bicycle. So there I stand, stuck in traffic.

Jonas Eliasson, a researcher at the KTH, gave a TED-talk about a congestion project done in Stockholm. By charging drivers entering the city (congestion tax) the municipality tried to discourage taking the car into town. However, some people just have no other option than to take the car, or they just really don’t want to use the public transit. Therefore the congestion tax is slightly higher during peak hours than at other times. This should make people more prone to travel outside peak hours. The question that remains: will this bring about enough change to solve congestion?

It is all about the nature of how traffic jams are created and why a slight reduction in drivers is potentially enough to have big results. Congestion, Eliasson says, is a non-linear phenomenon, that does not occur until it reaches a critical mass. That means that a slight increase of traffic can create a jam. Luckily the opposite is also true, a slight reduction of about 20% could theoretically solve the problem.

Screenshot from the TED video 

Screenshot from the TED video 

The critical mass in Stockholm has not yet been reached: I’m still stuck. The title of Eliassons TED-talk ‘how to solve traffic  jams'  and the pictures that he used might therefore be considered as slightly misleading. Nothing is solved yet. His project is a step into the right direction, however more emphasis should be put on offering people alternatives to driving. For instance: stimulate working from home, flexible work hours and upgrading the bicycle infrastructure. 

I contacted Jonas Eliasson, hoping to get an interview with him. Unfortunately, he was too busy. However, I got the nicest refusal.  


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Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and .