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What Are Traffic Waves and Why Do They Happen So Much?

Includes interactive graphics

By Lewis Lehe and Matthew Green

trafficwavesWho doesn’t love sitting in traffic? Especially when there’s no apparent reason for it: no crashes, no tolls, no flaming mattresses. Just a sudden and infuriating slowdown of the cars ahead, causing you to slam on the brakes, spill coffee all over yourself and slow to a glacial crawl, usually when you’re already late for something important — a job interview, for instance. Pure gridlock.And then, when all hope seems lost, the congestion breaks as seemingly spontaneously as it began. And you’re on your way again … for a good 2 minutes before the whole thing repeats itself. Welcome to the world of traffic waves, a phenomenon that’s been exasperating drivers since the first cars started coming off Ford’s assembly line a century ago. Continue reading