Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What if they gave a gridlock...

...and nobody came. Seattle's Great Traffic Jam of '07 failed to materialize ad advertized, thanks to people reacting to incentives:

It's being hailed as the surprise of the summer that the Interstate 5 gridlockapocalypse didn't happen.

I mean, who'd have guessed you could shut down a third of our most congested freeway and not paralyze the region in epic traffic jams? Oliver Downs, that's who.

The case of the vanishing cars is no mystery to him. In fact he predicted it.

Downs is an English-born math brain who likes to be called "Olly." He lives in Redmond, drawn there by Microsoft. He uses math — quantum tunneling, something called the "nonnegative Boltzmann machine" — to predict the future, be it prices of tickets, behaviors of customers or patterns of traffic.

A few days before the state began what it was calling the most disruptive road project in local history, Downs put out a contrary view.

He forecast no extreme clogs anywhere — not on I-5, nor on alternate routes such as Highway 99 or 599. So far he's been right about that.

Then he crazily suggested that one of our chronically jammed roads, the I-405 S-curves in Renton, would actually be better off than normal. Which it has been.

....A stunning 50,000 fewer cars are using northbound I-5 some days. It's slow going in the work zone. But in many places, driving has been smoother than before.

...."Drivers are not stupid," Downs says. "They change schedules. They don't take some trips, or they delay them. The net effect of all these little decisions can be dramatic."

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