Tag Archives: crowd-behaviour

How Congestion Pricing and Traffic Jams Help the Environment

When us laymen think of ways to solve traffic congestion we typically think of two ways: congestion pricing to force those who are most price sensitive off the roads and on to public transport (which should be improved using the funds gained through said pricing), and adding capacity to the roads. But do these solutions really help: do congestion charges and additional capacity really affect overall driving habits and are they beneficial for the environment (do they increase public transport use)?

Traffic jams can actually be environmentally beneficial if they turn subways, buses, car pools, bicycles and walking into more-attractive options. […] The traditional solution to traffic congestion is to create additional road capacity. But projects like those almost always end up making the original problem worse because they generate what transportation planners call “induced traffic”: every mile of new, open roadway encourages existing users to make more car trips, lures drivers away from other routes and tempts transit riders to return to their automobiles, with the eventual result that the new roads become at least as clogged as the old roads. […]

In 1999, the Australian researchers Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy concluded that “there is no guarantee that congestion pricing will simultaneously improve congestion and sustainability,” and mentioned several ways in which congestion pricing can defy the expectations of its supporters, among them by causing motorists to “drive exactly as they always have if the congestion charge is covered by their firms (e.g., a majority of London’s peak-hour commuters have company cars and perks).”

Some have interpreted David Owen’s column to be anti-congestion charging: I don’t believe he suggests this, primarily because of his final paragraph, describing what he believes is the most effective congestion management program:

A truly effective traffic program for any dense city would impose high fees for all automobile access and public parking while also gradually eliminating automobile lanes (thereby reducing total car traffic volume without eliminating the environmentally beneficial burden of driver frustration and inefficiency) and increasing the capacity and efficiency of public transit.

It isn’t the solution; it’s part of the solution.

A Brief Summary of Group Psychology

If, like me, you’re even remotely interested in the dynamics of group psychology you’ve probably already read a couple of these. Nonetheless, these 10 psychology studies highlighted as ‘rules’ governing groups are worth noting:

  1. Groups can arise from almost nothing
  2. Initiation rites improve group evaluations
  3. Groups breed conformity
  4. Learn the ropes or be ostracised
  5. You become your job
  6. Leaders gain trust by conforming
  7. Groups can improve performance…
  8. …but people will loaf
  9. [Rumours are] 80% accurate
  10. Groups breed competition

via Mind Hacks

Traffic Psychology and The Commuters Paradox

There aren’t many people, I believe, who are able to drive and who are not interested in traffic dynamics. Jonah Lehrer, in a recent column for Seed, takes a brief look at traffic psychology; including ‘the commuters paradox’ and the ‘critical density’.

They found that, when people are choosing where to live, they consistently underestimate the pain of a long commute. This leads people to mistakenly believe that the McMansion in the suburbs, with its extra bedroom and sprawling lawn, will make them happier, even though it might force them to drive an additional forty-five minutes to work. It turns out, however, that traffic is torture, and the big house isn’t worth it. According to the calculations of Frey and Stutzer, a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.

Apparently, the reason we dislike commutes so much is because “the flow of traffic is inherently unpredictable”–once on the roads we are at the mercy of the traffic all around us.

For more information on this topic, William Beaty’s Traffic Waves site is full of interesting theories and observations on traffic ‘physics’. Lehrer suggests Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic–a book I’ve seen recommended many times.

Crowd Behaviour

By studying the footage from an unidentified UK city’s CCTV cameras, psychologist Mark Levine is finding that a number of theories about crowd psychology previously taken as gospel may be incorrect, including the bystander effect (sometimes referred to as the Kitty Genovese effect) and the idea that crowds are inclined to be unruly and violent.

Dr Levine persuaded the authorities in one British city to allow him to look at their CCTV footage of alcohol-fuelled conflict in public places. […] He analysed 42 clips of incidents that operators in a control room had judged had the potential to turn violent, though only 30 of them actually did so. He recorded gestures he labelled either “escalating”, such as pointing and prodding, or “de-escalating”, such as conciliatory open-handedness. […]

Judging the fight to begin with the aggressor’s first pointing gesture towards his target, the researchers found that the first intervention usually involved a bystander trying to calm the protagonist down. Next, another would advise the target not to respond. If a third intervention reinforced crowd solidarity, sending the same peaceful message, then a violent outcome became unlikely. But if it did not—if the third bystander vocally took sides, say—then violence was much more likely.

via Mind Hacks