Friday, September 5, 2008

The Price of Anarchy

I recently came across a preview of a forthcoming article to appear in Physical Review Letters about the role of selfishness in the perpetuation of traffic. I had to check this out. After all, as a lover of all things roadside, I must admit an abiding hatred of one thing: unnecessary traffic.

To me, the heart of the road is the freedom it affords for a motorist to find a horizon and meet it. Slowing or stopping due to rubbernecking, improper merging, road-boulders (eg, an RV trying to pass an 18-wheeler on an uphill climb), and similar obstacles, causes me no end of frustration. Jenny reminds me that much traffic is caused simply by congestion: too many cars for too little space. That may be true in many cases, but as this article illustrates, plenty of traffic is preventable.

The article describes conditions by which individuals pursuing their own interests rather than making choices with the broader continuum of motorists contribute to a situation in which all drivers suffer. Interestingly, the article proposes that removing some options rather than adding them results in less traffic, an illustration of something called Braess's Paradox.

Read the entire piece, Selfish driving causes everyone to pay the Price of Anarchy

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