I've been in the Traffic Study field for years and this whole stupid Christie flap is giving us Traffic Studiers a bad name.
You probably think that studying traffic is easy and that it just involves observing the relationship between vehicles and highways but the fact is it's a challenging, exciting and extremely complex science.
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a Traffic Studier. My parents would buy me little toy cars for Christmas and my birthday and I'd line them up on miniature highways that I'd constructed out of tin foil and crackers and move them around to cause traffic jams. I could sit there for hours just watching those cars inching forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic and imagining the sublime poetry of road rage.
Whenever I rode in my dad's car and there was bad traffic, I would be overcome with pure joy. Sometimes I would get out of the car with my calculator and my special traffic study ruler and measure the distance between bumpers. "This is so cooll!" I'd say excitedly to my parents. "Only half an inch! That's .002 meters per second. We probably won't get there for four hours!" and he would turn to me and say, "Shut up," and then turn to Mom and say, "What's wrong with this kid?"
Later, I got a BA and a graduate degree in Traffic Study from San Diego Freeway University and was immediately hired by the New York Traffic Commission. To me, this was the realization of a lifelong goal. The traffic problems would be endlessly fascinating.
My favorite places in the whole world are the San Diego Freeway and, of course, the George Washington Bridge, which is nirvana for people in my line of work.
Anyway, here are some of the complex phenomena I've learned about traffic. It's taken me many years of intense study and observation to comprehend such mentally challenging phenomena.
1. Traffic tends to be really severe during what we traffic professionals call "rush hour." Why? Because lots of people travel to and from work at the same time of day which can cause a phenomenon known as "gridlock" because there are so many cars going the same way at the same time.
2. If there's an accident or a pile-up on the highway, especially one that requires police cars, fire trucks and paramedics, cars traveling behind the distressed vehicle or vehicles tend to slow down and sometimes come to a complete stop.
3. Traveling in winter, particularly during a blizzard, can be a major factor in slowing down car velocity. Why? Because snow and ice can be slippery which can cause vehicles to do unpredictable things. I love inclement weather -- the possibilities are endless.
4. When you shut down a lane or two on a crowded highway, cars tend to slow down to a crawl. Severe merging traffic situations are fascinating to watch.
5. Drivers stuck in traffic tend to get angry. This can lead to something we traffic studiers refer to as "traffic jams." Sometimes drivers will even yell epithets at other drivers. This usually has no observable effect on improving these situations.
6. Complicated detours with insufficient signage can result in slow-moving traffic.
7. On summer days, when it's really, really hot, some cars can overheat and stop in the middle of the highway, thus causing drivers behind them to stop too.
8. My three-year research study has shown that, on any given day, there is a 99.999987 percent chance that there will be more traffic on Lexington Ave. in New York City than on Main Street in Red Lodge, Montana.
There's more but you get the idea. My dream is to one day observe what we professionals call a "perfect traffic storm." This would be when two highway lanes are closed during a blizzard in the middle of rush hour and there are ten or more pile-ups all requiring police cars, fire trucks and paramedics, thus requiring badly marked detours! It would be downright... poetic. And what a challenge for a Traffic Studier!
I may have to get a Ph.D.
Follow John Blumenthal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/john_blumenthal