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Predictability of road traffic and congestion in urban areas

Jingyuan Wang, Yu Mao, Jing Li, Zhang Xiong and Wen-Xu Wang

PloS one, vol. 10, no. 4, p. e0121825, 2015. Download

Mitigating traffic congestion on urban roads, with paramount importance in urban development and reduction of energy consumption and air pollution, depends on our ability to foresee road usage and traffic conditions pertaining to the collective behavior of drivers, raising a significant question: to what degree is road traffic predictable in urban areas? Here we rely on the precise records of daily vehicle mobility based on GPS positioning device installed in taxis to uncover the potential daily predictability of urban traffic patterns. Using the mapping from the degree of congestion on roads into a time series of symbols and measuring its entropy, we find a relatively high daily predictability of traffic conditions despite the absence of any priori knowledge of drivers' origins and destinations and quite different travel patterns between weekdays and weekends. Moreover, we find a counterintuitive dependence of the predictability on travel speed: the road segment associated with intermediate average travel speed is most difficult to be predicted. We also explore the possibility of recovering the traffic condition of an inaccessible segment from its adjacent segments with respect to limited observability. The highly predictable traffic patterns in spite of the heterogeneity of drivers' behaviors and the variability of their origins and destinations enables development of accurate predictive models for eventually devising practical strategies to mitigate urban road congestion.

Transition probability of speed states. (a)-(c) Transition probability between different speed states in the 2nd (a), 3rd (b) and 4th (c) Ring Roads of Beijing. The speed V between 10km/h and 70km/h is divided into 6 states with equal speed interval ΔV= 10km/h. Due to rare observations for V< 10km/h and V> 70km/h, they are set to be two states respectively, without any further partitions. For each Ring Road, the result is obtained by averaging over all road segments with equal length ΔL = 1km. We see that for each state, remaining unchanged and shifting to its adjacent states constitute a very large proportion, implying a potential stable regulation in the traffic patterns.

Local predictability and average speed. (a) The local predictability of road segments in the three Ring Roads. (b) The local average speed of road segments in the three Ring Roads. In (a), the color bar represents the maximum value Πmax of road segments and In (b), the color bar represents the average speed of road segments.

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  title={Predictability of road traffic and congestion in urban areas},

  author={Wang, Jingyuan and Mao, Yu and Li, Jing and Xiong, Zhang and Wang, Wen-Xu},

  journal={PloS one},





  publisher={Public Library of Science}