The Games Traffic Engineers Play

Okay, this one was sent to me from Dave Hull, via the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals’ listserv. The University of Minnesota’s  Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute has released a “Gridlock Buster” traffic game, which helps students understand the “fundamentals” of controlling gridlock. Says the Institute of its new product:

“Gridlock Buster” is a traffic control game that incorporates tools and ideas that traffic control engineers use in their everyday work. Players must pass a series of levels while acquiring specific skills for controlling the traffic and ensuring that delays don’t get out of hand. For example, a player might need to manage a high volume of traffic passing through an intersection, where long lines form if vehicles don’t get enough green-light time. The more drivers are delayed, the more frustrated they get—causing the game’s “frustration meter” to rise. Sound effects and animation simulate cars honking and drivers’ fists shaking to illustrate the realistic results of backed-up traffic queues.

Of course,  the sole focus of this hyper annoying and stressful game is to move as many cars as possible through the grid so that one may obtain an acceptable score and move to the next round-where one is expected to move even more cars through the grid. With no options to actually decrease the traffic with mobility options such as bicycle facilities, transit, or infill the blatantly exposed surface parking lots-a pockmark on any potentially walkable street- I am left with one question: what’s so intelligent about that?

I don’t know much about the ITS or the University of Minnesota’s traffic engineering curriculum, but if this game is any indication of it ethos, then it is clear that we livable streets advocates need to infiltrate the education system too.

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