Traffic Jam

I’ve spent most of this summer driving in and around DC.  No big deal, except I’m not from here and traffic intimidates me. The Beltway is 12 lanes in many places, although much of the time my car is in first or second gear going 0 – 18 mph.  Too. Much. Traffic.
The Beltway reminds me of the checkout line at the grocery store: it doesn’t matter which line I choose, it will end up being the slowest. On the Beltway, it doesn’t matter which lane I choose, it will instantly be all red brake lights, big trucks, and other cars weaving in and out in front of me. I wonder…Is my small town life that obvious to the other 758,962 drivers? Can they tell I’m scared of high bridges and overpasses as they zoom around me? Is it my destiny to find the slow lane? I’m a long way from the Eagles’ Life in the Fast Lane, for sure.

Math to my Rescue! Just as in Fiddler on the Roof, where the Rabbi has a blessing for everything, even a sewing machine, there is a math formula to model everything. This slow lane phenomena has a name, Queueing Theory, a branch of probability theory of waiting in lines. Check it out with a quick search on the web. The Wired article by Adam Mann is a user friendly introduction to Queueing Theory, and can be accessed here.What’s Up With That Predicting my wait is easy….too long!

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