Traffic: Phantom jams and chicken soup (Road Trip pt. 4)

On the fourth leg of our road trip, we figure out where traffic comes from and what it would take to make it finally go away. We learn how far back in history traffic jams were happening (spoiler: very far) and how “phantom jams” occur.

We visit a room deep underground Los Angeles, the traffic capital of the US, where engineers are trying to ease the city’s traffic woes by synchronizing traffic lights.

Finally, we explore how, if ever, we can make traffic jams disappear. Are self-driving cars the answer?

Chinese motorists get out of their cars to check on a massive traffic jam at a toll booth on the outskirts of Beijing on October 2, 2010. The number of vehicles on roads in the capital — which currently stands at around 4.5 million — is expected to hit five million by the end of 2010, while in August, a traffic jam stretching more than 100 kilometres (60 miles), consisting mainly of trucks, was reported to have been at a standstill for over a week on a highway linking the capital with Inner Mongolia. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Computer monitors showing the traffic flow of intersections help traffic engineers manage traffic problems from inside the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control Center (ATSAC), c. 2007.
(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)