NEW: MindManager 2017 for Windows – major release!

Read Now

Gaming Gridlock: Cool Tech to Beat Traffic Congestion

Americans’ relationship with the automobile has been described as a “love affair,” but these days the passion is long gone. While cars were once synonymous with the freedom of mobility, today drive-time commuters have come to know only gridlock. Congestion on our highways is not only a transportation problem, but an environmental and economic one as well. In New York City alone, the cost of poorly designed traffic systems is estimated to be $2.5 billion a year. That accounts for lost worker productivity, logistical headaches for companies, and money sunk into wasted transportation costs—namely gasoline. City planners and policy makers have been attempting to correct or at least mitigate traffic problems for decades. But few have attempted anything as innovative as New York City-based transportation consultant Charles Komanoff’s Balanced Transportation Analyzer project, an enormous spreadsheet model that assesses benefits, impacts, and costs of time-variable traffic and transit pricing in New York City. The enormous amount of data inputs in the model represent a statistical simulacrum of all Big Apple traffic. Komanoff argues that only by accurately quantifying the amount of time and money lost in traffic congestion every year can policy makers gain the political capital necessary to solve this problem. His solution is controversial: higher bridge tolls during peak driving hours, free transit buses 24 hours a day, and deep discounts on express buses and off-peak NYC subway fares. But Komanoff believes dramatic adjustments in transit pricing can efficiently steer traffic flow, thus reducing congestion citywide and increasing daytime traffic speeds in Manhattan by 20 percent.

No American city has ever passed a plan remotely like Komanoff’s, so don’t hold your breath for such radical measures anytime soon. But in the meantime, mobile technology offers a more immediate solution to your commuting problems. Many drivers already rely on GPS navigators, either pre-installed in the vehicle or via apps for iPhones and Android, to provide up-to-the-minute traffic reports.

But one overlooked tool is the greatest crowdsourcing resource of them all: Twitter. Even regular Tweeters rarely take advantage of the site’s advanced search function, which can allow commuters to tap into the collective brains of drivers stuck in traffic. If you’re one of those unlucky “#completegridlock” souls, you can make the best of your misfortune by conducting morning meetings using a hands-free mobile device such as the well-reviewed Jabra Freeway. Drive-time teleconferences might not be ideal for particular projects, but for meetings that only require your “presence” they can be perfect.

If you’ve switched over to two-wheeled transportation, you’re in luck. There are no shortage of mobile apps specifically geared for bikers. MapMyRIDE is one of the best known due its and excellent live-mapping feature and impressive database of 26 million-routes—all exportable to GPS devices and Google Earth. MapMyRIDE also tracks speed, distance, and calories, and lets users announce rides on Facebook and Twitter.

Numerous weather apps—including Aelios and Magical Weather—provide a self-explanatory and invaluable service. Complement your existing app with Dark Sky, an exclusively short-term but extremely accurate weather predictor that provides a precipitation report for your exact location for the next half hour using doppler radar images of passing clouds. Dark Sky takes the guesswork out of finding a fifteen minute window between showers so you can dart home undrenched.

Finally, there’s public transportation, which is far more compatible with the mobile tech lifestyle than driving, as any highway patrol officer will be all too happy to remind you. Not only does traveling by subway, bus, and train allow you to check email and read the news, it’s often the fastest route to work during rush hour. But unexpected incidents do occur from time-to-time to throw buses and trains off schedule. The Clever Commute, a crowdsourced network of real-time transit alerts, allows commuters to share updated information (via email and mobile message) when buses are late or trains are stuck.

Transit agencies themselves often offer real-time schedule information and updates on delays via smartphone apps. Pro-active cities like Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco provide open-source data to developers, who in turn create apps that serve to attract riders. Data provided by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has been used to create more than 50 apps.

Mobile technology will likely make transportation alternatives increasingly preferable to rush hour traffic, and the past decade has already been witness to a dramatic reduction in total vehicle miles traveled. New policy solutions, like those of Charles Komanoff, will help cities produce a dynamic transportation infrastructure reflective of these changing commuter values.

Freedom of the open road is still symbolically important to Americans, but on a practical level it seems we have prioritized the freedom to multitask and freedom to better allocate our time.  And that’s not such a bad thing.