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Carpooling, of course, has been touted for decades as a way to use cars more efficiently. But it never took off because it suffered from an information problem: There was no way to coordinate rides on the fly, no way to know whether someone four blocks away was heading in the same direction as you, right this instant. Safer just to drive yourself, right? And this gave birth to a welter of personal choices that seemed perfectly reasonable individually, but that together created a massive environmental and urban land use problem—with many of us heading off to work in the same direction and with cars that contained, statistically, only people each.
NEW 2008 VIDEO: ONE DRIVER UNCLOGS A JAM
I live in Seattle and my two daily commutes last about 45 minutes. (That's when I'm lucky; sometimes it's more like two hours each.) This has given me an immense amount of time for watching the interesting patterns in the cars. Boredom led me to fantasize about the traffic being like a flowing liquid, with cars acting as giant water molecules. Over many months I slowly realized that this was not just a fantasy. Why had I never noticed all the "traffic fluid dynamics" out there? Once my brain became sensitized to it, I started seeing quite a variety of interesting things occurring. Eventually I started using my car to poke at the flowing traffic. Observation eventually leads to experimentation, no? There are amazing things you can do as an "amateur traffic dynamicist." You can drive like an "anti-rubbernecker" and erase slowdowns created by other drivers. But first, some basic phenomena.