Experimental and Empirical Investigations of Traffic Flow Instability

Traffic instability is an important but undesirable feature of traffic flow. This paper reports our experimental and empirical studies on traffic flow instability. The authors have carried out a large scale experiment to study the car-following behavior in a 51-car-platoon. The experiment has reproduced the phenomena and confirmed the findings in our previous 25-car-platoon experiment, i.e., standard deviation of vehicle speeds increases in a concave way along the platoon. Based on our experimental results, we argue that traffic speed rather than vehicle spacing (or density) might be a better indicator of traffic instability, because vehicles can have different spacing under the same speed. For these drivers, there exists a critical speed between 30 km/h and 40 km/h, above which the standard deviation of car velocity is almost saturated (flat) along the 51-car-platoon, indicating that the traffic flow is likely to be stable. In contrast, below this critical speed, traffic flow is unstable and can lead to the formation of traffic jams. Traffic data from the Nanjing Airport Highway support the experimental observation of existence of a critical speed. Based on these findings, we propose an alternative mechanism of traffic instability: the competition between stochastic factors and the so-called speed adaptation effect, which can better explain the concave growth of speed standard deviation in traffic flow.


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  • Accession Number: 01642119
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jun 19 2017 3:44PM