The Simple Solution to Traffic

Stuck at an intersection, you always watch unfold the Fundamental Problem of Traffic. On green, the first car accelerates, and then the next, and then the next, and then the next, and then you, only to catch the red. Had the cars accelerated simultaneously you would have made it through. Coordination – not cars – is the problem, because we are monkey drivers with slow reaction times and short attention spans. Even if we tried getting everyone to press the pedal on 3-2-1-now would be challenging. This dis-coordination limits how many cars can get through an intersection and when one backs up to the next, that’s when city-sized gridlock cascades happen, taking forever to clear. In general, more intersections equals more dis-coordination which equals more traffic. This is the motive behind big highways: no intersections. Splits and merges, yes.

Intersections, no. No stopping, no coordination problems, no traffic Well that’s the theory anyway. Intersections outside of a highway will back up onto it. Again, because human reaction times limit how many cars can escape the off-ramp when the light changes. But, even without intersections, there would still be traffic on the highway. Traffic can just appear. Take a one lane highway with happy cars flowing until a chicken crosses the road. The driver who sees it brakes a little, the driver behind him doesn’t notice immediately and brakes a little harder than necessary, the driver behind him does the same until someone comes to a complete stop and, oh look, cars approaching at highway speeds must now stop as well. Though the chicken is long gone, it left a phantom intersection on the highway. This is what’s happened when you’re stuck in traffic for hours thinking, “There must be a deadly pile up ahead” and then suddenly, the traffic’s over with no wreckage in sight, to your relief if you’re a good person and mild annoyance if you aren’t. You just pass through a phantom intersection, the cause of which is long gone.

And this phantom intersection moves. It’s really a traffic snake slithering down the road eating oncoming cars at one end and pooping them out the other. On a ring road, a single car slowing down will start an Ouroboros of traffic that will last forever, even though there’s no problem with the road. If the drivers could coordinate to accelerate and separate simultaneously, easy driving would return. But they can’t, so traffic eternal. On highways, traffic snakes grow if cars are eaten faster than excreted, and they shrink if excreted faster than eaten, dying when the last car accelerates away before the next car must stop. Now, in multi-lane highways, there needs be no chicken to start gridlock. A driver crossing lanes quickly with cars too close behind is enough to birth the traffic snake that lives for hours and leaves. It’s this quick crossing that causes drivers behind to over brake and begin a chain reaction. But we *can* make traffic snakes less likely by changing the way we drive.

Your goal as a driver is to stay the same distance from the car ahead as from the car behind at all times. Tailgating is trouble. Not just because it makes accidents more likely but because you as the tailgater can start a traffic snake if the driver ahead brakes. Always in the middle! This gives you the most time to prevent over-braking but also gives the driver behind you the most time as well. And when stuck in traffic, this rule would get all cars to pull apart the snake faster. That’s the simple solution to traffic: getting humans to change their behavior, perhaps by sharing this video to show how and why traffic happens, why tailgaters are trouble, and how we can work together to make the roads better for all. The End. Except, yeah.

.. wishing upon a star that people are better than they are is a terrible solution. Every time. Instead, what works is a structurally systematized solution which is exactly what self-driving cars are. Self-driving cars can just be programmed to stay in the middle and accelerate simultaneously. They’ll just do it. The more self-driving cars at an intersection, the more efficient the intersection gets. A solid lane of self-driving cars vastly increases throughput. Hmm, actually! If you ban humans from the road (which we should totally do anyway) you can get rid of the intersection entirely. After all, a traffic light is just a tool for drivers on one road to communicate with drivers on another, poorly and coarsely. Red equals “Don’t go now, we are coming through the intersection.” Green equals “good to go.” But self-driving cars can talk to each other at the speed of light. with that kind of coordination, no traffic light necessary. Just as with the highway, the best intersection is no intersection.

Humans will never drive this precisely. At the intersection, the fundamental problem with traffic that you watch unfold, as well as everything, is people. So the real simple solution to traffic: is no more monkeys driving cars. This video has been brought to you in part by, with over 180,000 audiobooks and spoken audio products. Get a free trial today by going to If you like thinking about how the future can be better, why not read the Elon Musk biography: “Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance is available at Audible. Give it a listen with your free 30-day trial that you can get at Audible is the place I go to for all of my audio books, and you should too. It’s a near endless universe of interesting things to listen to. Give them a try and thanks to Audible for supporting the channel..


Are Electric Cars Actually Better For The Environment?

We’ve gotta get rid of these gas guzzlers and switch to electric cars that plug into the land of rainbows and unicorns. Hi guys, Lissette here for DNews. Often called “zero emissions” vehicles, electric cars are surely better for the environment, right? Ehhh not so fast…Their entire life-cycle, from manufacture to use to disposal, needs to be considered when determining their environmental impact. We can’t just look at their tailpipes. So, taking everything into consideration, are electric vehicles actually better for the environment than our old timey cars? The Union of Concerned Scientists, or UCS, recently conducted a cradle to grave study to dig into this question, starting by comparing the manufacturing of battery electric and petrol cars and materials and resources used. They used a Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf to represent battery-electric vehicles, also known as BEVS, and comparable midsize and fullsize gasoline cars. They found that before they even hit the road – electric vehicles actually are responsible for about 1 ton more emissions than their traditional counterparts. Yes, that’s a winning point for your gasoline powered car. This is largely because of the BEVs lithium-ion batteries, which require the extraction of rare earth metals.

.. often through drilling… just like with oil. Not a very eco-friendly activity. When it comes to disposing of BEVs, they don’t seem to be any better than regular cars either. In fact, they may have a greater environmental footprint because it’s tricky to dispose of their lithium ion batteries. But data here is lacking. Now when on the road, BEVs don’t emit CO2, but their batteries need to be charged from electricity that has to come from somewhere – and this somewhere might have a CO2 output of its own. A report based on 2009 national averages found that If the electricity is coming primarily from a country like India where coal accounts for about 60% of electricity generated, your BEV ends up emitting C02 at about the same levels as a 20 mpg car. In the US, where the fuel sources are cleaner, this figure only rose to 40mpg – which is basically the average for a really efficient petrol car. So, at this point you may be thinking, if electric cars pollute more when they’re built, just about the same when they’re junked, and their battery charges can pollute even more than an efficient gas car… then, of course electric vehicles aren’t greener.

Figures from studies like this one are often cited to make the case against electric vehicles. But, here’s the thing, since 2009 BEVs have become more efficient and while India has added more coal powered plants, the US has not, opting instead for renewable sources. Looking at 2015 data, the UCS determined that BEVs in the US are now the equivalent of cars that go 68mpg. And in countries like Paraguay and Iceland, the electricity is so clean that a BEV there would be like having a car that goes more than 200 miles per gallon Their electricity grids are powered by more water, wind, and solar energy, than other countries. When it comes to emissions, BEVs here are many times better for the environment than petrol cars. What’s more, the longer you drive an electric car, the better it stacks up against gas vehicles. The UCS found that basically, it you drive an EV for a month, you might as well buy a car. But drive that puppy for 2 years and you’re helping the environment.

All said and done, the UCS found that electric vehicles produce about 50 percent fewer emissions than a regular car in the US. Basically, the comparative environmental benefits increase the more you drive and the cleaner the electricity source. CTA video Now, we are of course, only talking about global warming emissions, we’re not saying that one type of car is better than another. You might have personal preference for other reasons. Maybe you’re into salt powered cars. To learn more about those guys, check out this episode here. River Monsters push Now, if you’re a fan of the biggest and baddest water creatures, you can watch the full, season premier of River Monsters online now. Just click the link in the video description below and catch new episodes of Season 8 every Thursday on Animal Planet. What’s your favorite car? Do you prefer petrol, electric, hybrid, diesel, something else? Share your thoughts in the comments and remember to subscribe so you never miss an episode of DNews.

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How Worried Should We Be About Climate Change?

The United Nations recently held their climate summit in New York City. A few days ahead of the event, more than 300,000 people joined a peaceful march in Manhattan to call attention to the issue of climate change. Secretary Of State John Kerry recently argued that the problem of climate change should be addressed with the same immediacy as Ebola or ISIS. So, putting politics aside, how serious is this issue? Well, there’s an incredible amount of statistical evidence that illustrates the severity of climate change. But instead of getting mired down in talk about ice caps and polar bear populations, let’s just discuss what the UN Climate Summit is really about: air pollution. The UN is meeting in hopes of signing a deal that could cut down on carbon emissions worldwide.

Just to be clear, we are talking about cars and our dependence on oil, but we’re also talking about things like coal power. Climate change is a pressing issue now because there are nations, chief among them China, that are actively pumping carbon into the environment on an enormous scale. According to the Global Carbon Project, China alone accounts for 28% of the world’s total carbon emissions. And they increased their emissions last year by 4.2%, which increased global emissions worldwide, by 2.3%. In other words, year over year – the situation is getting worse, not better. The ultimate goal of this meeting is to establish a plan to reduce these emissions. And one way to do that – is switching away from coal and fossil fuels, to cleaner forms of energy; a switch that some economists and ecologists now argue could also help developing countries, like China, save money in the long run.

They also argue that it would benefit not just the environment, but also the health of the people in those nations. The argument against committing to cleaner energy is that it requires an enormous initial investment and could potentially slow down economic progress. The problem is that the very nations that need economic progress most, are also the nations that emit the most carbon. It’s a catch-22, and a large part of why an agreement still hasn’t been reached. To find out more about what’s going on in China, check out our video on the conflict between China and the Tibetan Independence movement. Or watch our other video on How Powerful China really is. Remember we upload new videos five days a week, so please subscribe..