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Lesson 3: No More Traffic Jams:

Identifying Gridlock Solutions in Your Community

Overview

 Is traffic a contemporary urban phenomenon or can we trace its roots back to ancient times? How can congestion be alleviated? Using this video which examines the solutions to the problem of congestion in New York City’s Times Square, teach a dynamic problem-solution lesson that supports your STEM curriculum.  Students explore how policy, infrastructure and technology changes can impact traffic and identify and design solutions to traffic problems in their communities.

Materials

Background

What causes a traffic jam and how are communities and cities affected by it? Traffic has been a challenge for urban developers so long as roads have existed. In ancient Rome, they  managed traffic by restricting vehicles during the busiest times, while in other cities in more contemporary times, they have simply built more roads. In recent decades, traffic experts have proposed a number of innovative solutions to ease congestion around the world. For example, since 2003 in London, congestion pricing has been implemented to encourage the use of public transportation and alleviate traffic. Drivers who choose to drive in congestion zone – a highly trafficked area in the heart of the city—pay a special toll. And, in China, a special high speed bus that straddles over cars is being developed to ease traffic flow. In this video, traffic in Manhattan, America’s most trafficked city is examined, and solutions to the problem, including the theory of the Braess Paradox are examined.

Featured Vocabulary

  • congestion – the state of being overcrowded or overfull
  • Braess paradox – developed by the mathematician Dietrich Braess, this theory states that adding extra roads to a travel network adds extra capacity to the roads instead of improving traffic flow; the more options there are, the more traffic there is because travelers make selfish choices for their routes
  • network efficiency – the productivity of an interconnecting system; anything ranging from a sports team to a set of roads or highways

Warm Up

Invite students to reflect on this image slideshow of Los Angeles traffic from GOOD magazine with students. Ask them to share their impressions and to analyze the images in context of the world they live in. What issues or challenges do these images highlight? What statement do they make about transportation in the world today? What impact or ripple effects does this kind of traffic have on the environment? Do these images resonate or feel unfamiliar? 

Discussion Questions

Have students watch the video while taking notes on the following. Afterwards, use the following questions to assess comprehension and prompt discussion:  

  • What is congestion? 
  • Provide an example of traffic in ancient times and a solution. 
  • Is adding roads the best solution to traffic?
  • What is the Braess Paradox and why is its inverse revolutionizing the way we deal with the problem of gridlock?
  • How has technology helped innovate traffic solutions?
  • What can we learn from the Times Square example to solve traffic problems in our own communities? 

Activity

Divide students into pairs or small groups and ask them to consider the question: How can we apply the learning from the Times Square solution to gridlock to traffic problems in our own communities?

Invite students to identify traffic conditions in their own town or community then brainstorm solutions to alleviate the issues. Ask students to consider what forms these solutions can take? New technologies like the straddling bus? Infrastructure changes? New policies? (If you live in a rural community, students can focus on a major urban city of their choice.). They can become familiar with more congestion solutions proposed by the non-profit Modern Transit here, then use the  reproducible Solving the Traffic Conundrum as a brainstorming and outlining guide for this activity. Invite them to present their solutions and discuss why each would improve the quality of life and the environment.

Going Further

Have students publish their gridlock solutions in a pamphlet form or on a website, then vote on the most innovative solutions. When the project is complete, it can be submitted or presented to local public officials. Alternatively, if more than one classroom embarks on this lesson, a school-wide Invention Convention could be organized to showcase problem-solving approaches. 

Resources

Standards

Civics

1. Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government

28. Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals
Engineering Education

14. Uses the design process to solve problems

Language Arts

1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Life Skills

2. Understands and applies basic priciples of logic and reasoning

5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques

6.2.  Uses public transportation effectively (e.g., identifies transportation alternatives, determines transportation needs)

Mathematics

1. Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process

Science

6.2. Knows how the amount of life an environment can support is limited by the availability of matter and energy and the ability of the ecosystem to recycle materials

Technology

3. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual

4. Understands the nature of technological design

5. Understands the nature and operation of systems

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