A futuristic solution to Highway congestionIt does not take much observation to realize that a overcrowded highways have less capacity to move people because the cars slow down so much. If the highways could be packed and still move at the speed limit they would have vastly increased capacity to move people. Not to mention making a lot of people happy!
The solution is auto-piloted cars. With autopilot, cars can be set to drive at the speed limit (and a little above to close gaps) and at minimum safe distance. The entering and exiting of the vehicles and lane assignment would also be handled automatically by simply requiring the destination. Car lane assignment would be controlled by computers. Once a highway is at capacity, cars, simply will not be allowed to enter but the capacity to move people would be much much larger than it currently is with the same lanes.
Yes there will be many technical and political problems to work out. These problems need to be worked out and this should happen within the next ten years
Once a highway was at capacity signs would post expected wait time to enter the freeway. If possible entry ramps should have exits to them to allow cars without autopilot to leave and with increased wait times or other problems. Ramps will probably fill with cars waiting to get on, since once they do they will travel at the speed limit. Preventing the queue of waiting cars from stopping traffic on other streets will be a problem.
Trucks and cars with slow acceleration and stopping speed would have to be excluded during rush hour but they can still use regular non restricted access streets. Autopilot upgrade kits would have to be available for older cars. People like their cars and this allows people to stay in their cars. It does not require building and expanding as many highways or building as much public transportation. People would lose there freedom to control their cars but how much pleasure is there in being stuck in traffic going 5 mph? Or dodging between lanes only to realize you have not really gotten there any faster.
On highways with short entrance and exit ramps there would have to be restrictions on cars with slow acceleration in other words they would have to be able to get up to the speed limit on the ramp but for most highways this should not be much of a restriction. The ramps can also be improved.
Cars would be placed in lanes based on their destination, not on the driver's whim, with cars going to the inner lanes to make room for more cars and cars going to the most inner lanes that are traveling the farthest. There would have to be some overriding control computers that designated lanes to make room in outer lanes for cars entering and exiting. Fast computers will have to direct all the cars though complicated interchange and keep them at the speed limit if possible but the cars will be positioned in the correct lanes before they arrive in the interchange as much as possible. In some cases interchanges will have to be improved.
There would have to be communication between the car and the ramp controller so the cars enter the highway at speed and fit into the designated space in the outer lane. Cars going through an area that will be at capacity will also have to be excluded or allowed but forced to exit before the area of overcapacity. (Smart drivers already do this.)
Some highways would still get overcrowded due to insufficient exit ramps or insufficient surface streets but this can be handled by forcing cars to exit early, improving the ramps, improving the traffic flow on the surface streets or having ramps go straight to parking garages with public transportation for the last few miles. The parking garages – Auto-piloted cars would just go to a buffer area near public transportation and then the car would be automatically parked. (This will make it less expensive to build parking near public transportation.)
Converting car pool lanes was my first idea but if the traffic in the car pool lane was going the speed limit and the rest of the lanes are going 5 mph it would be impossible to enter without major ramps and they would be very expensive so I came up with the idea of converting the entire highway. This is not something that could happen now but in 10 years or less I think it will.
Also, this will utilize the highway and keep the lanes productive by having the cars moving at the speed limit. It will vastly improve the traffic flow. The biggest problem will be how to prevent cars clogging surface street waiting to get on the highways as the current ramps are not long enough. A reservation system might be needed but then how do you keep cars without reservations or without proper equipment from entering. Law enforcement should work.
A reservation system will encourage people to travel at a time when the highway can handle them. Traffic congestion on feeder streets will cause additional correction and traffic reservations can be moved back as much as possible and messages can be sent accordingly. In some case message would have to be sent to please do not attempt to enter the highway for some time because of unexpected surges or accidents etc. But with reservations such message could be sent.
At least initially it would probably be just rush hour and at other times car and trucks would be free to use the highways at they currently do. However it is not hard to imagine the times expanding as traffic congestion grows and highway construction does not keep up.
A big thank you should go to Elon Musk and Tesla for not just creating electric cars but electric cars with autopilot!