Posted by: Edward | November 1, 2007

Traffic Dragon

While I don’t necessarily fall under the aegis of the term pantheist I do tend to see life or intelligence at play all over the place. I tend to posit a kind of emergent intelligence in systems of sufficient complexity. The city itself is certainly complex enough for emergent properties to take on a semblance of intelligence. Additionally traffic takes on this kind of complexity. The different kinds of interacting components in the system of traffic includes cars, the roads, traffic lights, the weather conditions, pedestrians crossing streets, and so forth. Traffic is a system that communicates in terms of speeds and timing. Clearly if Traffic has an awareness it does not think in human terms.

Delays can propagate very quickly through the system. As each car slows earlier in sequence than the one in front of it the car at the end of a line must brake quickest and go slowest. If any car brakes later in sequence than the one in front of it it crashes into it. This slow down tends to be more total. Groups of cars will also tend to clump and group as close together as possible while avoiding impacts and then a gap and another clump.

Reading the traffic system is largely going to be about the behaviour of cars. Looking at the speed they are traveling, looking at the relative density and clumpiness of the traffic flow. Most lights are relatively fixed features ignoring the pedestrian controlled crossing. To start working with Traffic you start by watching it. Find a place where two busy streets interact or maybe where the regular road system meets the highways. Watch it. Watch it at various times of day so that you see varying repeated patterns. Learn to feel the difference between rush hour, weekdays, weekends, and the middle of the night. Find other places to watch traffic from. Look for what stays the same what changes depending on changes in time or location. What you are trying to do is internalize the language of the streets. Don’t try to look for words, traffic may not be speaking at that high of level of complexity. Try to learn how to feel the MOOD of traffic. Not the mood of people in traffic but the mood of the beast itself.

Once you feel like you can read the mood of traffic its time to try to talk to it. In order to talk to it you need to place yourself where you can have an effect on it and read the reaction. My suggestion is a pedestrian controlled traffic light that changes rather quickly. The quicker it changes the closer you can control the timing. As the effect of your triggering the crossing will create delays behind the cars that stop for the light, you can watch for the changes where you are. I do suggest you cross the street if you used the signal. It seems disrespectful to do otherwise and you don’t wish to draw ire from people in the cars you have stopped. Try to vary the timing of your signaling. Spend all day there saying hi. Look for patterns and differences in the effect or response to your signal.

Another way to talk to traffic is to get in a car and enter the system. This allows for much richer signaling on your part than the binary switch of the crosswalk. However this places you as much more subject to the system of traffic. If you have gotten the attention of the traffic dragon, if you have angered the beast this might be a dangerous time for you. My suggestion is to drive around the streets with no direction or schedule in mind. This will allow you to see a wider range of street conditions and frankly if traffic has noticed you, getting to anywhere on time may be difficult. During this time it might be a good idea to use the car only for communicating with traffic and use public transportation if you need to get anywhere.

Up to this point we’ve been acting as if all cars are the same. Common sense tells us of course that they are not. Emergency vehicles are an interesting special case, they have greater effect on traffic conditions than it generally has on them because the law legislates that other vehicles must get out of their way. However, the emergency vehicles can be summoned by traffic when a vehicular collision occurs. Another special case is that of public transit vehicles. They have a set path through the networks of roads and should in general have a consistent effect on the traffic around them and could operate as a system clock to show how much the traffic is slowing down their predictable circuits.

The traffic dragon has millions of little sense organs, they are called drivers. The nervous system of car drivers includes the ability to recognize certain types of vehicles and to discern colours. Try watching traffic for certain colour or colour combinations. The more you watch traffic the more you will see intelligent acts of sortilege. Creations of patterns that you can read and interpret.

The purpose of the foregoing work was to build up an adequate model of traffic behaviour in your brain. Once you have done this there are many other ways to access the traffic entity. An important step to take is to start acting or thinking about traffic as if it is a person or person like. The reason for this is we have much more brain circuitry available when we are thinking about people or people like things than we do if we seem them as inanimate. Asperger’s Syndrome folk may find the other way around easier. For an assistance for reading the mood of the roads, is to after looking at the conditions visualize the face and body language the traffic dragon would be making. In general it will be easier to read the mood of this visualization than the streets themselves. If you have built up an adequate model of traffic operations in your brain, you will find your traffic face to give you very useful information.

Traffic Dragon Image by Ray Carney



  1. […] post by fenris23 and software by Elliott […]

  2. Think simpler.
    or just Google “Hans Monderman”

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