Symmetry breaking in optimal timing of traffic signals on an idealized two-way street

Mark J. Panaggio*, Bertand J. Ottino-Löffler, Peiguang Hu, Daniel M. Abrams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Simple physical models based on fluid mechanics have long been used to understand the flow of vehicular traffic on freeways; analytically tractable models of flow on an urban grid, however, have not been as extensively explored. In an ideal world, traffic signals would be timed such that consecutive lights turned green just as vehicles arrived, eliminating the need to stop at each block. Unfortunately, this "green-wave" scenario is generally unworkable due to frustration imposed by competing demands of traffic moving in different directions. Until now this has typically been resolved by numerical simulation and optimization. Here, we develop a theory for the flow in an idealized system consisting of a long two-way road with periodic intersections. We show that optimal signal timing can be understood analytically and that there are counterintuitive asymmetric solutions to this signal coordination problem. We further explore how these theoretical solutions degrade as traffic conditions vary and automotive density increases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number032801
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 3 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability


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