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Control of a lane-drop bottleneck through variable speed limits


The discharging flow-rate of a lane-drop bottleneck can drop when its upstream is congested, and such capacity drop leads to additional traffic congestion as well as safety threats. Even though many studies have demonstrated that variable speed limits (VSL) can effectively delay and even avoid the occurrence of capacity drop, there lacks a simple approach for analyzing the performance of a VSL control system. In this study, we formulate the VSL control problem for the traffic system in a zone upstream to a lane-drop bottleneck based on two traffic flow models: the Lighthill-Whitham-Richards (LWR) model, which is an infinite-dimensional partial differential equation, and the link queue model, which is an ordinary differential equation and approximates the LWR model. In both models, the discharging flow-rate is determined by a recently developed model of capacity drop, and the upstream in-flux is regulated by the speed limit in the VSL zone. We first analytically study the properties of the control system with the link queue model. For an open-loop control system with a constant speed limit, we prove that a constant speed limit can introduce an uncongested equilibrium state, in addition to a congested one with capacity drop, but the congested equilibrium state is always exponentially stable. Then we apply a feedback proportional-integral (PI) controller to form a closed-loop control system, in which the congested equilibrium state and, therefore, capacity drop can be removed by both I- and PI-controllers. Both analytical and numerical results show that, with appropriately chosen controller parameters, the closed-loop control system is stable, effect, and robust. Finally, we show that the VSL strategies based on I- and PI-controllers are also stable, effective, and robust for the LWR model. Since the properties of the control system are transferable between the two models, we establish a dual approach for studying the control problems of nonlinear traffic flow systems. We also confirm that the VSL strategy is effective only if capacity drop occurs. The obtained method and insights can be useful for future studies on other traffic control methods and implementations of VSL strategies in lane-drop bottlenecks, work zones, and incident areas.

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