Observations of lane changing patterns on an uphill expressway
A mechanism is unveiled by which traffic congestion forms on a 3-lane, uphill expressway segment, and causes reductions in output flow. Vehicular lane-changing (LC) is key to the mechanism, particularly LC induced by speed disturbances (SDs) that periodically arise in the expressway's median and center lanes. Early in the rush, when flow was relatively low in the shoulder lane, drivers readily migrated toward that lane to escape the oncoming SDs. The shoulder lane thus acted as a ``release valve'' for the high vehicular accumulations created by the SDs, such that forced vehicular decelerations were short-lived. The release valve failed only later in the rush, when flow increased in the shoulder lane in response to rising demand. LC induced by the SDs thereafter became disruptive: the decelerations they imposed spread laterally, and a persistent queue formed in all lanes. Long-run output flow dropped each day by 4% to 11% once the queue engulfed the base of the incline, and impeded vehicle ascent.
The more conspicuous details of this mechanism were observed in loop detector data measured over many days at the site, and are consistent with observations previously made at other sites. More subtle details became visible by examining thousands of vehicle trajectories extracted on a single day from a series of eleven roadside video cameras. (Video processing tools were developed and used for this purpose.) Many of the subtleties are compatible with an existing theory of multi-lane traffic. All of this suggests that the present findings can be generalized to other uphill expressway segments. Practical implications are discussed.