You may feel empowered and clever when the Waze app on your phone directs you around some heavy traffic and onto a series of side streets, but perhaps you've noticed that other people apparently have the same idea, and those side streets are getting a bit more clogged. KALW just did a story all about this phenomenon, and how these apps that are meant to make the driving experience a better one for each individual driver are actually making traffic worse for everyone.
The popularity of things like Waze, which is owned by Google/Alphabet, has only grown in the Bay Area as we've seen traffic across the region increase by 70 percent over the last six years.
Alex Bayen, who directs the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley, tells the station that he's now seeing smaller Bay Area roadways, like those in and around Fremont, California, for example, bearing more of a traffic burden than they were designed for as more and more people turn on Google Maps or Waze to guide them around clogged traffic arteries.
They point to a stretch of Mission Boulevard in Fremont where commuters can get stuck in traffic for 40 minutes at a time just trying to get on Highway 680 and some of the blame for the problem belongs to drivers who try to sidestep Mission Boulevard and come at the on-ramp via a side street, triggering a light that in turn slows down Mission Boulevard even further.
Looking at how these apps are rerouting people through their city, Fremont city planners are now making changes like a turn restriction at a particular intersection that is often used by the apps though making sure the apps know that the route is no longer legal is another story.
Bayen suggests that the increasing use of the apps illustrates a problem discussed by the mathematician John Nash, of A Beautiful Mind fame: "that what's best for you might not be best for society."
The next step is imagining what traffic looks like when everyone's commuting in the backseat of a self-driving Uber, and roads are clogged with cars that have no drivers and are making all their own navigation choices. That should be fun.