How does Delhi gridlock get cleared up?

Sometimes it's so bad that the cars can't even more, at least not without external assistance:

…heads begin to appear between the hoods and trunks.

Motivated by a meeting they wish to keep, men wade into the fray,
examining the crystalline structure of the traffic, looking for gaps,
irregularities, wiggle room. Because there’s always wiggle room. Six
inches here, a foot there, and this makes all the difference. It’s
reverse Tetris: move one this way, move another that way, and suddenly
some cars are free.

The amazing thing is this: these men don’t coordinate their actions.
They don’t formulate strategies. In fact, they probably think they’re
working against each other–as passengers in trapped cars, they care
about helping the other cars move only insofar as it helps get their
own car on its way.

The article is here and I thank Dave Prager for the pointer.  Here is one photo of a Delhi traffic jam.

Comments

It's funny how the commenters on that site marvel over the fact that the selfish, uncoordinated activity of the drivers can get them out of the mess, without noting that it was the selfish, uncoordinated activity that got them into the mess in the first place.

Mumbai drivers have traditionally had more respect for laws (relatively) than Delhi drivers. That helps marginally. Delhi on the other hand is a better planned city. Mumbai's unique narrow north-south structure makes it harder for traffic to flow.

Maynard Handley: Are the roads in Bangkok publically owned as they are in many places? Perhaps the problem is not that the strong co-ordinating hand of municipal government is missing, but that it is reaching too far. If the needed level of support of a resource will not be provided, then the government should not have ownership of it.

Well traffic in India is amazing. Unbelievable, but it always works.

More tricky situations are railway crossings:
YouTube: "crazy railway crossing in india"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTup45oPluQ

.. an other road traffic situation in Delhi:
YouTube: "India traffic cam"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8Doy_7sOoM

Markets are broken. Use markets.

"If the roads were signed and painted, the lights phased, ad the traffic laws enforced the way things are done in the US, the traffic would flow vastly more smoothly."

Hahaha, so if it was exactly like the US, then it would be exactly like the US? But I have seen similar scenes in Manhattan, so no dice there. I have driven in Italy where everyone ignored the signed, painted, properly lighted roads. 6 lanes? Nah, let's make it 8. Let's all ignore this light.

I don't think Tyler was making a point for stigmergy or against municipal governments, per se, but just expressing amazement at the untangling of a knot. But since you bring it up, your "solution" sounds exactly like the kind of thing pro-roads people always recommend for snarled places like LA: more investment in roads! Other solutions exist.

funny how everyone wants traffic to be some kind of parable for a world philosophy.

http://mrjam.typepad.com/diary/2009/11/the-worlds-biggest-traffic-jam.html?cid=6a00d8341c00c753ef0120a6e4e393970b
But scroll to the end to read of Sao Paulo's 293 km traffic jam.

It's probably the same reason why the US doesn't have policemen write hundreds of tickets until people start going the speed limit. The rule doesn't have enough legitimacy with the public.

An interesting argument on the other hand is that Delhi is the most crime tolerant place going around.. These are the small everyday crimes comitted in their thousands everyday, which go unreported and unpunished. The traffic offences everyone is guilty of, the electricity thefts, water pilferage or misuse by the rich, routine submission of incorrect data while applying for phones/passport/credit cards etc are unbelievably high, and deserving of a separate body of research in itself.

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