News Release

NYUAD study offers new insights about urban traffic management

Researchers publish most comprehensive review of fundamental traffic models to date

Peer-Reviewed Publication

New York University

Abu Dhabi, UAE – To create improved systems for traffic modeling and management, a team of researchers, including NYUAD Research Scientist Daniel Bramich and NYUAD Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering and Director of the CITIES Research Center, Monica Menendez, have published a review of previously proposed traffic models using a global data set to compare their accuracy. This study is the first to complete a fully comprehensive review and comparison of the numerous fundamental traffic models that have been developed over the past 85 years.

In the paper titled “Fitting Empirical Fundamental Diagrams of Road Traffic: A Comprehensive Review and Comparison of Models Using an Extensive Data Set” published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, the researchers present the process of reviewing 50 models for the flow of traffic, using traffic data (traffic flow, density, and speed) that included 2.3 billion vehicle observations from 25 cities worldwide.

The researchers found that a model with minimal assumptions outperformed the other traffic flow models, regardless of variables such as the road type and the level of congestion. The winning model is non-parametric, meaning that its number of free parameters can vary as necessary, but without overfitting the data. This represents a departure from traditional parametric models (with fixed numbers of parameters), and opens the door to new approaches to understanding the data with the ultimate goal of improving traffic management and relieving congestion. 

With unprecedented access to a large and well-controlled sample of traffic data from cities around the world, the review presented avoids the shortcomings of previous reviews which did not have access to a data set of this scale, and did not take all of the top models for traffic flow into account. Specifically, the amount of data this study had access to is approximately 100-1000 times larger than any of the data sets from previous studies, and the number of models studied is approximately ten times larger than previous studies.

“We hope that our review will become the ‘one-stop shop’ for researchers who seek to understand the development of present-day traffic models,” said Bramich and Menendez. “We believe this will serve as an important resource for traffic engineers as they design traffic infrastructure, including traffic light timing and speed limits, for cities around the world.”

About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and research campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly selective undergraduate curriculum across the disciplines with a world center for advanced research and scholarship. The university enables its students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and arts to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from over 115 countries and speak over 115 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.

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