Study calls Washington D.C.’s traffic resilience into question

Dec. 26, 2017

The study called to attention the city’s difficulty in addressing unexpected weather events, among other situations

Not the merriest news for this time of year, but the District of Columbia ranks as the worst of 40 major metro areas in the U.S., according to a new study by researchers at Northeastern University’s Network Science Institute. The study found Washington D.C. to be the least “traffic resilient” of the metro areas under consideration.

Resilience was defined in the study as “the ability of road networks to absorb adverse events that fall outside normal daily traffic patterns.”

An example cited by the study was a minor snow incident on Jan. 20, 2016 that had terrific impact on local traffic. Just 1 in. of snow fell on the region ahead of a major blizzard, but that was all it took to wreak havoc on evening commuters. Researchers found that even if the various road agencies had far more advance notice to plan for snow plows, in addition to an emergency response plan, the presenting conditions would still have caused a deterioration into gridlock conditions.

Researchers suggested that one crucial reason why unexpected incidents do not impact commutes in other dense urban areas to such a degree is greater availability of and access to backup roads.

In the paper published in the journal Science Advances, Maksim Kitsak, an associate research scientist of physics in Northeastern’s Network Science Institute, says the research findings are also important because until now, policy responses and investments to improve transportation networks have been based on normal traffic conditions.

By way of context, Cleveland and Salt Lake City are cited as two of the best cities for “traffic resilience.”