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Environmental policy

Environmental policy

Traffic flow – physics models steered by free will

02 Oct 2018 James Dacey

“There’s no doubt that the basis of everything I do is grounded in the fundamentals of physics,” says traffic-flow researcher Brian Wolshon in this video interview with Physics World. Wolshon – who is based at Louisiana State University in the US – is interested in the dynamics of traffic management particularly in evacuation situations, such as those triggered by hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico.

In a wide-ranging interview, Wolshon speaks about the tricky relationship between planning systems, physical infrastructure, and the unpredictability of human behaviour. Of course, the big difference between studying particles and people is that people have free will and do not always behave in the way transport researchers can predict.

Wolshon talks about Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – the aspects of the evacuation that worked well and the aspects that clearly failed. He also looks at how transport planning might benefit from technology innovations, including autonomous vehicles and connected communication systems.

Urban resiliance

New Orleans resident during a flood event

For more information about how the US is responding to flood risk, see the Physics World short documentary, Testing the Waters in New Orleans. The film explores how scientists are working with residents in the Gentilly district of New Orleans to help make their neighbourhood more resilient to flooding.

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