When I first came across this article about New York traffic scientist Charles Komanoff's three-year effort to find the optimal solution to New York's traffic problems, my first thought was: "Holy crap! He did that in Excel?!? Someone show this guy MySQL!"
My second thought was: if only more city planners used this level of mathematical rigor to determine the true cost of how we move, this world would be a different place.
Komanoff's spreadsheet, which he has posted online, calculates how new fees and changes to existing tolls affect traffic at different times of day. It calculates which costs are borne by city dwellers and which by suburbanites. It calculates how long it takes passengers to dig for change and board buses. And it allows any user to adjust dozens of different variables-from taxi surcharges to truck tolls-and measure their impact. The result is a kind of statistical SimCity, an opportunity to play God (or at least Robert Moses) and devise the perfect traffic policy.
The conclusions he draws will sound familiar to most people here, and it's a somewhat long read but it's definitely worth your time! (Especially if you're into simulation development or are a stats geek.)
[The Balanced Transportation Analyzer], Komanoff says, will finally allow engineers to model the effects of proposed transportation policies in realistic detail. He translates all traffic impacts-delays, collisions, injuries, air pollution-into dollars and cents; that way, it's easy for users to compare the benefits and costs of different plans. He has even come up with a plan of his own that would, according to his calculations, collect $1.3 billion in motorist tolls per year-all of which would be spent on improving public transit-and save $2.5 billion in time costs by reducing delays. To that, add $190 million from decreased mortality as a result of making streets more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, $83 million in collision damage reduction, and $34 million in lower CO2 emissions.
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