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Traffic Congestion: Customized Bus Routes

An essay by Terry Bohannon
November 7, 2000

Traffic congestion is one of the fundamental problems in large cities.  There is no doubt that Houston has a traffic congestion problem.  This is especially true when there are problems on the road.  In my own case, I live twenty-seven miles away from the UofH campus in North West Houston.  When I drive to school, it takes me an hour and fifteen minutes during rush hour.  After rush hour, it takes me thirty minutes to get back home.  If you add up this inconvenience for all the commuters in Houston, it becomes a very significant economical cost.

Historically, traffic congestion started to be a problem as soon as cars were widely used.  For example, in 1914, cars became common in the city of Cleveland.  They had problems with so many cars on the road, that accidents occurred frequently at major street intersections.[i]  Because of this, city planners searched for ways to curb the car accident rate.  They solved the problem by placing the first traffic light on a busy street.  Since that time, many other solutions to traffic congestion have been devised.

One solution is to simply increase the road network.  This has been practiced in most major cities including Houston.  Widening roads allows more cars per mile at highway speed.  This is similar to increasing the bandwidth in a computer network.  Another solution is mass transportation.  This includes buses, trolleys, light rail, trains and subways.  Some cities are able to employ these solutions more effectively than others because of population density and other factors.  When a city has a high-density population in a limited area, mass transportation becomes more economical and convenient for the commuters.  For example, New York City is able to efficiently use mass transportation.  It has a 714-track miles long heavy-rail subway system.[ii] For such a system to work, there must be a high-density of people living within a small area.  New York City has a population of 7.3 million people within 309 square miles.[iii]  This translates to about 23,000 people per square mile.  It is obvious with such a population density; the citizens have to rely on mass transportation.  There is not enough space for that many cars or the roads to place them.  Would heavy-rail subways work for Houston as they do in NYC?  I do not think so.  New York City’s population is four times larger then Houston.  Houston has 1.8 million people within 617 square miles.  This translates to about 3,000 people per square mile. [iv]  This is why traditional mass transportation systems will not work in Houston.

I propose another traffic congestion solution in Houston to go along with our highway system and the current metro bus system.  I propose developing customized bus routes using computer technology.  Houston’s current bus system, except for park and ride, is a cyclical bus route.  In such a system, the bus stops frequently to drop off and pick up passengers.  The problem with this system is that it takes more time for a passenger to travel long distances when riding a bus than when driving a car.

We can create a system of customized bus routes by using a computer network as a model.  In a computer network individual bits of data, travel along wires to their destination.  In early computer networks, there were congestion problems with individual bits creating bottlenecks within the network.  Computer designers solved this problem by combining these bits into packets and sending them to their destination.[v] The packets of bits in a computer network can be compared to buses in a city’s traffic network.

There are “four major employment centers In Houston...- downtown, Galleria-Post Oak, Greenway Plaza and the Texas Medical Center.”[vi]  An article by Bill Mintz, estimates that about 300,000 people work in these four areas.  Since his article is from 1987, we have to conclude that the population in these areas is higher.  In 1980, the population of Houston was 1.5 million.[vii]  Since the 80’s, there has been a job boom.  This boom has led to 300,000 new residents in the Houston city limits.[viii]  This increase in people in cars has caused much traffic congestion.  The city planners have to alleviate this traffic congestion in order for the city to function properly in the future.

My solution is to create customized bus routes using commuter information provided by companies.  To do this, the Metropolitan Transit Authority would need to obtain three types of information.  They would need to know each commuter’s origination point, designation point, and time of arrival.  With this information, bus routes could be created where there are limited number of pickup points, and a limited number of drop off points.  This would make it convenient for the user.  When enough of these routes are created, the traffic congestion problem will be greatly lessoned.

In order for a city like Houston to work properly, many different solutions have to be used to solve the traffic congestion problem.  The customized bus route solution, which I propose, has never been tried before.  It is different from any of the other solution that has been considered.  In order for it to work, the system will have to be reliable and convenient for the commuter.  This can be accomplished with proper planning.

©2000 Terry Bohannon. Contact the author for intended use.

[i] "Automotive History.”  AUTOSHOP-Online.

[ii] “New York Metro.”  Railway Technology.

[iii] “New York City.”  Columbia Encyclopedia: sixth Edition.  2000.

[iv] Mendel, Barbara.  “Fact sheet.”  Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.  2000

[v] Professor R.T. Griffiths.  “Internet for Historians, History of the Internet, The development of the Internet.”  1999.

[vi] Mintz, Bill.  “The Transit Question: Bus or Rail?”  Houston Chronicle 19 July.  1987: A1.

[vii] Statistical Abstract of the U.S.: 1999.  “Cities With 100,000 or More Inhabitants in 1998.”  Bureau of Census.  1999.

[viii] Mendel, Barbara. “Fact sheet.”  Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.  2000