Ants Don’t Get Stuck in Traffic Jams


Ants marching (photo credit: PSG of Mercer County)

The Next City website had a recent post by a physicist, Laurie Winkless, entitled 7 Things I Learned While Trying to Figure Out How Cities Work.  Number 3 jumped out at me, and I’ll quote it here:

“We’ve all been caught up in phantom traffic jams, where for no discernible reason, traffic builds up and then eases. These traffic shockwaves are officially known as “jamitons,” and they can arise even if everyone is driving perfectly. But ants don’t have the same issue: Even when their highways are packed, they don’t get gridlocked. It seems that it’s because ants self-organize into lanes, and give each other a lot of headway, which buys them more time to react to any incidents up ahead … maybe a lesson in there for us all.”

Maybe a lesson indeed!  I looked up from my book on a recent commute on the Metro, when I felt several people rush by my seat.  What was the hurry?  It turns out that they had entered at Gallery Place and were all pushing to get to the door closest to the escalators when the train arrived at their transfer point at Metro Center.  Of course, by bunching together the door became blocked, those who were going past the Metro Center stop were suddenly crushed, and no one had given anyone else any headway (much less consideration and courtesy).

Living and working together has its challenges. Especially in these times of heated political divisions.  But the next time I’m in one of those phantom traffic jams – in a car (perhaps heading out for the Thanksgiving holiday this week) or in some other realm of life – I’m going to try to think about the ants and provide a bit more headway.

Have a good week, safe travels (if you are visiting others), and Happy Thanksgiving.

More to come…


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