Can the Hyperlane Eliminate Traffic Jams?

Two Berkley graduates have a futuristic idea to eliminate traffic once and for all – a separate lane for autonomous cars.

Timothy Healey
    Jun 27, 2017 8:10 AM  PT
Can the Hyperlane Eliminate Traffic Jams?
author: Timothy Healey    

We all spend too much time sitting in traffic.

One of the potential benefits of self-driving cars is that they might help us reduce or eliminate traffic jams. Others disagree, suggesting that either they won't change anything or they will make traffic worse. As it is, the average driver spends around 32 hours per year stuck in traffic.

Eliminating Traffic With A Separate Lane

Two Berkeley grads are working to use autonomous cars to reduce traffic, but doing so in a novel way. Instead of simply having cars that are programmed not to tailgate or are otherwise taught to drive in such a manner that they'll reduce traffic, these grads are working on a separate lane for self-driving cars. It's like the HOV lanes of today, sort of.

The system, dreamed up by Anthony Barrs and Baiyu Chen, works like this: If you're in a self-driving car that's stuck in a traffic jam, you can have it navigate itself to a special lane that's only for self-driving vehicles. From there, the cars could "talk" to each other wireless via a 5G wireless network, and arrange themselves into a more compact traffic flow. Done right, this flow would allow cars to travel at speeds up to 120 mph.

The two have their eyes set on certain urban areas when they think of places that would be a good fit for the Hyperlane. The San Francisco Bay Area, Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor, and Dallas-Ft. Worth areas are among the initial candidates. According to the developers, the system could cut the trip from Berkeley to Palo Alto from two hours during the evening rush hour down to 40 minutes.

No Better Time Than The Present

Barrs and Chen are pitching their plan to both private transportation companies and state transportation officials. The timing may certainly be right – Google claims its self-driving car may be on the roads within a year, and most major automakers are predicting that self-driving cars of some sort will be on the roads (albeit perhaps in limited numbers) by 2020.

That means that communities might be able to perform real-world testing with self-driving cars, using existing roads, soon. But even if that doesn't happen – it's almost certain that testing would need to be done in other ways, such as via computer simulation, first, and it's certainly not a given that self-driving cars will be ready as promised – this idea sounds like a promising way to get traffic moving, especially if we end up with a world that has a mix of self-driving cars and human-controlled vehicles, or if self-driving cars are built in such a way that drivers can choose when to be autonomous.

Furthermore, buyers who value their time might be incentivized to buy autonomous vehicles, thus ushering in the self-driving future more quickly.

If self-driving cars are shifting to their own lanes, that would also free up space for human-controlled vehicles, which would also reduce congestion (and would keep drivers who choose to remain in control from feeling too penalized for not choosing an autonomous vehicle).

Reduced congestion also reduces pollution. If a Hyperlane can achieve all these things, it will be one of the bigger breakthroughs in the shift towards self-driving cars.