Thursday, July 31, 2008

Changing lanes

So while I was on the road today, trying to get Radhika to the airport, I noticed the same strange behavior most of us are used to now: changling lanes in order to get there faster. But does it really work? It sounds like a mundane illusion that no one wants to get out of.

So I did a simple test today. I made a note of the car that was in front of me just before I changed lanes to another one which seemed faster. Then I let a couple of seconds pass.. and looked for that car in the previus lane again. To my surprise, that car was waaay ahead in my previous lane!! Well I felt left out again, and it seemed my previous lane was getting faster now JUST because I left it. So I noted the car that was ahead of me now, and changed the lanes back. Guess what, 10 seconds later, I was behind in both the lanes!!

This seems so counter-intuitive, right? But in a way I think thats what happens. We are able to see the traffic system only locally, where there is so much going on. But at a bigger level (if you look at the freeway at a scale of 5 miles lets say), this system averages out the speed for each vehicle in there. So ultimately you end up not gaining too much... you get there when the whole crowd gets there.

I did a quick seach online, and found this article that sort of explains this phenomenon.

That reminded me of this Jerry Seinfeld standup where he talks about everybody changing lanes in a slow traffic.

Funny how we do so much stuff that doesnt make any sense.:-)

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