Traffic Jam

Using mathematics to solve problems

Description of Unit

In this task, students will explore how leading researchers are using mathematics to understand the roots of complex problems such as “phantom traffic jams”—traffic congestion that suddenly appears on a roadway with no apparent cause (i.e., no observable accident, stalled vehicle, or other obstacle in a lane such as construction). Students investigate the connections between mathematics, science, and real-world problems in engineering and urban planning. At the conclusion of the task, students research a location in the community known for traffic congestion. Students identify the possible variables in the system such as the number of vehicles using the road during both high- and low-usage times, the types of vehicles, number of traffic signals and intersections, the timings and coordination of traffic signals, and the roadway’s carrying capacity. Students present their research findings using accurate mathematical vocabulary and suggest possible solutions for alleviating the traffic issues in the area studied.

Final Product

  1. Each student should present his/her findings using multimedia presentation software (e.g. Keynote, PowerPoint, Adobe PDF). The presentations should identify the problem, convey the research findings, and posit solutions in a manner that is of a professional-quality, visually cohesive, and compelling. Each presentation should allow time for an impromptu Q&A session. Students should accurately use mathematical vocabulary, standard units, signs, graphs, and equations.