As a fellow math geek and spreadsheet worshipper, I can relate to the hero of this article in Wired Magazine entitled The Man Who Could Unsnarl Manhattan Traffic:
When he finally gets back to his office, Komanoff will use this interview to inform his magnum opus, the Balanced Transportation Analyzer, an enormous Excel spreadsheet that he’s been building for the past three years. Over the course of about 50 worksheets, the BTA breaks down every aspect of New York City transportation—subway revenues, traffic jams, noise pollution—in an attempt to discover which mix of tolls and surcharges would create the greatest benefit for the largest number of people.
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Komanoff’s masterpiece has impressed municipal traffic planners from New York to Paris to Guangzhou, China. “Charlie has created the first believable model of the impact of pricing on transportation choices,” says Sam Schwartz, a former New York City traffic commissioner who actually coined the word gridlock.
It’s also the most ambitious effort yet to impose mathematical rigor and predictability on an inherently chaotic phenomenon. Despite decades of attempts to curb delays—adding lanes to highways, synchronizing traffic lights—planners haven’t had much success at unsnarling gridlock. A study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that in 2007, metropolitan-area drivers in the US spent an average of 36 hours stuck in traffic—up from 14 hours in 1982.
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But Komanoff’s followers can’t help but root for him. “This really could happen,” insists conservative analyst Reihan Salam, a longtime advocate of congestion pricing. Salam points out that Bloomberg’s plan was seen as pure punishment. Komanoff’s proposal would balance the fees with real benefits for New York’s subway and bus riders. “This makes New York more livable,” Salam says.