Traffic jams: A good example of bad UX

It’s happened to everyone who has to travel in the city by car or by bus… TRAFFIC JAMS! Being stuck without the ability to move under sweltering heat in summer or ice cold temperatures in winter with no way to get to your destination…

I was stuck in another traffic jam last week trying my best to be positive and just sing along with the tunes on the radio or laugh at the radio presenters’ jokes, but it was one of those days that I was late for some appointment. I was starting to lose patience when I growled between clenched teeth, as yet another drive pushed his way in front of me like a real idiot, “What an epic failure in user experience! Grrrr…”

Let’s be honest, how many road users enjoy traffic jams? None that I know of, so how is it that such a waste of people’s time that creates so much unnecessary tension is allowed to continue? I decided to sit and analyze the situation a little and here’s what I came up with:

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1. The UX problems aren’t being met:

I’m sure every government official or whoever is responsible for traffic and roadways knows that traffic jams exist and that they are a constant drain on resources, are bad for the environment and create a terrible climate amongst the general population, so why hasn’t anything been done?

Well in truth a lot has been done since the early days of roads. We’ve gone from simple dirt roads all the way to large freeways of five lanes or more, so why do we still have the same problem and why does it only seem to get worse?

The answer to that question could be quite simple: The production and use of cars is growing faster than governments can answer to the problems presented.

But it’s not that simple is it? Because we have to understand that there so many other factors aren’t being met because they depend on human nature and how we react to situations in our environment as well as budgets and so much more.

2. Factoring in the Human component:

We humans are a fickle bunch, we get angry when someone cuts us off, but might do the same thing when we’re in a hurry. We tend to be curious about accidents or anything else happening along our trip and complain when someone drives to slowly but also shun people who speed.

So how could we cater for such a dynamic variable? My experience has taught me that  we can’t get it right all the time, but the best way to meet these issues is to have dynamic solutions. Those solutions will depend on various studies of a specific area with a notion that no solution is perfect for every area or situation, but if we’ve got a solution for problem A on a freeway and problem A on a rural road, we’ve already got 2 solutions serving different situations that might be completely different.

Of course analyzing the situation also points out the areas that are constantly having a problem and understand that a specific point on the freeway needs some work or solution.


3. Solutions to the problem:

I’m not going to say I know the perfect solution to the problem unless our cars start driving themselves like in the movie I, Robot or Minority Report or flying around on skylanes, but some countries are trying to create dynamic solutions and are already having a positive result.

Barrier transfer “Zipper” machine: Great machine that moves the highway dividers over one lane so that a highway in need an extra lane can now have one and hopefully flow more easily. unfortunately sometimes we need more than just one lane and from what I’ve seen these machines don’t move very quickly.

Motorway screens: A great and simple idea to help avoid curious drivers from slowing down to se what happened at an accident. It just covers it up so that nothing can be seen. Might be a great solution, I haven’t seen the results personally, but the only way I could see it being better is if the accident and screens didn’t take up space on the road although I don’t see how that could be possible.

Carpool lanes: This is a great concept where a lane is provided during congestion specifically for cars with 1 or more passengers, thus contributing to cars with more passengers on the street as opposed to more cars. Generally works well, but I know from personal experience that it’s not always easy finding people who you can carpool with.

Platooning: A new concept being developed where cars are connected electronically and receive information fo the best time to move into traffic so as to keep things flowing. Seems like an intermediate version of the self driving car, but since it’s still in development, it’s efficiency remains to be seen.

Public transportation: Many countries try to push the idea of using public transportation because it’s quicker, more cost-effective and less stressful. Unfortunately this is another User Experience that isn’t working all too well in every city and I can understand why many people decide against it.

Cycle to work: In recent years I’ve seen a lot of countries and companies trying to get the average person to cycle to work. This seems like a great option, it’s cheaper, safer for the environment and as a big plus, makes us more healthy. I think this solution would be perfect if we managed to create more cycling lanes and reduce property rents in locations around where we work. If I could be guaranteed a 20%-40% discount on rent for any place less than 5km (3 miles) from my work place, I promise you I would cycle to work.


Traffic jams have been studied and there are people out there trying to create a better User Experience for drivers and their passengers.

I’m sure there are more solutions out there, but these seem to be the major ones and combined, they could probably reduce traffic congestion greatly, but unfortunately due short sightedness or lack of funding they are not utilized and so traffic just seems to get worse and of course, some drivers will always be idiots no matter how much we try to educate them.

I hope an incredible solution presents itself soon or I manage to move closer to work to start cycling, because traffic jams destroy my day.

What about you? Do you have an ideas on the subject?



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