One of the interesting things I gleaned from Jeffrey Kluger’s far-reaching book Simplexity is the observation, via NYC traffic guru Sam “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, that during the worst of Manhattan’s traffic paralysis, the dreaded “gridlock,” some 60 percent of the city’s total road capacity would be available. “All of the action,” notes Kluger, “takes place in the intersections.”
One of the reasons, of course, is the dreaded condition of “blocking the box,” wherein drivers get caught out in the intersection on a red signal, thus obstructing the competing flow. This is fairly chronic behavior: One study found that at nine of Manhattan’s ten busiest intersections, some 3000 vehicles blocked the box over a nine hour period.
I kept experiencing this on a recent approach to the Holland Tunnel during the evening peak. As I stared at the large signs, warning of points off the license and fines, I found myself wondering if there were any more novel solutions beyond mere punishment (and there have been calls to increase ticketing of box-blockers). Was there a Nudge-style solution? I’m not sure the recent Nudge for speed reduction would work here, but maybe there’s something else?
While we’re on the subject of carrots rather than sticks, I was intrigued by this notice from the Times of India. On August 1st, in Hyderabad, drivers who obey the laws will be rewarded with a favorite Indian sweet: ” To get the lip-smacking dood peda, all you have to do is wear a helmet, carry original driving licence, RC, PUC certificate and insurance papers.” I dunno, maybe NYC traffic cops could give out Jolly Ranchers at intersections to drivers who don’t stray into the box?