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An Addictive Traffic Game Challenges You To Keep Up The Flow

But it’s not just a time waster (though it is addictive). It’s a highly valuable lesson in what goes into creating—and fixing—traffic.

You’ve just been hired by the Traffic Management Laboratory, and your first assignment is to see that the city doesn’t come to a complete standstill. No pressure. With a view of the grid, you have to keep the cars moving, or watch the place descend into chaos and road rage.

Welcome to Gridlock Buster—an online game developed by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute at the University of Minnesota. Click on an intersection to change the traffic light, and let the cars go. The more you can get through without people becoming antsy, the more points you accumulate.

The aim of the challenge, according to John Hourdos, at ITS, is to educate young people about the role of traffic management, and its impact on economic activity and environmental performance.

"It gives kids the idea that traffic management is not random. An intersection is not an island, isolated by itself. You have to have a control that sometimes limits one intersection for the good of the system. They seem to grasp pretty quickly that you need a pattern, and not just let it go by itself," he says.

The game gradually increases in difficulty as you move up the levels. You contend with one and two intersections at first, and then more intersections, and more vehicles.

Hourdos credits the game with attracting school visits to his lab, and helping to communicate the complexity of the controller’s job. The actual job may involve designing algorithms and formulas, rather than a form of Whac-a-Mole—but no matter. It’s fun and engaging. (And a bit addictive. Say goodbye to your Friday.)

"The purpose of the game is to help people understand the value of traffic management. They need to appreciate it, even if every day they see only a piece of it, not all of it."