University of Minnesota Driven to Discover
U of MNUniversity of Minnesota
Center for Transportation Studies

"Gridlock Buster" Traffic Control Game

Gridlock Buster Game Preview

Gridlock Buster is an online traffic control game based on tools and ideas that actual traffic control engineers use in their everyday work.

As a player, you will imagine you have just been hired by the Traffic Management Laboratory and handed your first assignment. You must work through a series of levels by controlling the traffic and ensuring that delays don't get out of hand—such as lines of backed-up traffic and frustrated drivers—in the simulated environment. Your “supervisor“ will guide you through the challenges toward greater challenges and responsibility.

What’s behind Gridlock Buster?

In the game, the more a car is delayed, the more “frustrated” it gets—causing the “frustration meter” to increase. And if there is a lot of traffic passing through an intersection, long lines of cars tend to form if those cars don’t get enough green time.

Traffic engineers call these two factors the delay and the queue. The delay is the average length of time a car has to wait at a light, and the queue is the average number of cars waiting at a light before it turns green. Traffic engineers use a formula based on delay and queue to measure how well their signal timing works.

Actual traffic engineers call signal programming fixed-time control. As you’ve noticed in the game, fixed-time control must take into account the traffic patterns on a street: the heavier traffic is in a certain direction, the more green time it needs relative to the other traffic. Traffic engineers call this the split: the fraction of a cycle for which the signal is green for traffic going in one direction.

Finally, the traffic control center in the game is realistic: many large metropolitan areas (such as New York, Boston, and the Twin Cities) have traffic control centers that actually do look like that. (However, not all of them are top-secret underground taskforces run by renegade engineers.)

Is there more to traffic control than this?

Yes! Civil engineering encompasses everything from designing an entire city system of freeways, arteries, and feeder streets, to setting up mass transit systems and bike-pedestrian trails, to designing safer transit systems, to conducting psychological studies of driver behavior.

If you’d like to learn more, explore the rest of this Web site. If you’re in high school, consider visiting the U of M for a tour of our labs, or attending a summer camp on technology. If you’re a University of Minnesota student (or you’re thinking about becoming one), visit the Education section of this site for information on our course offerings and seminars.

Gridlock Buster Video