A First Person Review Of Website Traffic Makers

A friend told me about a new multi-level marketing program called Website Traffic Makers. The product behind them is website traffic generation. I joined as a favor to my friend and out of my curiosity to see if the product could generate legitimate website traffic, not because I believe the MLM structure itself will be profitable.

I signed up with a package that costs $149.95 for 10,000 targeted traffic visitors. The website promises 100% genuine visitors and 100% geo-targeted traffic with the option to choose from six different countries. To see how targeted the traffic is I selected a very niche site: a New York City based property management site. I selected Business-services as the category and hit a play button which informed me that in 24 hours Website Traffic Makers would begin sending traffic to my site.

I checked Google analytics two days later to see how the first day of traffic generation went. In one day Website Traffic Makers sent me 369 visits from 62 countries with an average time on site of 8 seconds. Of the 369 visitors 5 were from the United States and analytics determined that 178 visitors were English speaking. If this is targeted traffic it’s clearly not targeted for a site catering toward locals in New York City seeking a property management company.

It was clear that another site was needed but it begs the question of what kind of site would the traffic be suitable for? It would have to be a site for an international audience unlike a NYC property management company which probably won’t appeal to the 51% of visitors from Europe and 35% from Asia. I decided to create a blog which will serve as a record of my experiment.

When I emailed Website Traffic Makers about switching my campaign to my new site, they informed me that I am unable to change sites once a campaign started. Once I brought to their attention that most of the traffic was coming from outside the U.S. they told me there was an error and would fix my configuration and while they were in there would switch the campaign to direct traffic to the new site and update the category to Internet-blogs.

According to Google Analytics the new site was sent 1,367 visitors from 101 countries with an average time on site of 10 seconds over 5 days. Only 13 visitors were sent from the United States with 88% coming from Europe and Asia and less then 50% had English set as their language on their computer. Its starting to seem like Website Traffic Makers only claims to provide geo-targeted traffic, they don’t actually deliver on that claim.

I also tested the quality of traffic through a web advertising arbitrage attempt. Web advertising arbitrage is when you pay for traffic and then resell the traffic for a profit. I put advertisements on the site using Google’s AdSense program, which pays websites a portion of Google’s ad revenue for displaying ads on their website. When a visitor clicks an ad, Google AdSense keeps track of it and credits my account. Google has a metric called eCPM which estimates how much you will make per thousand views of their ads on your site. The eCPM will give us an estimate of the true value of the traffic. From 2,174 impressions over 5 days the eCPM is $0.19. Since 10,000 impressions will be delivered the ad revenue is expected to be $1.90. The cost of 10,000 impressions from Website Traffic Makers is $150 or nearly 80 times more than the expected revenue generated from the traffic. It’s fair to say the traffic is worth far less then its cost.

While Website Traffic Makers does not disclose exactly how they generate traffic it seems to involve pop under ads. When I relaunched my campaign I noticed that my browser was contacting http://www.einsteintraffic.com. When I went to Einstein Traffic I noticed you can buy 50,000 visitors for $199.99 which is much less then Website Traffic Makers charges, it could be that Website Traffic Makers just buys traffic from them and then marks it up. When I did some more research just searching for “pop unders” in Google I found sites that sell 10,000 visitors for as low as $10 which is much closer to the real value as I determined in my test.

So far my experience with Website Traffic Makers leaves me with little faith in them. Like many other MLMs they are a great hype machine talking about all the money you can make signing up others to use a product that everyone with a web presence needs. The problem is that I don’t believe anyone needs the type of traffic they generate. The Website Traffic Makers website does not give any examples of how people utilized the traffic so there is no idea of what sites this traffic would be valuable to.

How to Increase the Right Kind of Website Traffic

The very best looking website in the world will still be a failure if it has no traffic. A website can’t make any money if it is a well-kept secret. Getting more traffic, of and by itself, is not enough to make an unprofitable site profitable. You’ve got to increase the right kind of traffic. When you get more of the right kind of traffic coming to your site, your site is able to deliver a steady stream of leads or sales into your business. Let’s look at where you can find the right kind of traffic for your website.

Website Traffic

People have to come to your website in order for your site to be a productive and worthwhile endeavor for your business. In the absence of traffic, all that exists is a very expensive secret website. There are several different types of traffic. Let’s quickly see what they are and how they show up in your website stats or web analytics reports.

  • Visitors – think of this as the number of people who have come to your website.
  • Uniques – this is the same as website visitors
  • Visits – this is the number of times your website has been visited. This number is always higher than visitors because some people will visit your website more than once.
  • Hits – this is an outdated way of measuring the amount of people that come to your website. Don’t rely on this number. Use visits and visitors instead
  • First Time Visitors – this is the number of people who have visited your website for the very first time.
  • Repeat Visitors – this is the number of people who visited your website and have been there on at least one other occasion.

As you can see there are different kinds of traffic. Each of the different kinds of traffic above is a little different. Your efforts to reach new people and bring them to your website will show up in the number of first time visitors in your website reports. The total number of people visiting your website (visitors) is one of the basic numbers that you should monitor on your website. Remember though, large numbers of visitors will do you no good if they don’t stick around on your site and come back again later. Those that come back later are included in the repeat visitors number in your web stats.

Now that you know the most important types of traffic on your website, let’s see how to increase the right kind of traffic by looking at where it is coming from.

How You Get Social Media Traffic to Your Website

Social media is a great way to drive quality, targeted, traffic to your website. How this is done depends a lot on your target audience and on the product or service that you provide. The key here is to be active, and provide relevant content in the form of links to articles, videos, blog posts, pictures, reports, etc. that will be of interest to your target audience. Relevance is key. There are a lot of automation tools out there that will help automate updating your social profiles, but this has to be done with caution or you risk crossing the line. Nothing will turn off your social media audience faster than over use of automation.

One of the great opportunities for social media traffic lies in the ability of something to be shared with others in a circle of friends and followers, potentially going viral. One of the things that you can do to facilitate this is to make sure that your website makes it super easy for your visitors to socially share your website with others. They will do this by sharing pages on your website with their friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Talk about ideal traffic to your website – there is nothing that carries as much weight as a referral from a friend.

How to Get SEO Traffic to Your Website

Search engine optimization is a great way to bring people to your website. The key is to optimize your site for the different key search phrases that people use to search in Google when they are looking for the product or service that you provide. In order to do this properly, you’ve got to understand that when people come to your website, they won’t all come first to your home page and then from there go to what they are looking for. They will type in a question or phrase in Google, and then go to the page that shows up in the search results that catches their attention and interest. With this in mind, different pages on your site should be optimized for different key phrases. SEO is a great source of highly relevant and targeted traffic.

How Blogs can Drive Traffic to Your Website

Blogs are a great way to drive traffic to your website. By publishing a blog on your website, your site will naturally receive traffic from SEO and social media. However, it doesn’t stop there. Lots of bloggers are looking for guest authors to publish on their blog – this could be you. What this means is that you can write a blog post and have it published on someone else’s blog. This enables you to reach a whole new audience. Some of those people will come to your site to read more.

Most blogs allow comments. Usually those comments are linked back to the commenter’s website. This is why you see so much blog comment spam. Blog commenting can be a good source of web traffic, but only when it is done the right way. The right way to use blog commenting is to write an interesting and thoughtful response to the blog post. People who are reading the blog post frequently scan the blog comments to see what others have said. Spam comments get overlooked, but intelligent insightful comments get attention and drive traffic to your website.

Very similar to blog commenting to drive traffic is forum commenting. The same rules apply for effectively using your comments and interaction with others on blog posts and online forums to drive traffic to your site. They key here is to not over-do it with aggressive “visit my website” style posts.

How to Use Advertising to Drive Traffic to Your Website

Online advertising can be a good source of highly targeted traffic for your website, but you’ve got to carefully measure your return on investment (ROI) in order for this to be profitable. Advertising costs have been driven up significantly recently as a result of larger companies with big budgets coming in and putting lots of marketing dollars in this area. Online advertising often takes the form of pay-per-click (PPC) adverting. With this type of advertising, you pay a fee each time someone clicks on your ad to go to your website. Google AdWords and Facebook Advertising are two of the most popular types of PPC advertising. The best way to put this to work for you in driving traffic is to very carefully track the conversion rate of converting that traffic (clicks) into customers. That will enable you to calculate the return on your marketing investment. You’ll likely need to make a lot of tweaks and changes in order for this to be productive and profitable for you. If you’re not careful, you can lose your shirt attempting to drive traffic profitably with online advertising.

Using Direct Mail to Drive Traffic to Your Website

The dirty little secret that you won’t hear talked about is that direct mail is a great way to cost-effectively drive interested prospects to your website. Google for example spends millions annually on direct mail. Why? Because it is profitable. One of the ways to boost the response rate of your direct mail piece is to use something called personalized urls (PURLs). Setting up PURLs is a bit technical, so this is something that you’d want to have your Internet partner take care of for you. The result is a direct mail piece that has a significantly higher response rate. For best results, this should be part of a much bigger marketing strategy of driving traffic to your website and generating leads.

The Best Traffic for Your Website

The best traffic for your website is traffic that is highly relevant to your business. When it comes to website traffic, quality is much more important than quantity. In other words the people coming to your website are interested in what you do or provide. In order for your website to be effective, you’ve got to have a steady stream of traffic. For maximum effectiveness, that traffic should be coming from a variety of different places. Don’t pursue traffic for traffic’s sake – pursue traffic for the sake of engaging with people and converting interested prospects into valued long-term clients. The best way to increase traffic is to pursue a multi-faceted approach where you’re using a variety of different sources and methods to increase highly targeted traffic to your website.

Highway Traffic One: Collision Avoidance

Traffic.

It would be a rare individual who has not experienced this artifact of modern culture. Regardless of one’s locale or age, traffic likely ranks among one’s more, if not most, annoying experiences.

The advent of the superhighway several decades ago offered prospective relief from traffic. And to a great extent, superhighways, through elimination of traffic signals, creation of multiple lanes, introduction of acceleration on-ramps, removal of steep grades, smoothing of sharp curves, separation of opposing directions of traffic, and other design steps, have succeeded.

But not completely. Slow traffic still occurs, too frequently, on highways.

Why? We likely have an intuitive feel for why, but let’s dive a bit deeper and use some precision (aka mathematics, though not too complex) to understand the characteristics of traffic. To keep our discussion manageable, we will focus on the road type already mentioned, the superhighway.

We will cover this in two pieces. This article, the first piece, will focus on speed and traffic flow, specifically how much traffic can a highway handle. The second article (titled “Highway Traffic Two: Collective Behavior“) will cover how congestion occurs when a highway gets too much traffic.

Definitions, Terms and Calculation Examples

We need to start with a few basic terms and definitions. From our experience (and/or driver’s education class), we likely already have a familiarity with these.

  • Speed – how fast we are going, normally stated in miles per hour, but here we also need feet per second (i.e. about 1.5 times miles per hour).
  • Stopping distance – the distance required to stop a car. Stopping distance consists of two parts, first the reaction time for the driver to begin depressing the brake and second the braking distance the car travels after the brake is engaged.
  • Traffic Flow – the rate cars pass a set point. For this discussion, we will express that in vehicles passing per hour, per lane.
  • Acceleration/Deceleration – the degree to which we are increasing or decreasing our speed. Gravity accelerates an object about 32 feet per second per second, and full emergency braking with modern anti-locking brakes can just about create up to a one “g” deceleration, depending on the tire and road condition.

We can do some math using these items.

Let’s assume, early in the morning, with traffic light to moderate, cars are moving on the local superhighway at 65 miles per hour, spaced on average 300 feet front-to-front (i.e. from the front bumper of any given car to the front bumper of the directly following car). At 65 miles per hour, that is (about) 100 feet per second. With the cars at 300 feet of separation, we divide the 100 feet per second into the 300 feet of separation, to determine that a car passes (in each lane) about every three seconds. With 3600 seconds per hour, and three seconds per car, we divide the time interval of three seconds into the 3600 seconds, and arrive at a traffic flow of 1200 cars per hour per lane.

This calculation of flow, based on speed and separation, stands as a fairly fundamental relation, so let’s do another other example. In heavy traffic, speeds might be down to 10 miles per hour, with an average front-to-front distance of 45 feet. Now 10 miles per hour equates to 15 feet a second, and with 45 foot spacing, we have a car every three seconds. That again gives a flow of 1200 cars per hour per lane.

Of interest, the flow for the “light” early morning traffic and the “heavy” rush hour traffic equal. So “heavy” traffic here more accurately represents “slow” traffic, since from a traffic flow viewpoint, our two examples give the same number. Thus neither is actually “heavy” or “light” relative to each other.

Deceleration gets a bit trickier, but not too much so. Let’s take two cars, travelling 65 mile per hour, separated by some distance (not critical yet). And the first car slows at a half “g,” or about 15 feet per second per second. The trailing driver takes a second to react, before starting to slow. In that second, the trailing car closes on the leading car by 7.5 feet.

How do we calculate that?

When the lead car starts to slow, both cars are traveling at 100 feet per second. With a deceleration of 15 feet per second per second, the lead car, in the one second of reaction time, slows to 85 feet per second. Given a smooth deceleration, the average speed of the lead car during that second was the average of the initial speed of 100 and the speed after one second of deceleration, or 85 feet per second. That averages to 92.5 feet per second. The trailing car traveled 100 feet during the reaction time, while the lead car traveled only 92.5 feet. This gives a closing distance of the trailing car on the lead car at 7.5 feet.

If the trailing car takes two second to react, the trailing car closes 30 feet in the two seconds of reaction time, i.e. not twice the distance but four times the distance. This occurs because the lead car slows to 70 feet per second in the two seconds. The lead car travels at an average of 85 feet per second (the average of 100 at the beginning and 70 at the end of two seconds), or 170 feet across two seconds. The lead car continued at 100 feet per second for two seconds, traveling 200 feet, bringing it 30 feet closer to the lead car.

You might be comparing these closing differences to the standard “reaction time” diagrams from driver’s education. Those diagrams will show much larger distances traveled during the driver’s reaction time. However, that situation differs in an important factor – those reaction times relate to a stationary object. For example, relative to a stationary object, a one second reaction time at 65 miles per hour produces a closing distance of 100 feet, not the 7.5 seconds above for two moving cars.

Why do we having two moving cars in our examples? On the highway, essentially all the time, the vehicle in front is moving, and thus closing distances depend not on the absolute speed of our car, but our speed relative to the lead cars in front of us.

Maximum Sustainable Flow

Drivers aim to travel as fast as (and in cases faster than) legally allowed. Highway engineers aim to provide for the greatest possible flow for the construction dollars spent.

Let’s investigate this then, i.e. the relation of speed and flow, given that both are critical goals. We will base our investigation on fairly ideal conditions and perform calculations with a fairly basic model. Though we have a simplified approach, our investigation will still contain sufficient descriptive power to highlight key traffic characteristics.

What are our conditions? We want them relatively ideal. So the weather is clear; the drivers travel at a uniform speed; no construction or other traffic constrictions are present; no entrance and exit ramps exist; minimal lane switching occurs; no trucks are present. These are ideal indeed.

How will we model traffic behavior? Given our ideal conditions, driver psychology becomes a main, if not the main, determinant of traffic dynamics. And what motivates our characteristic driver? Most drivers will seek to travel as fast as reasonably possible. So then what does reasonably mean? Reasonably, for the mainstream driver, signifies 1) avoiding a collision and 2) avoiding a ticket. We will translate those two motivations into two actions, specifically our mainstream driver, for our model, will 1) maintain an adequate following distance from the leading car to stop before impacting that car and 2) will travel at a maximum speed of the speed limit plus five miles an hour.

This does leave out here several important driver motivations. For example, we exclude efforts of aggressive drivers to speed the leading car through tailgating; we throw out road rage tactics; we eliminate drivers who either due to too much caution, or due to vehicle limitation, will not or can not maintain the speed limit plus five.

We also, on balance, exclude driver efforts to prevent cars in adjoining lanes from moving over in front of them. We have seen this in actual traffic, and may have done this ourselves. Drivers will tighten the distance to the vehicle in front, or take other actions, to foil attempts of other drivers to change lanes into the space in front of them. While not uncommon in real traffic, our simplified model assumes all vehicles travel at the same speed, so limited motivation exists for lane switching, and thus we will assume limited motivation to block lane switching.

With these ideal, but still informative, assumptions, how do we now calculate the maximum flow for a given speed? Very simply, at a given speed limit, we can increase the flow as long as our drivers can maintain a desired reasonable following distance (i.e. large enough to avoid a collision) while traveling at the speed limit plus five.

So we want a reasonable following distance to avoid a collision. And if we are the drivers, what do we – intuitively, almost subconsciously – consider and calculate to accomplish this? Four things, I would offer:

  • Reaction time, i.e. how long we take to start braking after we see a need to slow
  • Lead car deceleration rate, i.e. how fast the car in front of us slows
  • Trailing car deceleration rate, i.e. how fast we judge we can slow
  • Safety margin, i.e. how much extra distance do we want “just in case”

While this list might appear complex and intricate, drivers compute these variables intuitively and holistically. Though most individuals do not study calculus, evolution has provided mankind an innate ability to instinctively perform calculus-like time/distance/speed/acceleration calculations. Eons ago, mankind needed to hunt to survive, and neither man nor beast can hunt successfully absent an intuitive, split-second ability to perform motion calculations. So our ability to drive, as well as do many other activities involving complex motion (sports being a main example) could be said to be due to our ancestors need to eat.

Note we have abandoned the text book recommendations of a following distance of three seconds. That is nice, but if you recall our earlier calculation, at 65 miles an hour, a three second following distance equates to a 300 foot separation, i.e. a football field. That just doesn’t happen. Few maintain such a great distance as traffic volume increases, even at 65 miles an hour.

So we have our basic behavioral considerations for following distance, built on the simple and understandable principle that drivers prefer not to hit the vehicle in front of them. To do some math, we need to convert these qualitative considerations to explicit quantitative inputs. We will use the following assumptions:

  • A driver reaction time of 1.5 seconds
  • A maximum lead car deceleration rate of one-half “g”, when at 60 miles an hour
  • A trailing car deceleration rate slightly faster, specifically 1 foot/second/second faster
  • A minimum safety margin of 10 feet at 10 miles an hour
  • A scaling factor that increases quantities as speed increases but less than proportional

Let’s review briefly the logic of these assumptions.

A reaction time of 1.5 seconds may be generous (our standard braking distance charts generally show a second or sometimes less). However, in highway traffic, when vehicles are traveling at steady state, the trailing driver must not only see the brake lights of the lead car, but also take a split second to determine the slowing rate.

A lead car deceleration rate of one-half “g” is about two-thirds to half of a full braking emergency stop (aka full brake pedal depression to the point of skidding or anti-lock brake engagement). In 99% plus of the time on highways, cars do not undergo full braking stops. So for good or bad, human psychology generally discounts the very low probability events (in this case a full emergency stop of the lead car) and thus our characteristic driver does not base following distance on a full emergency stop by the leading car, but rather on a more gradual slowing.

That we can stop faster than the lead car is achievable, given our expectation and assumption that the lead car won’t, and typically doesn’t, go into a full braking stop. Note here a subtle interaction. If we cascaded this assumption, i.e. that a driver can stop one foot per second per second faster than the preceding car, then by 10 to 15 cars back (if each driver stopped faster than their leading car) the deceleration would exceed one “g.” The subtle interaction involves the drivers of these subsequent cars (i.e. third car and beyond) reacting to the stopping of not just the car directly in front of them but also to the stopping of the cars two and three (or more) ahead of them. So our assumption of our trailing car stopping faster than the leading car holds only for the driver directly behind the first car braking.

A minimum safety margin provides for contingencies and comfort; we wouldn’t want to plan for our stopping to put us just inches from the bumper of the leading car. If we had that plan, little glitches (we happen to be glancing into a mirror at the trailing car; we are distracted by the passenger beside us dropping their whatever) would send us into a collision. So we add a buffer distance.

We now come to the scaling factor, i.e. how to ratio various factors for different speeds. Say we have an intuitive safety margin of 10 feet, at 10 miles an hour, i.e. we want a following distance sufficient so that in the average situation we stop 10 feet behind the lead car at 10 miles an hour. What safety margin do we judge we need at 60 miles an hour?

Well, keeping the safety margin constant at 10 feet (measured from rear bumper of the leading car to our front bumper) seems inadequate. At 60 miles an hour, we travel 10 feet in a tenth of a second. But would we scale up proportionately? Would we plan in the average situation to stop 60 feet back (six times the 10 feet at 10 miles an hour)? Likely not. Two car lengths, about 30 to 35 feet, feels about enough. So we scale up less than proportionately.

Now we run the model, on a computer. This model takes our assumptions, and computes for different speeds the required following distances, and corresponding traffic flows. Let’s see an example situation, e.g. 40 miles an hour, equal to 60 feet a second. For this example, we will have the lead car brake for five seconds, at a deceleration rate of 12 feet per second per second. Where does the 12 rate come from? At 40 miles an hour, the model scales the half “g” (16 feet per second per second) deceleration at 60 miles an hour down to about 12 feet/sec/sec.

So, with all these assumptions and inputs, we run the model and receive the following output.

  1. We close in on the leading car by 13 feet during our 1.5 second reaction time
  2. Our car closes another 55 feet for the 3.5 seconds we both are braking
  3. We brake a second further to slow to the speed of the leading car, closing 8 more feet
  4. We end up at our desired safety margin of 32 feet when both cars stop braking

We total these piece parts (i.e. 13 + 55 + 8 + 32) to obtain a required following distance of 108 feet, measured from the back of the leading car to the front of our car. Now for traffic flow calculations we need to add in the length of the leading car. We will assume that to be 15 feet. The resulting front-to-front required following distance becomes 123 feet.

As mentioned before, this math simply represents in numbers the result of what a driver determines intuitively. Drivers know a lag occurs between when the leading car in front of them begins stopping, and when they start stopping. They also know that when they begin stopping, the lead car has already slowed to a lower speed, while they are still at the original speed. From experience and innate abilities, they mentally compute a following distance to compensate for the reaction time lag, and the slowed speed of the lead car. We have split that intuition into mathematical piece parts, but that does not imply real drivers compute following distances this way.

We now calculate the traffic flow. We divide the required following distance by our speed (i.e. 123 feet divided by 60 feet a second) to find a car spacing of just about two seconds. Our maximum sustainable traffic flow becomes 1750 cars an hour per lane, calculated by dividing 3600 seconds in an hour by our spacing of just over two seconds.

Now let’s look at the results for a range of speeds. For each speed, the list below gives the required following distance and the maximum sustainable traffic flow.

Speed Limit plus Five Required Following Distance Maximum Flow

(in mph) (front-to-front, in feet) (cars/hr/lane)

10 45 1175

20 73 1475

30 99 1625

40 123 1750

50 139 1925

60 153 2100

70 167 2250

70 if 45 8200

70 if 315 1175

Let’s get a conceptual sense of these results. As the average speed increases, the maximum sustainable flow, assuming our ideal conditions, also increases. Note, consistent with our scaling assumption, that the maximum flow does not increase in proportion to the increase in speed, i.e. at 50, 60, and 70 miles per hour we do not achieve flows five, six and seven times those at 10 miles per hour. We achieve a lower multiple.

The last two entries give a perspective on the scaling of flow with speed. If the required following distance increased proportional to speed (so that at 70 that distance was seven times the 45 feet at 10 miles an hour), then the required following distance increases to 315 feet. We already mentioned that from our own driving or just observation, as traffic increases, in real life drivers do not maintain a football field following distance at 60 and 70 miles an hour. Alternately, if the required following distance didn’t increase at all with speed (so that at 70 that distance remained at 45 feet), then the front-to-front spacing distance becomes unnerving and unsafe, i.e. beyond the comfort zone, and most importantly skill, of most drivers to avoid a rear end collision.

Our model gives a flow within these two extremes, i.e. flow increases with speed, but less than a proportional scale up.

Perturbations

Our discussion above assumes ideal conditions and uniform driver behavior. That simplification highlighted how a fairly universal driver motivation (i.e. drive quickly but leave a reasonable following distance) influences the traffic a highway can sustain at different speeds.

But actual traffic conditions are not ideal and driver behavior is not uniform. How do actual traffic and road conditions typically deviate from our model above?

  • Driver variability – Drivers will inherently travel at speeds above and below the average, and at following distances more or less than our “typical” driver above.
  • Maximum driving speeds – Even absent trucks, a subset of vehicles/drivers (fully loaded vans, mechanically deficient cars, risk averse drivers) will travel at a maximum speed less than the speed limit plus five.
  • Road variability – even absent bad weather and exit/entrance ramps, and even with the best design, highways have inclines, curves, cross-winds, sun conditions, bridge abutments, worn road surfaces, and so on.

So even setting aside trucks (always present) and bad weather (that when present becomes a large determinant of traffic flow), significant deviations exist from ideal and these will decrease flow. We experience this consistently. Drivers traveling faster the average will change lanes to pass slower drivers, and their lane changing will often trigger slowing in the lane into which they are moving. Two inherently slower drivers who align side-by-side will create a partial block. Sun just over the horizon in line with traffic direction will cause drivers to slow, as will inclines. And so on.

Critically, these deviations impact flow at high speeds more than slow speeds. 40 miles an hour is below almost any driver’s maximum speed, while 70 may be above a sizeable percentage. At 20 miles an hour, drivers may differ a car length on their required following distances, but at 60 miles an hour, drivers may differ by 100 feet. A bit of road surface wear means nothing at 10 miles an hour, but may be jarring at 50 miles an hour.

How does this impact the relation of speed to maximum sustainable flow? In general, while these deviations from ideal decrease the maximum sustainable flow at all speeds, they impact maximum flow a much greater percentage at the upper speed (50 miles and hour and more).

In actual traffic, then, unlike the ideal model, maximum flow reaches some peak and then decreases with increasing average speed.

Wrap Up

To the degree this caught your interest, as you drive in the future, observe the separation, i.e. following distances, of free-flowing highway traffic. To the degree our modeling here reflects essential elements of real traffic, we will find that freely flowing traffic exhibits a certain minimum spacing of cars.

Now certainly the maximum spacing is unlimited, i.e. at 2 AM cars may be a thousand feet apart. But as traffic flow increases, the spacing will diminish, and in our observations, we should notice that the spacing does not drop to less than a certain amount, with that amount varying with average speed.

And since we drive in real traffic, not under our ideal conditions here, as traffic flow increases, perturbations – vehicles traveling slower or faster than average, slight inclines in the road, sun directly into traffic, drivers changing lanes, and so on – constantly arise. Ripples crop up in the traffic flow, creating sporadic and even continuing congestion, even without trucks, bad weather, on ramps or lane constrictions.

But perturbations serve as only a secondary trigger of congestion. Again based on our collective driving experience, we can point to a primary source of congestion, and that is the merging of traffic at entrance ramps. The second article will move to that subject, congestion from entrance ramp merging.

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