Traffic control advice from.. ants?

Seeing as I cycle most places these days I get no end of amusement from watching drivers fuming in their steel coffins, sitting bumper to bumper for an eternity, enslaved by their own haste as much as by the incessant roadworks which the Council, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to bestow upon the city. None of this affects me as I squeeze through the most slender of gaps between buses and cars, often recklessly but the danger just adds to the enjoyment of the ride. Schadenfreude is always enjoyable but I must admit I aways wonder what they’re playing at, why after all these years we can’t figure out some way of allowing cars from one end of a street to another in less than two hours.

Well it seems someone did figure it out. Ants.

An Aussie scientist has been studying the way ants deal with congested paths to and from their colonies and it seems they use a little counter-intuitive altruism to get around the problem. For example if a slow-moving and it taking up space on the path while carrying food back home,  other faster moving ants will simply hang fire behind it and presumably shoot the breeze with each other at a relaxed pace. The human reaction would be to overtake the slow-moving truck in order to shave off those ever-so-vital seconds from the journey but the study has shown just how counter-productive such a move is. In fact just chilling out and letting the traffic flow could get you through congested areas in half the time.

The main barrier to us complying with this is simple – ego. People tend to be convinced that their journey is most important, their need most pressing and, in the case of BMW drivers, that any other traffic on the road is actually an illusion so they can feel free to ignore it. The consequences of that attitude are manifest – traffic jams, collisions, stress, all of which are constantly feeding on each other and exacerbating the problem. If we could only convince drivers to hand over control of their vehicles over to a computerised network running an ant-based algorithm when in congested areas then traffic flow would improve, accidents would all but vanish and stress levels would drop below epic.

Chances of that happening are as good as zero though. The majority of drivers pig-headedly insist on viewing their car as the ultimate expression of individual freedom rather than the physical and financial ball and chain it really is. Their egos will continue to wrap them and more sensible drivers up in traffic, stress and rage. And I’ll keep zipping between them at warp speed with a smile on my face and joy in my heart 🙂


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