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 Central Bureau of Traffic Control 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 traffic management “supervisor“ will guide you as you work 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.)
This curriculum, featuring Gridlock Buster, provides K-12 students enrichment on many fundamental topics related to traffic engineering, helping them uncover how their everyday world is carefully designed. It emphasizes how ever-evolving technologies help measure and model traffic flow. Through brief instruction, hands-on activities, and guided exploration of computer models, students can form and test hypotheses about traffic. We encourage you to further refine these materials and tailor them to your broader curricular goals.
The curriculum includes three lessons, targeted to different age groups:
- Lesson 1.1—Mixed Signals: Measuring and Modeling Traffic (grades 5-12)
- Lesson 1.2—Putting the Brakes on “Phantom” Traffic Jams (grades 5-12)
- Lesson 2—Roadblocks to Designing Better Transportation Systems (grades 9-12)
- Lesson 3—Who’s Driving Us to the Future? (grades 5-12)
- PowerPoint slides for Lessons 1-3 (PPTX)
- Lesson 1.1 Guide (PDF)
- Lesson 1.1 Graph (XLSX)
- Lesson 1.2 Guide (PDF)
- Lesson 2 Guide (PDF)
- Lesson 2 Graph (XLSX)
Gridlock Buster was originally developed by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute at the University of Minnesota, with funding from the USDOT's University Transportation Center program. In 2016, the game was updated by CTS.