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Predicting Traffic using Local Events

For some time now I have taken a particular route to and from work every day, either by motorbike or car, and one thing that I have been thinking about for a while is the fluctuations in traffic dependant on local events. Going to work in the morning is always pretty predictable (accidents not withstanding) but coming home it fluctuates massively if there is a large event on in the city.

There are plenty of traffic apps out there that tell you the traffic in real time, such as Google Maps (using Waze for traffic information) and Inrix, but none give you any idea 24 hours ahead what it might be like. There’s been plenty of research into traffic prediction using the weather, but Toronto has a very particular situation with the Gardiner Expressway – it is the main highway in and out of downtown, and it is also right next to four or five major event hosts:

  • The Rogers Centre where the Blue Jays play
  • The ACC where the Maple Leafs play and large music concerts are held
  • BMO Field where Toronto FC play
  • The Molson Amphitheatre where mid-size music concerts are held
  • and recently Fort York where festivals are held

Beyond this list there are regular road closures throughout the summer which affect things, typical examples being Carribana, Marathons and Cycle races.

When an event is being held at one of those locations the Gardiner is usually a mess during the evening rush hour. If I could know that 24 hours ahead of time I could plan to go into work late and leave late to avoid being stuck in traffic.

So I have hacked together a twitter feed called GardinerTraffic which posts every 24 hours the likely status of traffic on the Gardiner in the evening for the following day. It does this by crawling the event sites for events that day and heuristically combining the information to figure out a witty prediction of how bad it will be.

I’m just trying to validate the model right now – it remains to be seen how accurate it is, but I think there’s a huge amount of value in knowing ahead of time these things.

What do you think? Would this apply to a particular highway in your city too?

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