Development of Kinks in Car-Following Models

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Abstract: Many car-following models of traffic flow admit the possibility of absolute stability, a situation in which uniform traffic flow at any spacing is linearly stable. Near the threshold of absolute stability, these models can often be reduced to a modified Korteweg-deVries (mKdV) equation plus small corrections. The hyperbolic-tangent "kink" solutions of the mKdV equation are usually of particular interest, as they represent transition zones between regions of different traffic spacings. Solvability analysis is believed to show that only a single member of the one-parameter family of kink solutions is preserved by the correction terms, and this is interpreted as a kind of selection. We show, however, that the usual solvability calculation rests on an unstated, unjustified assumption, and that without this assumption it merely gives a first-order correction to the relation between the traffic spacings far behind and far ahead of the kink, rather than any kind of "selection" criterion for the family of kink solutions. On the other hand, we display a two-parameter family of traveling wave solutions of the mKdV equation, which describe regions of one traffic spacing embedded in traffic of a different spacing; this family includes the kink solutions as a limiting case. We carry out a multiple-time-scales calculation and find conditions under which the inclusions decay, conditions that lead to a selected inclusion, and conditions for which the inclusion evolves into a pair of kinks.

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