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Three-phase traffic theory and two-phase models with a fundamental diagram in the light of empirical stylized facts

By Martin Treiber, Arne Kesting and Dirk Helbing


Despite the availability of large empirical data sets and the long history of traffic modeling, the theory of traffic congestion on freeways is still highly controversial. In this contribution, we compare Kerner's three-phase traffic theory with the phase diagram approach for traffic models with a fundamental diagram. We discuss the inconsistent use of the term "traffic phase" and show that patterns demanded by three-phase traffic theory can be reproduced with simple two-phase models, if the model parameters are suitably specified and factors characteristic for real traffic flows are considered, such as effects of noise or heterogeneity or the actual freeway design (e.g. combinations of off- and on-ramps). Conversely, we demonstrate that models created to reproduce three-phase traffic theory create similar spatiotemporal traffic states and associated phase diagrams, no matter whether the parameters imply a fundamental diagram in equilibrium or non-unique flow-density relationships. In conclusion, there are different ways of reproducing the empirical stylized facts of spatiotemporal congestion patterns summarized in this contribution, and it appears possible to overcome the controversy by a more precise definition of the scientific terms and a more careful comparison of models and data, considering effects of the measurement process and the right level of detail in the traffic model used.Second-order traffic models Car-following models Three-phase theory Phase diagram Synchronized traffic Pinch effect

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