Complex Systems

Self-organizing Traffic Lights Download PDF

Carlos Gershenson
Electronic mail address:;
Centrum Leo Apostel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel,
Krijgskundestraat 33 B-1160 Brussels, Belgium


Steering traffic in cities is a very complex task, since improving efficiency involves the coordination of many actors. Traditional approaches attempt to optimize traffic lights for a particular density and configuration of traffic. The disadvantage of this lies in the fact that traffic densities and configurations change constantly. Traffic seems to be an adaptation problem rather than an optimization problem. We propose a simple and feasible alternative, in which traffic lights self-organize to improve traffic flow. We use a multi-agent simulation to study three self-organizing methods, which are able to outperform traditional rigid and adaptive methods. Using simple rules and no direct communication, traffic lights are able to self-organize and adapt to changing traffic conditions, reducing waiting times, number of stopped cars, and increasing average speeds.