Much discussion has centred on the Byron ‘bypass’ solving Byron’s traffic problem. Yet many studies show that adding a second, shorter route, can actually make the journey longer. This effect is known as the Braess paradox, after the German mathematician Dietrich Braess, who was fascinated by travel flow. His mathematical predictions and those of Nobel prizewinning mathematician John Nash, who pioneered game theory, have been borne out in many real-life traffic situations around the world.
Applying these principles to Byron Bay, we see that the proposed ‘bypass’ is not actually a bypass as it does not bypass the town, but merely adds an extra route into town, and conforms well to the Braess paradox. The new road will encourage drivers to change routes to try to get into town the fastest way. Providing that each driver is aware of every other driver’s choices, and makes the best possible choice, there may be a small improvement in traffic flow. But in reality this is a very unlikely outcome. More likely is a dramatic increase in travel time. The only way to enforce the faster journey would be to have a centralised traffic god that controls routing. This may be counter-intuitive, but then many things turn out that way when looked at carefully.
Paradoxically, actually closing roads often improves traffic flow. This has been demonstrated in New York, and other cities where closing city-centre roads reduces average journey times.
So instead of adding an extra road with the possible outcome of increasing Byron’s traffic problems, we should be looking at the strategic closure of one or more town-centre roads. This would have the added benefit of improving life for pedestrians and cyclists. Traffic flow could also be improved by discouraging drivers from entering Byron by establishing a permanent park and ride system, increasing town-centre parking fees and reducing parking for non-residents.
Another very useful addition would be to install one or more traffic cameras on the Ewingsdale Road. Link these to a website similar to Surfcam and drivers would have a view of traffic flow before leaving home or en route via a smartphone. Drivers could either delay their journey, take another route or make an informed decision about joining the traffic queue.
Before committing the poor ratepayers to yet more massive financial burdens, it really is time to consider all possible options and have a good look at research on traffic modelling before getting carried away by the idea that a ‘bypass’ will solve Byron’s traffic problems.
Leonard Cronin, Billinudgel