SimCity Used To Understand Real City’s Traffic

A blogger for Gamasutra has detailed his experience using the SimCity beta to improve the state of traffic in his hometown of Northenden, Manchester.

Northenden is a town of roughly 15,000 people and, according to blogger Mike Rose, is small enough to drive through in five minutes. It consists largely of residential housing with a strip of shops located at the center of town. Despite the town’s relatively low population and limited attractions, the town is plagued by rush hour traffic that can sometimes stall traffic for up to an hour.

The problem possibly stems from Northenden’s proximity to other towns. The town connects to roads leading to the city of Manchester and the bustling Didsbury areas.

“Essentially, during both the morning commute and the drive back home from work in the evening, Northenden becomes a traffic bottleneck, with hundreds of cars either trying to get onto the motorway, or out into Didsbury,” Mike wrote in his blog post. “I have to pick up and drop my child off at nursery in Didsbury a couple of times a week, and quite honestly, the drive is like hell on Earth at the worst of times.”

Mike replicated Northenden using the SimCity beta and created a model that peaked at 18,000 people, not much larger than the city’s actually population.

“I wish I could say that I did that on purpose,” Mike remarked about the occurrence.

The town’s layout alone did not result in dense traffic, but things changed when Mike built a replica of Didsbury northeast of town. The tourist attractions of the new area resulted in bottleneck traffic in Northenden. SimCity’s predicted bottlenecks were accurate down to specific streets.

“In fact, this setup even highlights a little trick that I know of for dodging some of the traffic: when coming from East Didsbury (up at the top right) into Northenden (alongside that bright red strip of road), if you take the second left along Northenden high street, you can skim through some of the back roads and pop out in a relatively lighter area, backpassing the through-road slog,” Mike wrote. “Look at the SimCity map, and it seems to work here too!”

So does SimCity show the cause of Northernden’s traffic nightmare? Not really.

“This was but a mere video game experiment, and nothing here even closely resembles scientific evidence to support my theories, nor can it be used to diagnose the issues,” Mark wrote. “Everything I did was hugely vague and nothing at all like real life.”

Still, Mark is hopeful that SimCity could prove to be a valuable tool in the hands of someone conducting a real scientific experiment.

For example, Norman Chan over at Tested.comconducted an experiment within the January SimCity closed beta to see which style of suburban street planning resulted in the highest population. After comparing the suburban-urban grid, the radiating sprawl, and cul-de-sac segregation, he found that cul-de-sac segregation provided the best results within the game. That said, culs-de-sac provide real setbacks that the game ignores, revealing the game’s limits for real world application.

If feedback to the latest SimCity is used in the development of future SimCity releases or alternative city development software, the day may come when real world cities can be planned and their problems accurately predicted before the first stretches of concrete are even put down.

[Image via Gamasutra]

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