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Workshop: Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning

Learning to Dissipate Traffic Jams with Piecewise Constant Control

Mayuri Sridhar


Greenhouse gases (GHGs), particularly carbon dioxide, are a key contributor to climate change. The transportation sector makes up 35% of CO2 emissions in the US and more than 70% of it is due to land transport. Previous work shows that simple driving interventions have the ability to significantly improve traffic flow on the road. Recent work shows that 5% of vehicles using piecewise constant controllers, designed to be compatible to the reaction times of human drivers, can prevent the formation of stop-and-go traffic congestion on a single-lane circular track, thereby mitigating land transportation emissions. Our work extends these results to consider more extreme traffic settings, where traffic jams have already formed, and environments with limited cooperation. We show that even with the added realism of these challenges, piecewise constant controllers, trained using deep reinforcement learning, can essentially eliminate stop-and-go traffic when actions are held fixed for up to 5 seconds. Even up to 10-second action holds, such controllers show congestion benefits over a human driving baseline. These findings are a stepping-stone for near-term deployment of vehicle-based congestion mitigation.