Using mobile probe data and the macroscopic fundamental diagram to estimate network densities

Vikash Gayah, Vinayak Dixit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Recent advances in urban traffic network modeling have led to the proposal of several large-scale control strategies aimed at improving network efficiency, including metering vehicle entry, pricing network use, and allocating limited street space between multiple modes. However, these strategies typically require accurate real-time predictions of networkwide traffic conditions to be implemented, and it is often taken for granted that this information is available. In practice, this is not a trivial issue, because measuring traffic conditions across a large urban network in real time is not straightforward. For that purpose, this paper presents a method of indirectly estimating average vehicle densities across a network in real time by combining travel speed information from a few circulating probe vehicles with the macroscopic fundamental diagram (MFD) of urban traffic. The proposed method is advantageous because it requires relatively little data and involves few calculations. Tests of this methodology on a simulated network showed that the results were not accurate when the network was uncongested, but reliable density estimates could be obtained when the network was congested or approaching congestion, even if only a small fraction of vehicles served as probes. This result is promising because congested states are the most critical. Therefore, this methodology seems useful as a traffic-monitoring scheme to complement networkwide control strategies, provided that the network exhibits a well-defined and reproducible MFD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-86
Number of pages11
JournalTransportation Research Record
Issue number2390
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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