Researcher Profile

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Eric Miller

University of Toronto

How to tame urban gridlock

Anyone who has ever suffered a stop-start commute knows there is vast room for improvement in our urban transportation systems. Luckily, University of Toronto civil engineer Eric Miller is on the case. He designs computer simulations of regional travel patterns so city planners can accurately forecast transportation needs.

Using software he and his team created, along with powerful computers capable of complex and simultaneous calculations, Miller’s models operate on two levels.

The first level makes predictions about travel patterns with known inputs, such as population and demographics, and the location of houses, apartments, office buildings and schools.

Given those details, Miller can predict people’s travel behaviour. Already, his Toronto Area Scheduling model for Household Agents (TASHA) is being used by municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area to forecast travel demand and develop best practices.

“We are simulating 6.5 to 10 million people, depending on the forecast year. That’s 20 million trips or more in a given day, by all means of travel, all over the place,” says Miller. “Given these people and this transportation system, TASHA can tell us how people will move and its impact on systems.”

While TASHA is a sophisticated model, Miller intends to up his game with a second-generation model he likens to SimCity, a video game in which players build a city from scratch. In the game, the city evolves in various directions, which the player must then manage in order to meet citizens’ complex needs.

Similarly, Miller’s simulation — which is still a work in progress — will portray an evolving city, zeroing in on its travel behaviour. “We are creating a synthetic population and tracking what they are likely to do in a given situation,” says Miller.