Ramp metering and freeway bottleneck capacity

Lei Zhang, David Levinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


This study aims to determine whether ramp meters increase the capacity of active freeway bottlenecks. The traffic flow characteristics at 27 active bottlenecks in the Twin Cities have been studied for seven weeks without ramp metering and seven weeks with ramp metering. A methodology for systematically identifying active freeway bottlenecks in a metropolitan area is proposed, which relies on two occupancy threshold values and is compared to an established diagnostic method - transformed cumulative count curves. A series of hypotheses regarding the relationships between ramp metering and the capacity of active bottlenecks are developed and tested against empirical traffic data. It is found that meters increase the bottleneck capacity by postponing and sometimes eliminating bottleneck activations, accommodating higher flows during the pre-queue transition period, and increasing queue discharge flow rates after breakdown. Results also suggest that flow drops after breakdown and the percentage flow drops at various bottlenecks follow a normal distribution. The implications of these findings on the design of efficient ramp control strategies, as well as future research directions, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-235
Number of pages18
JournalTransportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2010


  • Active bottleneck
  • Highway capacity
  • Queue discharge flow
  • Ramp metering
  • Twin Cities ramp meter shut-off

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