Using temporal detrending to observe the spatial correlation of traffic

Alireza Ermagun, Snigdhansu Chatterjee, David Levinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


This empirical study sheds light on the spatial correlation of traffic links under different traffic regimes. We mimic the behavior of real traffic by pinpointing the spatial correlation between 140 freeway traffic links in a major sub-network of the Minneapolis-St. Paul freeway system with a grid-like network topology. This topology enables us to juxtapose the positive and negative correlation between links, which has been overlooked in short-term traffic forecasting models. To accurately and reliably measure the correlation between traffic links, we develop an algorithm that eliminates temporal trends in three dimensions: (1) hourly dimension, (2) weekly dimension, and (3) system dimension for each link. The spatial correlation of traffic links exhibits a stronger negative correlation in rush hours, when congestion affects route choice. Although this correlation occurs mostly in parallel links, it is also observed upstream, where travelers receive information and are able to switch to substitute paths. Irrespective of the time-of-day and day-of-week, a strong positive correlation is witnessed between upstream and downstream links. This correlation is stronger in uncongested regimes, as traffic flow passes through consecutive links more quickly and there is no congestion effect to shift or stall traffic. The extracted spatial correlation structure can augment the accuracy of short-term traffic forecasting models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0176853
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Ermagun et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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