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Algorithm Challenge: Burning Man Vehicle Exodus

Soulskill posted about 4 months ago | from the in-the-name-of-efficiency dept.

Editorial 273

Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton writes: "A year ago, getting ready for Burning Man, I read that the cars in the exit line sometimes have to wait in the sun for hours to get out. I came up with an algorithm that I thought would alleviate the problem. Do you think it would work? If not, why not? Or can you think of a better one?" Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.

As part of my advance preparation for going to Burning Man in 2013, I read on the official site that the car lines to get out of Burning Man often take five hours to get through. Scroll a bit further down and you can find, asked and answered, the question that I thought of after reading about the five-hour waits, and it's worth quoting the whole thing:

Q. You should set up a system where people can register for a departure time and give them an "express" lane (or some version of a priority/regulated system). Those who miss their window or don't register would have to wait longer.
A. This suggestion has made its way to us every year for many, many years now. And on the surface it looks very attractive. But, as is usually the case, the devil is in the details. Here are the primary reasons we have not implemented a reservation-based Exodus system:

  • Such a system takes a lot of people power (e.g., people to verify departure times, people to direct traffic, people to enforce the system) and a lot of resources (e.g. a registration system, building secure lanes for 5 miles of Gate Road that would prevent people from jumping into the wrong section)...more than we currently have.
  • Verifying registration would require slowing traffic before Gate Road, which will in turn slow down the rate at which people can get onto Gate Road. Without a significant redesign, traffic inside BRC could become gridlocked.
  • One thing we have learned about Burning Man is people rarely stick to their intended timeline. Camp clean up took longer than planned, you stayed up really late the night before, it took a while to track down your passengers, you couldn't find your car keys, you just had to visit the ashes of the Man one more time, or myriad other possibilities that are so very common to the Burning Man experience. To get 50,000 people to stick to a specific window of time may very well be the most difficult part of this idea to solve.
  • Another thing our Gate experience tells us is that verifying Exodus registrations and enforcing 'rules' will not be a cut-and-dried process. We will no doubt hear many stories (traffic to get from my camp at 2:00 was worse than I thought, but I really did leave in time! My camp-mate burned my registration slip in an offering to the Man but this really is my time window! I have a flight that leaves in a few hours, please I need to get out faster!). Each vehicle that pleads their case in turn holds up traffic for everyone else, and this ultimately will cause significant inefficiencies in the system.
  • Remember how we said this type of system would require a lot more people power? Despite our calls for help from the community, we continue to struggle to find enough people to manage the bare basics of Exodus (e.g. highway flaggers). We understand that most people are tired by the end of the event, and many need to get home. However, in order for us to continue to evolve the Exodus process, we need YOUR help. We need volunteers to help run all parts of this process. Everything that happens in BRC is created entirely by its citizens, including Exodus.

Some of the above issues could be overcome, but taken all together a system like this in an environment like Burning Man would be complex and expensive to implement and considerably more difficult to run efficiently.

Bennett again. So I thought about this some more and wondered about a different idea: My question: Why not have a priority exodus line set aside for vehicles who leave during a designated time slot, based on the last digit of their license plate? So for example halfway through Burning Man, a random number or letter would be selected by the organizers — say, "T." During daylight hours on the last day, a priority exit lane is set up where from 6:00-6:30 AM, only vehicles with license plates ending in "T" can exit. Then from 6:30-7:00 AM, only vehicles with license plates ending in "U" can exit. And so on, until you've cycled through all the letters and numbers. (The initial letter in the cycle — in this case, T — would have to be selected after the event starts, to prevent people from gaming the system in advance, by bringing in vehicles with plates deliberately chosen to get an early exit time.) And then you have a second, longer line for everybody else who doesn't want to leave in their designated time slot.

This has a number of desirable features:

  • It avoids most of the problems described in the FAQ — you don't have to "create" a registration system, or stop cars in order to verify their registered departure time. All you need are observers for the priority exit lane watching to see that the cars in that lane have the correct last digit of their license plate. (Since all exiting cars are passing through the same bottleneck, you only really need one or two observing at a time to glance at license plates.) And if an observer spots a cheater, they don't have to throw their body in front of the vehicle, just radio ahead to tell someone further down the road that there's an unauthorized car in the priority exit line.

  • It's difficult to cheat. You could try to hack the system by bringing multiple sets of license plates to Burning Man and then, after the departure times have been announced, putting the earliest-departure license plate on your car. However, apart from the fact that this is illegal (which never stopped certain recreational activities at Burning Man, after all), there would be diminishing returns from loading up on too many extra license plates. If you want a guaranteed exit in the first 9 hours, then out of 36 sequential time slots, you'd only need 4 different license plates to guarantee an exit in one of the first 9 slots. But if you wanted a guaranteed exit in the first 3 hours, then you would need 12 different license plates, and so on.

  • Most importantly, and this is the whole point, would reduce the amount of time waiting in the exit line, for drivers that opted to use this system. Under the existing system, with a single queue that anyone can enter at any time, the queue grows to a length at which the inconvenience of the long wait is just barely outweighed by the desirability of getting out (an equilibrium which apparently sometimes causes the lines to grow to up to five hours). By dividing the population into segments by last digit of license number, those drivers are only queueing up with 1/36th of the rest of the population, and so can expect a faster exit time.

In the theory of queueing, if a population is sufficiently large, then when users are queueing for a desirable resource, the queue will grow until the cost of waiting in the queue is just barely outweighed by the benefits of the resource at the end of it. (Steven Landsburg explains in the opening chapter of The Armchair Economist that if a sufficiently large town opens a free aquarium, the line to get in will grow to the point where the inconvenience of the line exactly cancels out the benefits of the visit, so the benefit to the citizens' lives will be exactly zero.) Interestingly, this means that for the Burning Man exit queue, if you simply divide the queueing population in half — say, by allowing cars with even license plates to exit in the morning, and cars with odd license plates to exit in the afternoon — then you won't accomplish anything, because each half-size population will probably still be large enough that the queue grows to the point where the convenience of getting out just barely outweighs the inconvenience of waiting in line. It's not merely that dividing the population in half wouldn't accomplish as much as dividing it into 1/36th slices; it's that dividing the population in half would accomplish nothing at all. To make the queue shorter, you have to divide the population into sufficiently small slices that there is no longer a large enough population in each slice, to make the queue swell to the point of convenience-cancelling equilibrium. The simplest way I can think of to do that would be to split up the car population into 1/36th by last license plate digit.

It's important to note this does not actually increase the rate at which drivers can exit from Burning Man, which is actually a limit set by the Bureau of Land Management at 1,000 cars per hour. No algorithm can get around that limit. The algorithm only aims to reduce the amount of time that cars spend waiting in line to get out (in the hot sun, some with broken air conditioners). If you want to use the prioritized queue but you know that your time slot won't come around until 2 PM, you can spend the time until then exploring what's left of Burning Man, learning and making new friends, instead of getting in line at 10 AM just to get out by 2.

In any case, this isn't my problem, since I took the Burner Express bus in and out of Burning Man and would plan on doing it again. But while I was preparing last year, I went ahead and posted the question to ePlaya, the Burning Man message boards ("playa" being another word for dry lake and the nickname for the physical location of Burning Man). Some of the respondents were convinced that "Bennett Haselton" was an elaborate troll (you guys would get along), although I mostly got people saying, "The organizers have had years of experience doing this, why not wait and see it in person before trying to 'solve' it." Well, I was kind of asking for it, admitting that I had never been to Burning Man before, posting in a forum frequented by grizzled veterans, claiming that from my ivory tower on high, I had divined a solution to a problem that others had been working on for decades. (Of course, none of these are valid reasons why the idea is wrong.)

But anyway, I took the advice in the replies: as I was riding out of Burning Man in the Burner Express bus, I glanced out the window as we passed a mile of non-moving cars waiting to get out. I still don't know what I was supposed to see that would illustrate why the license plate prioritization system would a bad idea. What do you think? Or do you have a different idea?

Then again, maybe it doesn't matter how objectively "good" an idea is, if change is just plain hard. In another thread that I started after Burning Man was over, I said that the porta-potties seemed to work fine but that the dispensers next to the porta-potties, mounted on wooden stakes stuck into the ground, were almost always empty. They could easily attach more dispensers to the posts, or set up more posts (as long as the maintenance company kept replenishing the dispensers with the same frequency), at a cost that would be almost nothing relative to the cost of maintaining the porta-potties in the first place. Even that suggestion was met with fair bit of snark, although eventually someone gave me the email address where I could send feedback like that to the Burning Man organizers. So I sent the hand sanitizer suggestion to the feedback address, but don't hold your breath (except in the porta-potties).

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Have you considered not going to Burning Man? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660837)

n/t

Re:Have you considered not going to Burning Man? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661247)

Oh no! It's Bennett!

Re:Have you considered not going to Burning Man? (0)

kheldan (1460303) | about 4 months ago | (#46661817)

How about: Have you considered not going to Burning Man in your own vehicle? Having been born and lived in the U.S. my entire life I certainly understand the automobile culture, but for cryin' out loud, people, can't some of you carpool to this thing? Or get together and rent a truck or a bus or something?

wont work (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660859)

because of people their egotism when under the influence of drugs

Re:wont work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661653)

Easy solution. Fly out.

tl;dr (0, Flamebait)

glasshole (3569269) | about 4 months ago | (#46660871)

burning man? really? if you are beyond your early 20s and haven't realized how dumb burning man is....

Re:tl;dr (2)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 4 months ago | (#46660919)

I think it was a cool idea that got hit by gentrification. Once the profiteers take over and law enforcement starts camping out, it's over. Now mentioning it is like a hipster street cred cliche.

Re:tl;dr (1)

glasshole (3569269) | about 4 months ago | (#46660955)

Exactly. Maybe it isn't just that I got older...

Re:tl;dr (3, Informative)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 4 months ago | (#46661037)

No, it's definitely changed. Burning Man isn't my bag, but I have an artsy crowd of friends into that sort of thing and the change from just 15 years ago (when I first heard of it) is profound.

Re:tl;dr (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661033)

If only we could all be so rational and well-grounded as /.ers who just comment to threadshit on topics that don't interest them.

Re:tl;dr (4, Insightful)

jareth-0205 (525594) | about 4 months ago | (#46661057)

burning man? really? if you are beyond your early 20s and haven't realized how dumb burning man is....

Ahh... anti-Burning Man. The new Hipster movement.

Re:tl;dr (5, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | about 4 months ago | (#46661231)

burning man? really? if you are beyond your early 20s and haven't realized how dumb burning man is....

Ahh... anti-Burning Man. The new Hipster movement.

Yeah, now there are 3 groups of Burning Man hipsters - those hipsters that are cool enough to enjoy event and go every year, those hipsters that are way too cool to ever go to Burning Man and take great delight in telling you all the reasons they won't go (most of those things (except the heat, dust and sometimes mud) don't actually exist at the event), and of course, the group that says "Well burning man was cool back in XXXX, but it's too commercialized now" where XXXX varies from 1986 to last year, depending on when they last attended.

I don't think I'd enjoy Burning Man, but I have friends that attend every year and sounds like they have a fantastic time. To each his own.

Re:tl;dr (1)

jareth-0205 (525594) | about 4 months ago | (#46661741)

To each his own.

Ooo... very dangerous sentiment 'round these parts...

Re:tl;dr (1)

kamapuaa (555446) | about 4 months ago | (#46661797)

I remember "fuck you Burning Man" parties in the year 2000...

Re:tl;dr (2)

leptons (891340) | about 4 months ago | (#46661645)

Your statement is ignorant
Tell me, what is burning man? Whatever you say will be wrong, because Burning Man is, and always was, what you make it.

No, it isn't a party. No, it isn't a drug-fest. No, it isn't a hippie love-fest. No, it isn't anything that you say it is, because my burn is what I make it, and it isn't any of those things.

I'm in my 40's, btw. Whatever age you are, you seem to be dead inside.

Re:tl;dr (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 4 months ago | (#46661863)

> Tell me, what is burning man? Whatever you say will be wrong, because Burning Man is, and always was, what you make it.

That doesn't scan. It should read "Whatever you say will be correct, because Burning Man is, and always was, what you make it. If to you Burning Man is a negative experience, you should look inward for the reason." I'd add, "and stop trying to be an annoying hipster" but that would be snarky.

Re:tl;dr (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661695)

Incorrect on the ageism estimate.
http://www.quora.com/Burning-Man/Whats-the-typical-age-of-a-burner [quora.com]

Slow news day (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660877)

Seriously this is the best you guys could come up with?

Not having been there (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660887)

Isn't it in a flat desert? couldn't everyone leave by driving in an expanding circle and then at some radius turn toward the nearest road?

Re:Not having been there (5, Informative)

lcs-150 (89023) | about 4 months ago | (#46661091)

It takes place in a flat desert yes, but that desert is also the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area, and there's only one road in or out of the area, meaning that letting people just drive off over the desert will tear up the earth (and damage the ecosystem there) and allow people to try to jump on to the road anywhere they please, leading to slowdowns and accidents.

Re:Not having been there (1)

OverlordQ (264228) | about 4 months ago | (#46661511)

> meaning that letting people just drive off over the desert will tear up the earth (and damage the ecosystem there) and allow people to try to jump on to the road anywhere they please

As if Burning Man itself hasn't done enough of that already?

Re:Not having been there (1)

Wycliffe (116160) | about 4 months ago | (#46661193)

Isn't it in a flat desert? couldn't everyone leave by driving in an expanding circle and then at some radius turn toward the nearest road?

They are only allowed to let 1000 cars per hour leave. This seems like a simple solution. The license plate is about as good as any
but a drivers license, etc.. might also work. If there are 26k cars and only 1000 cars can leave an hour then letting random letter X
go the first hour, etc... seems like a good solution. If there are 13k cars, then letting 2 letters go per hour would work, etc...
Basically the same as airlines do. with group 1, group 2, etc...
For people who need to catch a flight, etc... and didn't get a good slot you could also allow line jumping for a fee.

Pave the Playa! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660893)

How about instead we just pave the playa and then create 65,000 lanes all the way to San Francisco!

TLDR: "why doesn't anyone listen to me?" (4, Insightful)

tomlouie (264519) | about 4 months ago | (#46660909)

TDLR: "I think I have the answer, why doesn't anyone listen to me?"

Re:TLDR: "why doesn't anyone listen to me?" (5, Insightful)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 4 months ago | (#46661045)

I see you have cracked the Bennett Haselton code! All of his posts are like this, all of them get a platform they don't deserve, and I still don't know how he manages to get them there. What kind of skeletons does CmdrTaco have in his basement?

Re:TLDR: "why doesn't anyone listen to me?" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661245)

I see you have cracked the Bennett Haselton code! All of his posts are like this, all of them get a platform they don't deserve, and I still don't know how he manages to get them there. What kind of skeletons does CmdrTaco have in his basement?

Rob Malda is dead you insensitive jackass.

Re:TLDR: "why doesn't anyone listen to me?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661475)

Taco is well and alive as far as I know.

Re:TLDR: "why doesn't anyone listen to me?" (5, Insightful)

redmid17 (1217076) | about 4 months ago | (#46661305)

I wish I could use mod points to down vote entire articles. How the hell does this clown keep getting his shitty ideas published week after week.

Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660925)

Cleaning up Burning man is as easy as

Nuke it from orbit.

[]

Better solution (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660935)


Just don't go to Burning Hippy Fag.

Re:Better solution (5, Funny)

bobbied (2522392) | about 4 months ago | (#46661395)

Or if you go, take a tent, plan to stay awhile by bringing enough water/food etc. Just leave when the line dies down or leave before it's over and the line gets long.

This is what the NASCAR folks do... How hard is this if a bunch of Rednecks can figure it out.

Re:Better solution (2)

hjf (703092) | about 4 months ago | (#46661571)

Heh when my mom goes to church she just waits, sitting down, for THREE MINUTES (OH GOD!) until everyone rushes out the door.

I demand transparency (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660941)

Can we get a fucking explanation for why Bennett Haselton gets to post his half-baked ideas on Slashdot instead of having links to his blog like everyone else?

In particular, I want to know whether he has paid for the privilege. If so, his posts are essentially paid advertisements and you ought to disclose that fact. And if not, perhaps you could replace him with someone smarter and more interesting, like Bruce Schneier.

Re:I demand transparency (4, Funny)

squiggleslash (241428) | about 4 months ago | (#46661271)

For a long time, there's been a dispute between the admins of Slashdot, who wanted it to be taken more seriously in its own right by hosting content, and the users, who generally feel Slashdot's columnist choices leave a hell of a lot to be desired. Everyone remember Jon Katz? Exactly.

BTW, as I understand it, the best algorithm to deal with traffic at Burning Man is a Hash Table. The joke is somewhat obvious so I'm just going to leave it at that.

The playa exit is not the problem. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660945)

The problem is not getting off the playa, it's the 70 miles of single lane road that gets backed up (and often closed due to accidents). The lines to get out are there to feed a manageable amount of traffic onto the 447 highway.

Re:The playa exit is not the problem. (3, Informative)

leptons (891340) | about 4 months ago | (#46661691)

This is the correct answer. The other biggest problem is everyone wanting to leave at the same time. Staying an extra day and leaving at 6am will get you right out of the gate with no wait at all.

Doesn't solve fundamental problem (1)

PktLoss (647983) | about 4 months ago | (#46660979)

The fundamental problem seems to be the bottleneck of cars getting onto the highway. By creating a priority lane you'll be reducing the number of cars/minute that are able to leave via the regular lane. Additionally there will likely be some switching inefficiencies introduced with the new lane merge.

So some cars will get out faster, other cars will get out slower (as the non-priority cars wait for the priority cars to pass them and leave), I think we'll see average car wait time increase here. The extra labour used to manage entrance to the express lane could probably be better spent on highway flagging or looking to optimize the highway merge for more vehicles/minute.

Re:Doesn't solve fundamental problem (2)

gewalker (57809) | about 4 months ago | (#46661215)

As is often the case, the real answer is the monetize the solution. Charge for parking access / egress priority rights. Those in first class pay more, but get to exit first. The money problem solves how you get the resource for parking attendants, etc. needed to enforce the rules.

Now, you may even collect enough funds to make it worthwhile to improves the access to the local highways to increase flow rates significantly via additional lanes, etc.

A bunch of hippies won't like this solution, but they are probably used to it by now.

Re:Doesn't solve fundamental problem (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 4 months ago | (#46661457)

A bunch of hippies won't like this solution, but they are probably used to it by now.

Works for the Rednecks at NASCAR races, why not for the this?

Only, I'd add that for the individual driver, you can choose to travel off peak. Leave early (Like the NASCAR fan that doesn't stay to watch the last 10 laps or so) or plan to stay until the rush is over (i.e. the NASCAR fans that bring the camper and don't leave until the next day.)

Re:Doesn't solve fundamental problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661827)

"The fundamental problem seems to be the bottleneck of cars getting onto the highway."

Incorrect, the fundamental problem is the carrying capacity of that single lane stretching 75 miles to I-80, with curves/hills/25 mph towns/accidents/breakdowns all lying on the path and reducing the capacity. The highway merge point already has enough manpower so that it could process more vehicles onto the asphalt than that lane can handle. (Required manpower for this = 4)

Why do I bother reading this shit (3, Insightful)

OzPeter (195038) | about 4 months ago | (#46660991)

The first point of the quoted FAQ still applies, as do pretty well most of the others.

And why the fuck do we care about micro-optimising the Burning Man departure queue? If the Burning Man forums don't care (and I take it that those forums are where all the affected people hangout), why should /. suddenly decide that its an intellectual problem worth solving? It just smacks of Karma Whoring and being butt-hurt from being rejected by the Burning Man forums.

Re:Why do I bother reading this shit (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661267)

The first point of the quoted FAQ still applies, as do pretty well most of the others.

And why the fuck do we care about micro-optimising the Burning Man departure queue? If the Burning Man forums don't care (and I take it that those forums are where all the affected people hangout), why should /. suddenly decide that its an intellectual problem worth solving? It just smacks of Karma Whoring and being butt-hurt from being rejected by the Burning Man forums.

Slashdot: where Burning Man rejects go to post.

Just about sums it up, doesn't it?

Re:Why do I bother reading this shit (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661515)

And why the fuck do we care about micro-optimising the Burning Man departure queue?

If 1000 anarchists can't find their way out of a desert without authoritarian intervention, they weren't very good anarchists to begin with.

Considering what Burning Man is supposed to be... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46660995)

...this makes no sense. I'm glad I've never bothered with it. I mean, the fact that it takes so long to get something as simple as leaving dealt with kind of proves that this event lacks:

  - communal effort
  - civic responsibility
  - participation
  - immediacy

You know, all that crap the wikipedia page lists. Perhaps you should just ask Disney World, they manage to move over 30,000 cars every busy day and it sure as hell doesn't take them 5 hours. Oh wait, that's the opposite of what Burning Man is all about. :-P

Re:Considering what Burning Man is supposed to be. (1, Insightful)

jareth-0205 (525594) | about 4 months ago | (#46661099)

...this makes no sense. I'm glad I've never bothered with it.

Ah... /.er admitting knowing nothing about something and then having judgemental opinion anyway. Christ this site is frustrating sometimes.

Re:Considering what Burning Man is supposed to be. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661415)

Ah... /.er with an account showing he can't read a title. Christ I love posting A/C. When I make a mistake, it's not forever.

That being said, it's not a mistake to call the event out for what it is.

burning the attendance works (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661001)

they are pretty much all drug using hipster assholes nobody in the world would miss them if you just burn them all.

also would fit perfectly with the name ..

Maybe, but how about solving it with late events? (3, Interesting)

raymorris (2726007) | about 4 months ago | (#46661005)

The license plate thing probably would reduce the wait. The wait could be more organically reduced by holding some event or two shortly after the time people are currently leaving, so that some people stick around a bit longer.

I don't know exactly what would be appropriate at what time, but let's say the traffic jam is really bad from 9AM-10AM. Schedule to announce the winner of the biggest bud contest at 10:00, and give away a ______ at 10:30. People staying for those two things would level out the traffic outflow.

Still made their manpower problem worse. (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 4 months ago | (#46661017)

Your system has the disadvantage of requiring at least three more people as manpower - a spotter to spot issues, and a two stoppers - with a vehicle to block the cheater. They mentioned having problems filling the bare necessity of flaggers, so this won't work.

Another issue is what happens when people cheat. Pretty much the only punishment the blockers can do is to physically prevent anyone at all from using the fast exit lane.

My best suggestion to deal with this issue is simple - money. That is, tell people that they can in fact either use the proper license plate timed exist OR buy their way into the express lane via an excessive charge. Call it $500.

Just a few people buying this would put some money into the system, letting them pay people to act as flaggers, spotters and stoppers. You could also offer cheaters a way to continue on their way - just pay the $500 fee.

There is of course a single major problem with my addendum to your idea: The philosophical bent of Burning Man is probably against this monetary solution.

Re:Still made their manpower problem worse. (1, Informative)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 4 months ago | (#46661157)

Burning man is specifically anti-money. Buy your way to the front solutions have no place there.

Problem with License Plates (1)

abelenky17 (548645) | about 4 months ago | (#46661025)

License Plates work well enough, IFF they are on the front of a car.

But I recently moved from a state where front & rear plates were required (WA) to a state where people only have rear plates (KS).

If a car comes up the express lane towards an observer/monitor, the observer won't know the car is in the wrong lane until the car is already past them, and driving away.
Enforcement just went to hell.

(nevermind that at B.M., many plates are totally obscured with dust).

Enforcement (3, Insightful)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about 4 months ago | (#46661031)

I don't see how you could enforce the priority lane. Suppose someone stubburn pulls into the lane without the proper plate. What do you do? Push their car into a ditch? You either have big argument while one of you lanes is closed, use violence, or have it work on a honor system and hope the cheaters don't cause a pile up.

Re:Enforcement (4, Funny)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 4 months ago | (#46661087)

Absurd. Youre implying that people attending Burning Man might have issues subscribing to a system of norms and rules? I dont believe it.

Re:Enforcement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661263)

People can barely contain themselves in the interstate as it is... You have been sitting in a hot car for 3 hours and someone cuts you off? Yeah that would be some quality road rage there...

Re:Enforcement (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#46661299)

I don't see how you could enforce the priority lane. Suppose someone stubburn pulls into the lane without the proper plate. What do you do? Push their car into a ditch? You either have big argument while one of you lanes is closed, use violence, or have it work on a honor system and hope the cheaters don't cause a pile up.

Forklift.

A big one.

No algorithm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661047)

I just order a limo 6 months in advance.

How about enforcement? (1)

fyec (3404475) | about 4 months ago | (#46661065)

The idea is interesting, but car + long line => selfish jerk behavior, always. So you mention radioing ahead to tell someone that an unauthorized car is in the express line. Then what? How do you force that car out of the line? It still seems like you're expecting people to follow the rules and, when they don't, say "gosh darnit, you're right. I was cheating" and then calmly get out of line. People who are hot, tired, dirty, and irritated are not going to be reasonable.

Hey, join the Exodus team and you get to help! (5, Informative)

jnelson4765 (845296) | about 4 months ago | (#46661067)

Speaking as someone who's gone for a few years, and now volunteer at the event, I can give you the perfect answer.

Join the Exodus team, help run the traffic outflow, and you'll get a better reception than some random dude on a web forum. We are a do-ocracy - do shit, and you'll eventually be in charge of it if you can handle it and not get burned out.

And also, fuck ePlaya - that place is full of trolls and assholes and burnier-than-thou cranks.

Re:Hey, join the Exodus team and you get to help! (1)

ThatsDrDangerToYou (3480047) | about 4 months ago | (#46661251)

Speaking as someone who's gone for a few years, and now volunteer at the event, I can give you the perfect answer.

So, is it still worth going? I've never been, but it's on my list for the future. Should it be? What's the best (and worst) thing(s) about it?

Thanks.

Re:Hey, join the Exodus team and you get to help! (2)

mcappel (776700) | about 4 months ago | (#46661441)

So, is it still worth going? I've never been, but it's on my list for the future. Should it be? What's the best (and worst) thing(s) about it?

Yes. It's still worth attending.

The art is amazing. It's unlike any other. Some is utter crap, but for the most part, the art is difficult to describe in type and scale.

The art cars and art bikes are also unlike anything elsewhere. Imagine steampunk, but operational. With flame effects.

The raves are fine if that's what you like. I don't, so I ignore them.

Re:Hey, join the Exodus team and you get to help! (3, Insightful)

mcappel (776700) | about 4 months ago | (#46661269)

Haselton, what jnelson4765 said.

Join the Gate Perimeter & Exodus Dept., work in the lanes for a few shifts, and then I imagine you would see the enormous flaw in your proposal. All participants need to buy into any Exodus plan, and abide by its rules voluntarily. This is spelled out in the FAQ. I doubt all participants would abide by your idea voluntarily, and once a few start busting lanes, everyone else will and all hell breaks loose.

The GPE people, and I'm one of them, work hard to make event entry and exit as quick and painless as possible. It's in everyone's best interest to do so. Join GPE, and you may see another idea once you're part of the team. Contact me privately and I'll talk you through the department sign-up process, and become part of the solution.

Re:Hey, join the Exodus team and you get to help! (1)

davecb (6526) | about 4 months ago | (#46661655)

To be fair, he's proposed a classic solution to a queuing problem, albeit from outside. My usual response to "I suggest X" in such a scenario is a quick sanity check followed by "do you volunteer to implement it?"

My algorithms for getting out of parking lots. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661075)

My algorithms:

Lave early before the rush.

Hang out until everyone else leaves - like I do on airplanes.

Nothing fancy. Sometimes not being as smart pays off.

Re:My algorithms for getting out of parking lots. (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 4 months ago | (#46661539)

Works for the Rednecks at NASCAR races... Plan ahead and figure on waiting unless you leave before it's over.

TL;DR (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661117)

This image has never been more appropriate
http://1-media-cdn.foolz.us/ff... [foolz.us]

Some issues (1)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 4 months ago | (#46661119)

Ok, so you want something better than "we don't care" for a response. Your plan has a serious flaw: Not all license plates follow your pattern. In Oregon in particular the format is letter letter letter space number number number.

Also, leaving is a social experience. If you haven't learned to appreciate waiting in line by the end.. well.. you haven't really been there. Part of it is surviving, and surviving the line at the end is just the last step.

Cost of buying front page placement (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 4 months ago | (#46661121)

I'm still looking for you guys to give me an answer on how much I have to pay to get front page placement like Bennett?

viral marketing for burning man (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661131)

burning man is big business now with tickets costing as much as coachella, fuck the capitalist blood suckers and fuck burning man.

bad idea (2)

Irish-DnB (161087) | about 4 months ago | (#46661145)

Not being American I have no idea how your license plates work but it seems to me the idea mentioned in the article is dependant on there being an equal amount of cars in each group. What happens if there are 10 times as many people with cars whose plate ends with a 'T' than those that end with a 'U'

Re:bad idea (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | about 4 months ago | (#46661291)

The license plate system as described by this idiot would not work.

No point; BMorg doesn't want to solve the problem. (3, Insightful)

SvnLyrBrto (62138) | about 4 months ago | (#46661177)

The Burning Man organization just doesn't want to solve certain problems with the event. Entry and exodus are big ones.

Entry has even more obvious solutions to the problems. But they are absolutely uninterested in solving it because it would involve making changes, and the entry procedure is "traditional'. Also, speeding things up would involve taking away certain peoples' ego trips; like the pointless and milquetoast "searching" of incoming vehicles that's not really a search and never uncovers contraband, but lets the "searcher" assert his au-thor-a-TAH over the "searched". Seriously... a friend of mine once entered with a crate full of illegal, and against BM rules, fireworks sitting openly in his van in full view of the people "searching" it, and they just waved him through! They could also cut out the, once again, "traditional" routine of making everyone get out of their cars AGAIN to ring the bell, get hugged by a hippie, and make the first-timers roll around in the dirt. But those people, too, have made their niche for themselves in the BMorg, and damned if they'll give it up, and to hell with the attendees who've just spent 14 hours stuck in their cars and would just like to get to camp and take a break.

I've never really payed attention and gotten all riled up at exodus; mainly because I've at atypical hours the years I went and didn't get stuck in major hold-ups. But I expect that there are similar improvements that could be made.

Hell, all they'd have to do is send the managers of entry and exodus down to Anaheim for a weekend and tell them to watch how Disneyland gets a Burning-Man-sized crowd in and out EVERY DAY, with hardly ever a delay, then bring back the knowledge and re-implement it. But there's no interest across the organization in fixing the problem.

Re:No point; BMorg doesn't want to solve the probl (2)

Amazing Proton Boy (2005) | about 4 months ago | (#46661371)

Your Disney point is spot on. I attended a talk by thier head of parking a couple of years ago and he indicated that Disney is legally allowed to "only" park 3,600 cars per hour on the property but when things get busy they can park over 5,000 cars per hour. That is amazing. More than a car per second with usually no wait at all. That is impressive! Not only that but the cast members that work in parking are always extremely helpful, polite and happy.

Re:No point; BMorg doesn't want to solve the probl (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661677)

"Hell, all they'd have to do is send the managers of entry and exodus down to Anaheim for a weekend and tell them to watch how Disneyland gets a Burning-Man-sized crowd in and out EVERY DAY, with hardly ever a delay, then bring back the knowledge and re-implement it"

You say this like it is impressive. The majority of the BM crowd does indeed leave in a single day, from Burning Man, so the population leaving isn't all that different. Disneyland is built in the middle of an urban area, surrounded by multilane freeways. If BM occurred in a similar area, then it wouldn't have any exodus problems either. We don't need Disney's "ideas" to improve Exodus; we need their freeway connectivity. Guess what? We're not getting it. (If a new Disneyland were built on the site of BM, it would have the same 1000 vehicles per hour egress limit placed on it by the government, and it would be similarly unable to get X number of people out in a day without a line--because that 1000 vehicle per hour exit limit is not arbitrary, but based on the carrying capacity of a 2 lane highway where 99.9% of the traffic goes 1 direction. The other direction is 60 miles of dirt road advised for 4wd vehicles only, at the end of which you're more in the middle of nowhere than when you started).

Distributed, cooperative method (1)

greywire (78262) | about 4 months ago | (#46661203)

You can't limit the exit queue by having to check for anything, even a plate's last character.

The only realistic way to do this is to have the "algorithm" parallelized and distributed among all the participants.

Instead of enforcing some kind of single point of exodus regulation, you have each individual vehicle calculate the best time for leaving.

It works like this: you watch the line. If its too long (for you) then don't get in line.

With cooperation and with the diversity of people, you could in theory then allow for some people who need to get out quickly, with the cooperation of the people who don't need to get out quickly who will cooperatively not get in line and do something else for a while.

This is probably what's already happening.

You could possibly create a mobile app that allows people to voluntarily enter the time they wish to leave, at which point the app would estimate based on past exodus statistics how long it will take to exit at that time. The wait time would change as more people entered their desired exit time. You could then change your exit time if the wait time becomes too long for you. This might create a better equilibrium than just "eyeballing the line" at the time of exodus.

Thus, its completely voluntary, and would make no negative difference to anybody not using the app (and might make things better, if anything). There's no checking cars at exodus time.

um (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 4 months ago | (#46661233)

If you go to burning man, you're a tool and deserve to wait in line. :-p

How would this be enforced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661235)

What stops me from just jumping in my car and leaving through the express lane in the first spot, regardless of what my license plate is? Is some stoner volunteer going to appeal to my humanity as he eats my dust?

Solving the wrong problem (2)

JanneM (7445) | about 4 months ago | (#46661253)

The post says the total number of exits is fixed. You're just shuffling the order of the queue. A limited benefit, if any benefit at all - the people in the general queue will wait even longer, with more breakdowns and medical emergencies as a result.

And the post itself mentions the solution: Make off-site parking more viable so more people get in and out on buses. That would benefit everybody, rather than pitching one subgroup against another.

Re:Solving the wrong problem (1)

PortHaven (242123) | about 4 months ago | (#46661659)

What you want to do is evaluate when a peak time is, and encourage the spreading out of departures. And a fast lane can encourage that. But I think use of color cards with a time is far easier and simpler than a registration. Drive in, handed your random color card, trade card with someone else for a more desirable time, use fast exit.

Bus (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 months ago | (#46661281)

Wasn't there a bus from a company called something like green tortise tours that was taking people to and from Burning Man for many years?
I know it's the land that invented the drive-thru but surely you can apply a bit of alternative thinking and leave that SUV at home to get to an alternative festival. Even cutting the number of vehicles by a quarter would make a difference.

Re:Bus (1)

mcappel (776700) | about 4 months ago | (#46661483)

Wasn't there a bus from a company called something like green tortise tours that was taking people to and from Burning Man for many years? I know it's the land that invented the drive-thru but surely you can apply a bit of alternative thinking and leave that SUV at home to get to an alternative festival. Even cutting the number of vehicles by a quarter would make a difference.

Green Tortise still operates. The event also contracted with a bus company last year to transport more participants departing from the Bay Area. It is my understanding this will continue to expand.

Better answer (1)

whoda (569082) | about 4 months ago | (#46661285)

Camp out one more night, leave the next afternoon and avoid the mass stampede.

Re:Better answer (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 4 months ago | (#46661579)

Works for the Rednecks at NASCAR races so why not?

License Plates == Uniform Hash? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661325)

Is the last digit of the license plate evenly distributed? This idea assumes that 1/36th of the cars would have each digit.

Point missed (1)

Lightborn (7556) | about 4 months ago | (#46661333)

Hey guys, I know the quickest way back to the default world. Follow me!

Unenforceable (1)

wcrowe (94389) | about 4 months ago | (#46661345)

Your system is unenforceable. Or at least about as enforceable as the "10 items or less" lane at the checkout. Or rather, it is enforceable if you want to hire a bunch of jack-booted thugs with arrest authority to keep everyone in line, but that sounds like something outside of the spirit of Burning Man.

Algorithmic Apocalypse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661375)

So, let me get this straight: you want to use a similar algorithm to the ones that are corrupting the world's economies and financial institutions by enabling ultra-fast options trading... and apply them to a sea of drunk and/or high individuals attempting to escape the scorching desert in their vehicles? What could possibly go wrong...?

Re:Algorithmic Apocalypse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661445)

Sounds like it would make a great Superman movie plot!

Proxy encampment and pre-lane spools (1)

advid.net (595837) | about 4 months ago | (#46661443)

I think I have a better idea, since the problem is to wait in the queue for hours:

- Just one lane, with a known 1000 vehicles/hour limit.

- Have 3 or 4 "small" buffer parks (500 vehicles each) to wait with better conditions than in the main waiting line.

- Note: each vehicle in a proxy encampment has left its own main camp, so everything is packed, done, the driver has the key, etc.

- Every 30 mn, give the go for the next batch, so they start queueing, if someone stays the park (lost key or driver somewhere else), he will be soon surrounded by the new vehicle pool and will have to wait for the next round.

This way we have :

- one short main waiting line on exit

- 3 or 4 small dedicated parks next to main exit (worth 2 hours of line feed), people ready, waiting in better conditions than in lane. They know precisely when they will be going in the main line.

- the main camp, people getting ready, waiting for a proxy park to be freed.

If some people are willing to queue for more than the total pool time, let them fill a new proxy park and wait there.

Alternative suggestions: Encourage bus use (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 4 months ago | (#46661527)

For people who are packing light ("what fits on your backpack, no more"), increase the use of buses and provide (more?) safe/monitored parking in a "nearby" town at a reasonable price. Better yet, increase any fees paid by attendees to subsidize the cost, so those who do not use the in-city parking pay for part of the cost so as to encourage more use.

I don't know if this 2-lane highway has "full-service" shoulders on it, but if it does, get a permit from the state to allow these buses and other very-high-occupancy vehicles to use the shoulders, the same way that some roads in hurricane-areas have "full service shoulders" that are open during a hurricane evacuation.

Heck, for that matter, if the 2-lane road "could" be safely re-striped as a 3-lane road, pay to have it re-striped with the middle lane going inbound at the start and outbound at the end. Yes, that's a lot of money so barring a big donation it may not be feasible, but it's worth at least looking into.

A few reasons why it won't work: (2)

Darth Muffin (781947) | about 4 months ago | (#46661561)

1. People frequently travel in groups. If your camp of 4 cars wants to travel together and leaves at the same time, who's plate do you go off of?
2. If you're in the 5am block and the rest of your camp is in the 4pm block, how are you going to break camp?
3. How are you going to enforce this? Needs people to do so.
4. What do you do with people who don't want to participate in the license plate lottery? Again, requires more people and a place to put them.
5. Still will have the problem of people who think they're special with exceptions as to why they need out now, why they missed their window, or why they should be allowed in a different time slot. This takes people and slows things down.

The sun?!?!? (1)

Known Nutter (988758) | about 4 months ago | (#46661595)

Isn't the whole event in the SUN to begin with??!?

I realize the point is traffic flow, but whether you're waiting in line, or waiting to leave your spot, you're still in the friggin' sun!

10 year burner fomer manager, fmr volunteer here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661605)

This is stupid.

I love me some burning man, but this post is dumb.. Get a blog....and good luck getting anyone to give a crap about your exodus plans.

If most people in the community stopped giving a crap about these traffic problem solving theories long ago (they did) ..what makes you think slashdot will give a crap?

I'd like to see burning man more often discussed outside of the community, especially here on slashdot..... but not for this....... perhaps for the awesome engineering challenges that are involved in some of the very high tech art installations? how about posts about keeping the internet and power grid working in the middle of a dry lake bed miles from anywhere? .... no, we get shit about traffic that even the people in the community stopped caring about

way to go OP!!!

signed: long time burner, long time slashdot user.

solution: busses. (1)

nimbius (983462) | about 4 months ago | (#46661607)

busses are far more efficient means of transporting people into and out of anywhere. they have a lower carbon footprint than hordes of cars as well. Carpooling to a lesser extent also helps. Not holding your asinine art-pop circle jerk in the middle of nowhere is also a spectacular start to a better commute.

but whatever you do, stop trying to arithmatically justify your american fetish with driving everywhere. Cars do not scale.

Good idea. (1)

egarland (120202) | about 4 months ago | (#46661613)

This idea is basically a super-simple hashing algorithm, which are commonly used to turn big hard problems into smaller easier ones.

I see no arguments against this guy's ideas, just ad-hominem attacks and people being insulted that someone try and come up with new solutions to old problems. Don't be that guy. If it won't work, explain why.

License plate theft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661641)

So they announce to the attendees that all plates ending in "T" will leave first. Just hope that, if your plate ends in "T" (or something close in sequence), you'd better guard that plate with your life.

OR, this would be a better idea. Go to one of those shops that sells old license plates for cheap. Buy one of each number and letter (or buy most; you'll probably get lucky) and just stash them in a box in your car. Easy.

No registration... (1)

PortHaven (242123) | about 4 months ago | (#46661647)

When people arrive, they are randomly given a color ticket with a time stamp.

Red = 4pm
Green = 11am
Blue = 1pm
Purple = 6pm

etc.

These get to go through preferential lines in their respective hour. People get what they get. But here's the thing, if I got a 4pm Red but I'm leaving in the morning. I'll try to find someone to swap with, and if I want to stay later, I'll see if I can swap my blue for your purple.

Registration is WAYYYYYYY too long. Handing a simple pass makes it extremely easy. You allow the desired time to be sorted out via the festival's barter system.

Well, darn I want to use my 1pm blue exit, but the guy gave me a 6 pack of craft beer and his 6pm Purple. I figured, I could linger for a few more hours while drinking the sixpack.

For all you TL;DR, here's your summary... (2)

Lorem_Ipsum (759018) | about 4 months ago | (#46661783)

1) Clueless submitter: Hey I have a solution!
2) Burning Man: All the reasons why it is, in fact, not a solution.
3) Clueless submitter: Re-sends idea from (1) with more lipstick
4) Slashdot scrum ensues.
5) Profit? (Who, exactly?)

What's even worse is the Slashdot commenters who thought there still wasn't quite enough lipstick on (3) and added their own to it.

This needs a standard form (1)

Megane (129182) | about 4 months ago | (#46661791)

You know, like the "why your anti-spam idea won't work" form. Needs stuff like:

( ) Your idea will only reduce traffic capacity
( ) License plate numbers don't work that way
( ) License plate numbers are not random, only which vehicle they are on is random
( ) Requires everyone to keep track of a small slip of paper over the period of a few days in a campsite
( ) Fails to account for people being delayed moving between their campsite and the exit
( ) Requires more people directing traffic than are inside the vehicles being directed
( ) Any satellite with sufficient resolution is not geostationary and unlikely to be over the playa at the right moment
( ) The NSA really doesn't care about Burning Man, really

etc.

Highway Congestion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46661803)

Wouldn't a simpler answer be to display an estimated departure line wait time on an electronic board similar to the highway signs that list "Time to Exit XYZ" based on congestion? Doesn't even have to be all that accurate, a simple SWAG estimate is all that would be needed.

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