Fitting Empirical Fundamental Diagrams of Road Traffic: A Comprehensive Review and Comparison of Models Using an Extensive Data Set

Daniel M. Bramich, Monica Menendez, Lukas Ambuhl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the inter-relationships between traffic flow, density, and speed through the study of the fundamental diagram of road traffic is critical for traffic modelling and management. Consequently, over the last 85 years, a wealth of models have been developed for its functional form. However, there has been no clear answer as to which model is the most appropriate for observed (i.e. empirical) fundamental diagrams and under which conditions. A lack of data has been partly to blame. Motivated by shortcomings in previous reviews, we first present a comprehensive literature review on modelling the functional form of empirical fundamental diagrams. We then perform fits of 50 previously proposed models to a high quality sample of 10,150 empirical fundamental diagrams pertaining to 25 cities. Comparing the fits using information criteria, we find that the non-parametric Sun model greatly outperforms all of the other models. The Sun model maintains its winning position regardless of road type and congestion level. Our study, the first of its kind when considering the number of models tested and the amount of data used, finally provides a definitive answer to the question ``Which model for the functional form of an empirical fundamental diagram is currently the best?''. The word ``currently'' in this question is key, because previously proposed models adopt an inappropriate Gaussian noise model with constant variance. We advocate that future research should shift focus to exploring more sophisticated noise models. This will lead to an improved understanding of empirical fundamental diagrams and their underlying functional forms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalIEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022


  • Data models
  • Density measurement
  • Detectors
  • Empirical fundamental diagrams
  • Mathematical models
  • Roads
  • Time measurement
  • Urban areas
  • flow-density relationship
  • loop detector data
  • model comparisons.
  • review
  • speed-density relationship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Automotive Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications


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