Nature Communications 7:10793 (2016)
Rapid urbanization and increasing demand for transportation burdens urban road infrastructures. The interplay of number of vehicles and available road capacity on their routes determines the level of congestion. Although approaches to modify demand and capacity exist, the possible limits of congestion alleviation by only modifying route choices have not been systematically studied. Here we couple the road networks of five diverse cities with the travel demand profiles in the morning peak hour obtained from billions of mobile phone traces to comprehensively analyse urban traffic. We present that a dimensionless ratio of the road supply to the travel demand explains the percentage of time lost in congestion. Finally, we examine congestion relief under a centralized routing scheme with varying levels of awareness of social good and quantify the benefits to show that moderate levels are enough to achieve significant collective travel time savings.