We investigate characteristic properties of the congested traffic states on a 30 km long stretch of the German freeway A5 north of Frankfurt/Main. Among the approximately 245 breakdowns of traffic flow in 165 days, we have identified five different kinds of spatio-temporal congestion patterns and their combinations. Based on an "adaptive smoothing method" for the visualization of detector data, we also discuss particular features of breakdowns such as the "boomerang effect" which is a sign of linearly unstable traffic flow. Controversial issues such as "synchronized flow" or stop-and-go waves are addressed as well. Finally, our empirical results are compared with different theoretical concepts and interpretations of congestion patterns, in particular first- and second-order macroscopic traffic models.
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