The Biham–Middleton–Levine traffic model was first formulated by Ofer Biham, A. Alan Middleton, and Dov Levine in 1992. Biham et al found that as the density of traffic increased, the steady-state flow of traffic suddenly went from smooth flow to a complete jam. In 2005, Raissa D'Souza found that for some traffic densities, there is an intermediate phase characterized by periodic arrangements of jams and smooth flow. In the same year, Angel, Holroyd and Martin were the first to rigorously prove that for densities close to one, the system will always jam. Later, in 2006, Tim Austin and Itai Benjamini found that for a square lattice of side N, the model will always self-organize to reach full speed if there are fewer than N/2 cars.
The cars are typically placed on a square lattice that is topologically equivalent to a torus: that is, cars that move off the right edge would reappear on the left edge; and cars that move off the bottom edge would reappear on the top edge.
There has also been research in rectangular lattices instead of square ones. For rectangles with coprime dimensions, the intermediate states are self-organized bands of jams and free-flow with detailed geometric structure, that repeat periodically in time. In non-coprime rectangles, the intermediate states are typically disordered rather than periodic.
Despite the simplicity of the model, it has two highly distinguishable phases – the jammed phase, and the free-flowing phase. For low numbers of cars, the system will usually organize itself to achieve a smooth flow of traffic. In contrast, if there is a high number of cars, the system will become jammed to the extent that no single car will move. Typically, in a square lattice, the transition density is when there are around 32% as many cars as there are possible spaces in the lattice.
The intermediate phase occurs close to the transition density, combining features from both the jammed and free-flowing phases. There are principally two intermediate phases – disordered (which could be meta-stable) and periodic (which are provably stable). On rectangular lattices with coprime dimensions, only periodic orbits exist. In 2008 periodic intermediate phases were also observed in square lattices. Yet, on square lattices disordered intermediate phases are more frequently observed and tend to dominate densities close to the transition region.