Damn This Traffic Jam
January 30, 2014
‘I used to think that I was cool,
runnin’ around on fossil fuel,
’till I saw what I was doin’
was driving down the road to ruin”
In the age of weather extremes and terrorism, we’ll have to figure out better ways to move people around than sprawled freeways. Just sayin’.
The stories coming out of Atlanta are crazy — people are abandoning their vehicles on the road, a baby was born in a car stuck in traffic, and 800 kids are stranded in schools as snow completely paralyzes the city.
The scene resembles the giant traffic jam depicted on “The Walking Dead” after Atlanta is taken over by zombies.
One to two inches of snow fell on Atlanta Tuesday, bringing traffic in the area to a near standstill. Atlanta’s mayor has told people to stay off the icy roads, but thousands of people are still stuck. The dangerous road conditions have already caused hundreds of accidents.
The roads are so bad that schools in the area have suspended bus service. Parents are having a hard time getting to schools to pick up their kids, so hundreds of students might have to stay overnight.
But before nightfall, the situation in Atlanta had grown more tragic than comic. A baby was delivered by her father in a car on I-285, the “Perimeter” highway that circles the city. Parents en route to pick up kids dismissed from school early were stranded on highways. The Facebook group #SnowedOutAtlanta contained desperate pleas from moms trapped in frigid minivans with toddlers and adults worried about their elderly parents—stuck without medications.
What happened in Atlanta this week is not a matter of Southerners blindsided by unpredictable weather. More than any event I’ve witnessed in two decades of living in and writing about this city, this snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it. It tells us something not just about what’s wrong with one city in America today but what can happen when disaster strikes many places across the country. As with famines in foreign lands, it’s important to understand: It’s not an act of nature or God—this fiasco is manmade from start to finish. But to truly get what’s wrong with Atlanta today, you have to look at these four factors, decades in the making.
So on Tuesday, as schools, businesses and governments, announced plans to close early, everyone who works in Atlanta headed for the freeways to get home or collect their children. In a press conference Wednesday morning, Mayor Reed reported that one million vehicles were part of the mass exodus from downtown. We’re not morons, Northerners: The problem was not one of Southerners’ inability to drive on icy roads, but of too many cars headed for congested highways.
Between noon and 5 p.m. Tuesday, those million drivers headed for the “Downtown Connector,” the highway that bisects the heart of Atlanta, the city, and, ahem, connects its suburbs to the rest of the country. (If you’ve ever taken a road trip to Florida or the Georgia Coast, you’ve doubtless idled on the Connector.) Construction on this main artery, where interstates 75 and 85 converge as they pass through the city, began in the 1950s, and in the process tens of thousand of people were displaced and hundreds of residential acres bulldozed, further decreasing the density of the city’s population and triggering more sprawl to the suburbs. In the 1960s, Mayor Ivan Allen, who lured the Braves to Atlanta and is credited with helping the city navigate the tumult of the Civil Rights era, was not able to convince the region to support construction of a transit system. Highway construction, on the other hand, continued apace, abetted by construction-happy legislators.
More at the Politico link.
Obviously in this case, weather was the problem, but you don’t need inclement weather for Black ice to form.
I’d always assumed the moisture for black ice just came from the weather — it rains a little, then it freezes, and voila. But that’s not the case. Black ice, in case this is a regional colloquialism that doesn’t translate everywhere, is actually transparent ice. It’s a thin layer of slippery stuff that forms on roads and is almost imperceptible to the eye. You look and see a normal road. You don’t see the ice.