Finally, an article about yesterday's Atlanta traffic issues that seems to shed at least some light on why it happened:
Wednesday, January 29, 2014 :::
"I mean, two or three weeks ago, the kids were let out of school when it got cold here. Knowing what was coming, I can't believe they didn't have the kids out of school and there wasn't a better plan on the roads."
I've read that the local news outlets really undersold what was coming, but the national weather service and the weather channel were both saying early Monday morning that Atlanta was going to get a significant amount of snow. I feel a little bit bad for individuals trying to make their own plans who relied on the local news outlets, but it's inexcusable for school superintendents and the like not to be aware of the NWS forecasts.
"I've been on the road for over 16 hours now. I've not seen anybody out," he said. "They've done nothing. I have seen literally hundreds of cars parked on the side of the road. I saw a lady carrying her kid in a blanket down the side of the road. I mean, people going the wrong way on major, major interstates. It's scary stuff."
It wouldn't have really, really surprised me if Atlanta had no salt/sand trucks or snow plows, and I give them some pass on having physical capital tailored to long-term averages, but if "people [are] going the wrong way on major, major interstates", now you've got some serious human error involved.
One of my first questions was "to what degree would the problem have been resolved if all of the drivers had simply, suddenly been endowed with northern driving skills/common sense?" I'm not sure of this, but I'm thinking it would have made a big difference — and that replacing, say, 3/4 of the drivers with Midwesterners wouldn't have made nearly as big a difference. I've read elsewhere about people driving at 5 miles per hour on roads that didn't at all require that behavior, and can imagine that 1 in 200 drivers badly freaking out in a situation when traffic is going to be fairly heavy anyway could really gum things up for the other 99.5%, no matter how well they're driving.
Even these hypothetical competent drivers, of course, would face some trouble if there are large numbers of people on the road at the same time. The fine journalists at CNN quote a facebook post:
"At noon, it started snowing. All of the schools, at once, decided to close without any advance notice around 1:30. It was basically, 'Hey, we're closed now! come get your kids!'"
Now I don't know how much of the next paragraph to blame on the journalist and how much to blame on Mayor Reed, but
And around the same time, most businesses closed.
"So that's roughly 5 million people who all got on the roads at the same time, which clearly caused a massive traffic jam. Then, while they're out there, the snow gets worse, turns into slush, and then, eventually, full-on sheets of ice. And, while everyone was in gridlock, they couldn't reload the salt trucks because the gridlock was too thick to navigate back to the salt storage areas (we have 30 trucks & 40 plows in ATL proper)," the Facebook post said.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also weighed in. He laid part of the blame on local businesses, saying they contributed to the gridlock by letting workers leave at the same time. When the snow started, he said, with schools and businesses releasing people simultaneously, it was too much for the roads to handle.
If you're a small businessman in Atlanta, I'd be interested to know: did you close up your office "at the same time"? The free market does such a good job so much of the time that you might think that coordination is automatic, and that its failure requires that one of the non-coordinating agents screwed up, but that's not what happens. You know who might, through legal or purely social "bully pulpit" channels, be able to coordinate staggered closings? A mayor.
"I said immediately yesterday that releasing all of these folks was not the right way to go," Reed told CNN's Carol Costello. "If I had my druthers, we would have staggered the closures."
It does appear, though, that a lot of the grief should have been avoided by earlier attention to the forecasts. Notwithstanding the taunts of northerners, the city should shut down its schools in advance of what might, from our standpoint, appear a modest snowfall, and employers should be a little quicker to close before workers come in, rather than expect to get a half day out of people. Finally, if your driving skills and the road conditions are such that you think you can't go faster than 5 miles an hour, please stay out of everyone else's way.
::: posted by dWj at 3:59 PM