The Real Reason Atlanta Collapsed – Too Many Cars


SnowJam2014 left drivers stranded on Atlanta’s highways and students stranded at their schools. Commutes that normally take twenty minutes took as many as nine hours (or more). Abandoned cars and jackknifed transfer trucks blocked roads, preventing emergency crews and snow plows from making their appointed rounds. The entire nation watched as Atlanta collapsed under two inches of snow.

Media outlets like WSB have been in a weather-fueled frenzy, providing non-stop coverage of the Snowpocalypse. Increasingly, that coverage focuses on one question: Who should we blame? Mother Nature? The Department of Transportation? The Mayor?

So far, not one media outlet has broadcast the uncomfortable truth a friend of mine expressed in a conversation yesterday. The blame for this tragedy has almost nothing to do with the storm (which was forecast well in advance), with bureaucracies (which are always with us), or our so-called public servants (who do, of course, make wonderful scapegoats).

Want to know the real reason the storm wreaked such havoc?

Too many cars.

A simple thought experiment proves it. Eliminate the snow. Provide the city with legions of snowplows and plenty of salt. Imagine we have a visionary leader.

Now: at 1:45 p.m. on a random Monday, order an immediate evacuation of metro Atlanta.

Thousands of commuters stream out of parking garages. Government workers jump into their cars. School children pile into buses. You’ll see exactly the kind of gridlock and mayhem we had this past Monday afternoon. Why?

Too many cars.

A few of my co-workers carpool. A few others ride MARTA several days a week. A very few do what I do: walk to work.

Most, though, instead of parking at the MARTA station or jumping on the bus that passes right by their front yards, drive work in a car, alone.

Multiply this effect a million times over, and you get Atlanta’s famous traffic. On the best of days, we muddle through — but we are always just one accident, one jackknife, or one weather event away from our highways becoming parking lots. Why?

Too many cars.

Erring on the side of caution — closing schools when bad weather is anticipated, getting salt on roads faster, telling employees to stay home on the night *before* a forecasted storm arrives — will help.

But preventing the next Snowpocalypse really hinges on whether metro area drivers are willing to change their driving habits (or willing to elect brave and visionary leaders who will make these changes for us, if we are not smart enough to make them ourselves.)

Whining about the weather is easy. Blaming the mayor is fun.

Changing our behavior — riding together, investing in and expanding MARTA, heavily taxing single-passenger commutes, abandoning the suburbs, living closer to where we work, pedestrianizing key streets, and restricting the number of cars allowed in the city at any one time — is much harder. But it’s also the only solution to Atlanta’s real problem:

Too many cars.

Update: Similar (and broader) insights, with good photos, appeared over on yesterday, authored by @RebeccaBurns.

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

Add comment

Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

Worth a Look