If you pay any attention at all to the news, you’ve heard about the winter traffic debacle in Atlanta, Ga., this week. You’ve seen the pictures of roadways turned into parking lots by a sea of vehicles that got stuck or ran out of gas or were abandoned — any or all of those. And if you live in the northern two-thirds of the country, you’re probably scratching your head. How could a measly two or three inches of snow cause such chaos?
First, set aside the blame game wherein Atlanta’s mayor said those interstates running through and around Atlanta are the state’s responsibility, and the governor said they are the city’s responsibility, and both blamed the meteorologists for inaccurate forecasts, and the meteorologists showed video proving they were correct. Consider: Atlanta and other cities in the south rarely see snow. Hence it is not financial feasible for them to maintain large fleets of snow removal equipment, sanding trucks, and stockpiles of sand, salt, and ice slicer. For the same reason, snow tires, snow shovels, chains, ice scrapers, and deicer are not stocked by local merchants. (When I lived there, we had snow shovels and scrapers only because we’d brought them from our previous home in the Northeast.)
Now, before you point and snicker and say “Southerners just don’t know how to drive in snow” or “It’s only two or three inches of snow. Who can’t drive in that?” consider this. As often as not when a storm like this hits the South, it’s more ice than snow. Look at the picture above. That gleam on the road is ice, not snow. And driving on ice is difficult if not impossible for any driver.
Finally, although things might have changed since I lived there, those virtual parking lots on the freeways were typical on any given day. Traffic routinely gridlocked so badly that some people actually got out of their cars and played Frisbee in the median while waiting for traffic to move again. Atlanta became my reference point for heavy traffic everywhere. Ever since, if I can move at all, even at 2 mph, I don’t complain, because in Atlanta I so often didn’t move at all.
But having said all that, I will now add my criticism. Where was the personal responsibility of those people? When you know how ill-equipped your city is for dealing with winter storms, and a bad storm is forecast, take some responsibility for your own safety and that of your family. Don’t send your kids to school if there’s doubt about getting them home. Don’t make that commute to work. Or if you go to work, at least be responsible enough to keep an eye on the weather and leave when you feel you must; don’t be a sheep and wait for permission to leave. You know what kind of drive you face and what you can handle; the boss deciding everyone’s fate might live only three blocks away.
I speak from personal experience, from a day when my normally 20-minute commute became a 4-hour struggle. All because I passively waited for the boss to tell me I could leave, even though I’d been watching the snow pile up for several hours and was worried sick about the deteriorating conditions. That was the last time I waited passively for someone else to make a decision that directly affected my personal safety.