Field of Science

Atlanta's Auto Apocalyptic future

During recent travels to Savannah, TPP had no choice but to drive via Atlanta, going south on a Saturday morning, and going north at midday on Sunday. The traffic was horrible, no-good, very bad, and awful, all 12 lanes of it, and these were not working days or a rush hour, so without question the traffic was not anywhere as bad as it gets. These four, five, and six lane rivers of cars have spawned the worst traffic-weaving drivers TPP has ever seen, although granted commuting has never been part of my life.  Kept looking for the jerk driver atomizer that was surely standard equipment.  Having taken two different routes so as to sample more than one flavor, everywhere there was road construction, lanes, exchanges, extensions, bridges, Atlanta, you are being devoured by by cars, bound and beaten by highways, and you double down on making access for more?  No evidence of any mass transit existing or being constructed.  What a bleak future awaits this poor city. In a wonderful bit of counter intuitive irony (is that possible?), more roads never, ever solves traffic problems, they only make it worse by increasing the volume. What a great example of sadly misdirected planning. As for advice to drivers; avoid Atlanta. 

1 comment:

Chris Wolfe said...

Atlanta is also a major hub for bus (Greyhound) and plane (Delta) travel. The experience isn't much better than the highway FWIW.

This will continue to get worse until our bizarre obsession with detached house + yard + fence + still living in the city goes away. (Nothing wrong with a yard and a garden, but that's not really appropriate for urban living.) Cities need much higher density: moderate-sized apartment buildings, ground-floor businesses and mixed zoning. When you do that part right you make the local neighborhood walkable while also making mass transit relatively efficient; the combination can vastly reduce the demand for cars on the road so long as there are also enough jobs in the area (or a few stops away on the train).

DC metro cranks out over 200 million trips per year. That can't easily be translated into number of cars taken off the road but it is likely to be 150,000 to 200,000. There are plans to build a new light-rail line along the Beltway, which will cause apocalyptic traffic for 5-7 years and then dramatically cut demand for car trips. By that point the silver line will be finished and one can ride a train between the two closest international airports.

For those cities already fully infected with sprawl, transit will be expensive and inconvenient. The growth pattern of a city with no real transit makes effective transit very difficult to build. The best these places can hope for is to build what they can in the city core and wait for density to increase near the stops, with a small number of spurs into the suburbs. Those more distant stops will develop into their own microcities, like a transplanted chunk of urban center. The whole process will take 30-40 years though, and who wants to think and act over the long term in today's environment of political shouting matches and weaponized sound bites? Barring a major federal transit initiative backed by enormous funding (especially long-term bonds) and labor I don't see this happening for the sprawl victims.