This Is The Best Explanation We've Seen For Why All Of Atlanta Is Stuck In Traffic


Atlanta traffic dark


A few inches of snow in Atlanta have led to gridlock, hundreds of accidents, and a baby born on the side of a highway in the past 24 hours.


The City knew the storm was coming, and has a new fleet of snowplows and vehicles to spread sand. So what went wrong?

Atlanta-based designer Thomas Strickland spent eight hours in traffic, and offered up a great explanation of the problem on Metafilter.

He gave us permission to publish his take:



Considering I just spent upwards of eight hours in this mess as a driver, then an additional mile and a half on foot, let me tell you what it is like.

It isn't just snow. In fact, if it was merely snow, we'd all be mostly fine. Admittedly, this is Atlanta, where even rain can lengthen an evening commute. On certain days, we'll even have something the traffic reporters call a "sunshine slowdown" because the glare is the only explanation for it. But for the most part, we're all used to what effect weather has on our getting to and fro.

But imagine this scenario: The weather service has been calling for severe snow for a few days, but the predictions only promise an inch or less. Now, it is one thing for you the commuter to scoff at the weather, but what if your municipal powers-that-be took the same attitude? No preparation, no salting or sanding before hand, and (this is the big one) no planned municipal closures.

So high noon rolls around and the snow arrives, and hey, that stuff is coming down pretty hard, like something seriously worth considering. It is at this time that the powers-that-be decide to close several offices and multiple schools.

Schools. Schools containing children whose parents haven't planned to fetch them until much later. So all of those parents now have to go rushing from wherever to their school of choice. Atlanta is a driving city, not a walking city or especially a rail or bus city, so thus commences a volley of unexpected traffic volume.


As the snow falls, several businesses catch the same idea, so they too decide to roll up the carpet and send their employees home a few hours early. This is a second unexpected volley of traffic.

Oh, and the sand trucks? They're heading out for their first run. We've about 30 or 40 such trucks to serve all of Atlanta, by the way.

Now this whole time, the snow is still falling and since the temperature has been hovering right around 27 degrees, the stuff is sticking to the streets. All of these commuters are crowding these streets, and while some are lucky to have found some roads favored by that first run of sanding, most are just plowing through and keeping the streets mostly ice-free by friction alone.

But with added volume, because the number of cars keeps increasing, these streets are getting crowded and the traffic is slowing and the snow melt that used to work so well isn't nearly so effective. Now that melted snow is refreezing under the tires of all of these stacked motorists. Those tires manage to melt a little of the top layer, but it freezes right back quickly. The result is a particularly Southern phenomena that looks and feels like cold glass.

What about the sand trucks? Well, they've made it through their first run, but now they can't so quickly get back to the warehouses to get more of that precious sand.


And all of those commuters? They're getting to know one another quite well, with run-ins and rear-endings and side-swipes that make it necessary for the police to be involved, and occasionally a fire truck, sadly an ambulance.

A few of those commuters just say "Screw it" and leave their cars where they get stuck, stomping off into the snow in hopes of stumbling home.

Did I mention the school buses that were still trying to get kids home at 10pm or later?

It is a horrible and dreadful and disastrous situation, and while it is easy to mock, please take a moment to consider just how quickly this escalated and how it could've been prevented. This is more than your typical case of "The South can't deal with a little snow."