Amateur Day

The state legislators A few of the State Legislators of Georgia apparently had nasty things to say about the Atlanta Police department after last Thursday’s traffic snafu in downtown.

Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) said. “Yesterday, you let down the citizens of Atlanta, our commuters, and our guests to these great conventions. This is simply unacceptable for the great international city that I am so proud to represent.”

This was after reported 3 hour commutes that would normally take 1, or 30 minutes to move 10 blocks in downtown. Suffice to say, it was a mess.

However, the implication that the Police can run out and start directing traffic and make things better is a fallacy. Anyone who has ever tried to do signal coordination on a network of criss-crossing roadways is aware that optimizing traffic throughput is a non-trivial task. Skilled professionals working in conjunction with sophisticated computer models have difficulty getting it right. Changes to one area cascade throughout the system, and if you begin with a thoroughly saturated network, the best you can hope for is that everyone is trying to leave, which blatantly is not the case in downtown Atlanta. To expect that a police officer directing traffic can alleviate congestion in a situation like that is silly. At most, they can make sure all of the available space is continuously filled with vehicles, but until those vehicles actually leave the area, there will be no relief.

The “best”* solution would be for officers to set up roadblocks prohibiting traffic from entering the downtown area while directing them to central parking and MARTA. However, once the traffic is already in the downtown area, it’s going to be a disaster no matter what response the police enact.

To Representative Edward Lindsey, I say that you should spend a day in a traffic cop’s shoes before criticizing their capabilities or performance.

*By “best” I mean, of course, the solution that leaves the most free roadway. No cars, no congestion. I don’t think anyone would be happy with that solution, however.

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2 Responses to Amateur Day

  1. Tom says:

    So, this guy was displaced and probably missed his weekly night of cheating on his wife or (insert politician wisecrack).

    I love how politicians start spouting off to “connect with the average Joe”. He didn’t appear to offer any alternatives other than to say the police should have been out in full force. Which, as you pointed out, wouldn’t have done much, if anything, to solve the problem.

    What about putting some responsibility on the convention organizers to make sure that not everyone is leaving at the same time… especially during rush hour. How about limiting the number of vehicles downtown or reminding people that big conventions are in town this day/week and to use public transportation if possible. I remember Boston doing something like that during the 2004 DNC.

  2. James Cronen says:

    In a nation addicted to cars and hating public transit, it’s only typical that Joe Sixpack should believe that the Constitution gives him an inalienable right to take no longer than an hour to travel ten blocks.

    I agree with your assessment; police can only do so much. Regardless of the reason, unexpected delays come with your private drive. I’ll bet MARTA was running all kinds of on-time that day.

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