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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