[how it happened]

I wanted to take a minute and dedicate a second post to the topic of the situation here in Atlanta. Earlier today I saw posts all over the internet littered with people making fun of Atlanta for what happened yesterday. At first I was upset at how insensitive these people were. After watching several major national evening newscasts I realized that most of the nation genuinely does not know what happened. Everyone only mentioned that 2.6" of snow fell and that it took people untold amounts of hours to get home from work as a result.

But that's not the whole story.

So I want to take a minute to set the record straight. Can I get the word out to the entire nation? No. But I can reach a small audience through this post. And to me, reaching that audience is better than staying quiet.

Here in the South, we tend to overreact to the snow. During the vortex, schools were closed because it was "too cold" for the children to be in school. And yes, northerners & mid-westerners, you're more than welcome to make fun of us for that. Because that's silly. The point is, every time it might get a little cold or it might snow, schools close. As a result, people stay home from work with their kids. Usually nothing happens and then we laugh at ourselves the next day.

This time there were predictions and models like they always are. But these predictions & models showed that the city was definitely going to get hit.

The difference was, this time we didn't do anything. No schools closed. No businesses closed. A few sections of major highways in the downtown area got salted but that was it. Everyone, from the governor to the private sector took a huge gamble and went about business as usual in the face of the forecast. After all, they were wrong the past two times and who really wanted to go through the time and expense of losing another day of school/work?

So off to work and school the city went.

Then at 11 the snow started to fall. Hard. Much harder than we thought it would.

By noon it was sticking. Schools closed their doors, loading kids on buses or telling parents to come get them because school was done. Parents rushed out of offices and homes to retrieve children as quickly as possible. The first wave went out.

Within an hour of the schools closing, almost every single business in the metro area had shut its doors and sent its employees home as well. That meant that all of those people were on the roads at the exact same time.

You see on a normal day, there's a good bit of traffic in Atlanta. But it's staggered. At any one given moment, a substantial chunk of the population is off the roads. The night shift workers are on the road late in the evening and in the wee hours of the morning. Many businesses run 9-5 but many also run different hours. For example, my company runs from 7-4. There are 300+ people that work in my office alone. That's 300+ people who have already come and gone from the roads before the 9-5ers even leave their homes. And so it goes all day, with staggered, manageable waves of traffic.

There's something you have to understand about Atlanta. It's not like New York or Chicago. There's virtually nothing in the way of public transit. Plus almost all the people that work in Atlanta live OTP (outside the perimeter). The perimeter is 285, a highway that circles the city. Atlanta is also the definition of urban sprawl. Unlike New York & Chicago, it's not concentrated. It has a lot more in common with LA in that sense. It just sort of spreads in every direction, with random clusters of buildings scattered across a very broad region. Where you live is rarely close to where you work. That means everyone drives everywhere. All those commuters I was just talking about? The overwhelming majority drive.

And when everyone hits the road at the exact same moment, it's a disaster. Even without the snow.

Think about when you see people evacuating major cities in Florida before a hurricane. Look how bad traffic gets then. Add into that mix snow, icy roads, a lot of hills, and people that only see more than a quarter inch of snow once every 4 years.

So with roads already way over capacity, salt trucks were desperately trying to do their jobs. But there was no where to go. Every street was jam packed with cars. No one could move. Not because we were scared of the snow as many people seem to think. We couldn't move because there was absolutely nowhere else to go.

But then it got worse. The sun started to go down. The cars that had left their offices at 1 were still stuck in total gridlock. And now the ice was freezing beneath our tires. We couldn't drive over it to keep it slushy because there was nowhere to drive still. And when you would get going, inevitably people would have to stop in places they really shouldn't have, like on hills. Because again, there were too many cars on the road. And the slicker the roads got, the more people began to slip and slide.

It didn't get any better the later it got. Roads weren't clearing because salt trucks couldn't get through. DOT, the police, and tow trucks were telling people the same thing: we're sorry but unless you're hurt we can't help you. People started abandoning cars left & right and started walking. Their options were to stay in their car overnight or try and walk at least to a store, restaurant, or church that would take them in. If they were lucky, they'd be able to reach home or a friend's house.

The woman on the local news last night explained it this way: if you have a 16 oz water bottle, you can't put 24 oz of water in that bottle. It just won't fit, no matter how hard you try. Yesterday, we tried to put 36 ounces of water in a 16 ounce water bottle.

At the end of the day, we all bear a little responsibility for this. Yes the government bears a large part of it. They should have salted more roads earlier on and more importantly, they should have closed schools and municipal offices. Not only would that have kept the kids and their parents home, many businesses would have followed suit and closed on Monday night as well. Then the mass exodus of those offices that did stay open would not have been nearly so bad and the situation would not have escalated to where it did.

But we in the private sector bear some responsibility as well. Businesses should not have all let out at the same moment. Was all this really worth a few hours of work? No, it wasn't. They should have seen the winter storm warning and closed their doors in advance as well.

Please understand that this isn't a "haha look how bad the south is at snow" moment. This isn't just people that don't know how to drive in the snow and got in accidents. This is much, much worse than that. This was hundreds of thousands of cars trying to use a very limited number of roads at the exact same moment. Imagine if everything in Chicago told its employees to go home at the exact same time. Would it have been any different? No it wouldn't have.

I have one favor to ask of you. If you hear someone laughing about this and calling us pansies, set them straight. People need to know what really happened so that this doesn't happen again in any city anywhere.

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