Welcome to 2021! We Still Have COVID-19 and We Still Have Traffic!

Welcome to 2021! We still have the pandemic and we still have traffic!

If you live in or around Atlanta, you know that traffic congestion is a way of life. It was last year and it will be this year (and next year too, unfortunately.)

The city is the home of six major interstates, including I-285, which is considered one of the most dangerous interstates in the country.

In 2019, Atlanta created its own Department of Transportation (ATLDOT) to tackle traffic issues and meet its climate action goals. As the metropolitan area continues to expand, the traffic issues in Atlanta show no signs of abating.

In the last twenty years, Atlanta’s population has grown by 25%, and the roadways and public transportation have not kept pace with the rapid sprawl of the city.

Why Atlanta’s Congestion is Dangerous

Most people think of congested traffic as a nuisance that interferes with time better spent doing other things. Unfortunately, busy roadways lead to more traffic accidents, which causes more congestion in turn. It is a vicious cycle that plays out every day on the roads in and around Atlanta.

In 2018, INRIX, a transportation analytics company, ranked Atlanta the fourth-worst city in the country for congested traffic. For residents, approximately 108 hours is spent in traffic congestion each year. Congestion leads to a host of safety issues, including:

  • Stop and start traffic which significantly increases the risks of rear-end accidents
  • Distracted driving—with 108 hours a year, on average, spent in traffic, drivers are more likely to participate in distracted driving habits such as cell phone usage
  • Atlanta drivers like to drive fast, and combining busy roadways with unsafe speeds is a recipe for disaster
  • Aggressive driving—traffic delays increase stress and can lead to angry or aggressive driving incidents
  • Violating traffic rules—Drivers are tempted to cut corners to make up time when driving in heavy traffic, hoping to shave a few minutes off their commute. Running red lights, rolling stops at stop signs, and driving on the shoulder of the road are all common in the metro area

These behaviors increase the risk of traffic accidents and exacerbate gridlock, making Atlanta’s roads more dangerous for everyone.

Practical Steps to Improve Traffic Safety

Drivers can improve safety and reduce their chances of being involved in a traffic accident by avoiding high-volume routes when possible. Research your route and look for less congested alternatives when driving in Atlanta. Driving a longer distance may still be faster if it helps you avoid rush-hour traffic.

Consider using the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) when possible. Atlanta’s public transportation system is considered relatively safe and could help ease the congestion on Atlanta’s roadways. MARTA is not without its drawbacks, given that there is inadequate all-day transportation to large swaths of the city.

It is not always possible to avoid congestion, so take proactive steps to navigate Atlanta’s traffic safely.

  • Plan ahead—give yourself enough time to account for weather, construction, and rush hour. Feeling stressed about making it on time can lead to frustration and poor decision making while you are on the road
  • Avoid distracted driving—eating, drinking, texting, talking, or even changing the radio station while the car is in motion can lead to an accident
  • Avoid weaving through traffic—use your turn signal indicators when changing lanes and when merging or exiting
  • Expect the unexpected—on busy roadways, it is essential that you drive proactively. Pay attention to the other cars around you and leave enough room to react if someone darts into your lane or stops unexpectedly
  • Atlanta is popular for motorcyclists, bike riders, and pedestrians. Remain alert for pedestrians and bicycle riders, and yield to them whenever necessary. Remember that motorcycles can easily be missed in your blind spot, so make sure you have adequate clearance before changing lanes

Atlanta’s Steps to Solve Congestion

The Reason Foundation conducted a study that projected that by 2030, congestion would cause Atlanta’s rush-hour trips to take 85% longer than the same trip at off-hours. That level of gridlock is worse than today’s traffic in Los Angeles.

The expansion of public transportation and comprehensive funding of large-scale infrastructure improvements will positively impact the long-term goal of moving goods and people around the metro area more efficiently. In the short-term, though, the planned expansions will create more headaches for Atlanta’s drivers.

In May, 2020, the city implemented new legislation called Vision Zero to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries. The legislation includes lowering the default speed limit to 25 miles per hour.  According to Doug Nagy, Deputy Commissioner of Strategy at Atlant’s Department of City Planning stated that “compared to other cities, Atlanta has an extremely high death traffic death rate.” The death rate for drivers and pedestrians is three times that of its peer cities like Boston, Seattle, and Minneapolis.

Mayor Bottom has also implemented an Action Plan for Safer Streets, which is a two-year plan to accelerate safety issues at twenty city corridors to improve safety. Only time will tell how effective the plans will be at improving the dangers of Atlanta’s roads.