Atlanta's Own 'Carmageddon' Follows a Familiar Pattern
Joe Cortright sets the scene:
It had all the trappings of a great disaster film: A spectacular blaze last week destroyed a several-hundred-foot-long section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta. In a city that consistently has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, losing a key link in its freeway system could only mean one thing: Carmageddon.
But all hell did not break loose. In fact, writes Cortright, "predictions of terrible traffic in the wake of even major disruptions to the road system are almost never realized."
So why is that? According to Cortright:
Arguably, our mental model of traffic is just wrong. We tend to think of traffic volumes, and trip-making generally as inexorable forces of nature. The diurnal flow of 250,000 vehicles a day on an urban freeway like I-85 is just as regular and predictable as the tides. What this misses is that there’s a deep behavioral basis to travel. Human beings will shift their behavior in response to changing circumstances.
That argument is supported by one columnist's somewhat satirical approach to the days following the bridge collapse: George Mathis writes of the experience of being forced to take MARTA.
Cortright too makes one last appeal for the nation to keep a close eye on the experience of Atlanta as it goes about daily life without the use of I-85: "If the one of the nation’s most sprawling and traffic ridden cities can survive the loss of a freeway segment that carries a quarter million vehicles a day, it’s a strong sign that more modest changes to road systems really don’t have much impact on metropolitan prosperity."