Atlanta Paralyzed by Snowstorm – Why the City Never Had a Chance

atlanta storm

Millions of Atlanta took to the highways and interstates on Tuesday afternoon in a frantic attempt to get home before snow and ice covered the roadways and made them impossible to traverse. Within an hour’s time, every road was impassable and motorists became trapped in their vehicles. Kids were stranded on buses, people abandoned their cars in the middle of the street, and businesses were forced to accommodate thousands of cold, hungry, tired citizens who were unable to make it to their homes.

It wasn’t long after the snow rolled in that people started pointing the finger of blame. Some blamed the counties, some blamed the mayor, some blames Atlanta’s infrastructure, some simply blamed the snow. But the truth is this: it’s a combination of all of them. Let’s start with perhaps the largest contributing factor – the area’s layout.

People who are unfamiliar with our city often do not realize that there is a major difference between Atlanta as a city and Atlanta as a region. Atlanta as a region encompasses a 50 miles radius from the heart of the city of Atlanta. In fact, there are 28 separate counties that comprise the region. This means that Kasim Reed was just one of about sixty mayors responsible for the welfare of the region’s citizens. The fact that there are so many different people calling the shots also meant that there was very little coordination and cooperation in terms of school closing, roadway service (salting, etc.), and rescue efforts.

Another major issue this storm exposed is the ill-conceived infrastructure throughout the region. When the “white flight” of the 60s and 70s dramatically increased the population of the Atlanta suburbs, interstates were built and expanded to serve those living outside of the city but commuting in for work. The three main interstates, I-85, I-75, and I-20, all converge at a single point in the city – the Downtown Connector. And on Tuesday when 160,000 people got into their cars to head home at the exact same time, the Downtown Connector turned into a parking lot (not much different than most days during rush hour, ironically).

The storm also shed light on Atlanta’s obvious lack of mass transportation. MARTA only serves Fulton and DeKalb counties, and while some counties have their own public transit systems, there are very few points at which they meet with MARTA lines. Voters in Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton counties have voted to keep MARTA out since its creation in the 70s.

As you can see, this storm was much more than inexperienced southerners panicking over a few inches of snow and ice. This experience has proven that we are in no way ready for a real disaster, one that we can’t just for the sun to melt away. A tremendous amount of infrastructure, communication and response systems, and other issues must be resolved to avoid last week’s disaster.

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