The late novelist David Foster Wallace told a story during a speech once about two fish swimming along when an older fish made a comment about the water that day. The younger fish scoffed, what’s he talking about?
The point being the most common things are the ones you rarely notice. Take for example the automobile. You certainly notice when a ridiculously expensive foreign sports car goes by at 100 mph, but as a whole, cars have become to north Georgia like water to the fish. The use of automobiles for transportation is so ingrained that 99 percent of the time you never think about them and you certainly don’t consider alternatives.
That is until something like an ice event barrels through the area mid-morning with some (but not a lot of) warning. In that case, if you were trying to get home from anywhere further south than Tate, you had plenty of time to consider the automobile both as a form of transportation and a punishment from the seventh level of Hell.
The case can be made on both the recent snow/ice events that what shut us down so completely was partly the roads and weather, but part of the blame also goes to cars.
In the late January snowpocalypse: no one could get anywhere in their car because there were too many other people who also couldn’t go anywhere in their cars. In fact at its simplest, the problem resulted from too many cars on roads that were no longer functioning and no other means to get anywhere.
We blamed the ice and snow for leaving us stuck at home, but it was really the fact that in Georgia we haven’t created any options other than driving.
The lack of any alternatives for getting out of the Atlanta area stuck out clearly in our snow event, especially when compared to other eastern cities. It’s not that everyone in Chicago, Boston and New York knows how to drive in the snow or that their cities have some magic concoction to dump on the roads, in those places not everyone has to get from point A to point B by car. When roads are less than ideal, you have choices.
In Atlanta, the ninth largest metropolitan area in America, we continue to rely almost exclusively only on one form of transportation to serve an area of 5,457,831, particularly as this relates from getting from northern suburbs to the area inside the perimeter.
What is scary to ponder is if you look how a relatively benign occurrence, like snow and ice, jammed all the roads, imagine the chaos that would happen if a real emergency (big fire, terrorist threat/attack, tornadoes) struck the metro area and damaged key roads. Based on what we saw with the snow and ice, try to imagine if a portion of I-75 north between the I-285 and I-575 junctions was suddenly left impassable. People might not get home for a week.
Even though buses may not go much better than cars in the snow, they are infinitely better at moving a lot of people without jamming up roads. And subways and trains run well in all weather.
Rather than jumping on the governor, mayor and state leaders for not keeping a better eye on the weather, Georgians should be taking them to task for continuing our thorough dependence on the auto in this state.