The Corner

The Atlanta Traffic Jam and the Great Big-Government Freak-Out

I still remember a fun night in the winter of 1995. I was at Lispcomb University (my alma mater) in the Green Hills section of Nashville, just south of downtown. When I arrived at the game, we were in the middle of one of those cold drizzles that characterizes most winter precipitation in the mid-South. It was wet and unpleasant, but it wasn’t unsafe. By the time the game ended, however, the drizzle had turned to snow, and the wet roads had turned to ice. 

My apartment was only a few miles away, in the suburb of Brentwood, but it was literally impossible for me to get home. Every road was blocked with an accident, and the clear roads were impassable due to ice — even my four-wheel-drive couldn’t make it up a modest incline. After trying for hours, I parked my car on the side of the road, hiked a few miles to a friend’s house, and spent the night. No big deal.

Of course that was Nashville, not Atlanta (we can have a catastrophic flood and the media barely blinks), it wasn’t rush hour, no kids had to spend the night at school (the horror, the indescribable horror!), and I don’t think any babies were delivered in the traffic jam, so I guess it didn’t matter. There were no articles blaming the traffic jams and chaos on racism, or the failure to spend billions of dollars on new infrastructure, or on some combination of the two. We just blamed the ice and snow. We realized that’s life in the South.

So before we commit ourselves to light rail, $12 billion in infrastructure spending (as if the decade of construction that entails wouldn’t have made things worse last week), and to once again condemning all those Americans who want an actual yard to go with their house and don’t like living in a tall building right on top of their favorite coffee shop, I can think of two relatively inexpensive ideas that likely would have made Atlanta’s traffic jam a bit less rough:

1. Do what Nashville did this morning and cancel school. We had snow and freezing rain in the forecast; snow days are built into the calendar, so just call off school. 

2. If you do send the kids to school, try not to send school children, government workers, and the private sector all home at the exact same time just as the snow really starts to fall. Just an idea.

Then there’s also the element of personal responsibility. Since we southerners like our car-driven lifestyle, we need to prepare for adversity. I always carry in my car blankets, food, water, a first-aid kit and other necessities that will keep my family warm and safe even during extended traffic jams and/or breakdowns and will also allow me to render aid to my fellow man. I’d rather be a blessing than need a blessing. 

If you’re warm, if you’ve got some food and water, and if you can help out your neighbors, a traffic jam is little more than an inconvenience and a good story. But for some, it’s a crisis — and we all know a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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