Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow-pocalypse 2014

Ramblings Post #251
Ah wintry morning, smile upon us and grant us the serenity of mind, the quiet of the morning, snow a blanket. Ah wintry morning, gaze upon and grant us the serenity of the soul, the quiet of the essence, snow a blessing. Ah wintry morning, I have an early meeting, so I'm sorry you can't stay. Here's a few bucks for a cab, and I'll call you. Promise.

Didn't I just do this? Oh yeah, I did.

The city of Atlanta is starting to get back to right. The Google traffic map has shifted back from a bright red halo of  I-285 to what could be a typical Wednesday, where only half the traffic is horrible. Actually it may look better than normal, since a lot of people aren't going anywhere until Friday if they can help it. I'm hunkered down, conserving my snacks and "trying to find an exit out the business."

So, what happened? What caused the city to sink into almost total gridlock, children to be stuck at school overnight, five miles commutes to last ten hours and people to have to sleep in their cars
overnight? Some of it was bad planning. No, a lot of it was bad planning. And constrained budgets. And obstinacy on the part of decision makers, private and public, thinking that it wouldn't be that bad.

First, the people in charge screwed up on this one. Governor. Mayor. Business owners. Etc. The storm was predicted over the weekend. In neighboring states, some closed schools on Monday and Tuesday in anticipation. Businesses said, take some time with the family. People got ready. That wasn't done here. It wouldn't be that bad. As Al Roker put it, the people in charge took a gamble and they lost.

Second, the city itself is ill prepared for such events. Although the city plan calls for nearly two hundred miles of streets to pretreated in case of emergency, no such pre-treating was done in this case. Again, this part of the gamble they took. But even if they had taken the initiative, two hundred miles is barely a sliver of the network of streets and roads that crisscross the city.  It was only a few years ago this same thing  occurred, and the city took steps to act like maybe they could do something. But, after spending a few million on gear and infrastructure, the cost of deployment and replenishment versus the possibility of wasted effort weighed heavily in the decision matrix. So they gambled that it wouldn't be that bad.

But it kinda was, that bad...

Third, the city of Atlanta really isn't a single city, what with the state, county and city governments all
with different agendas, added to the recent modern politics of the redivided south carving out what were previously neighborhoods into little separate cities, exactly who was in charge of what was a bit ... muddy. In some cases the same street might switch governance three times in two miles. This coupled with sending everyone home at the last minute so everyone hits the roads at the same time, the average Southern's inability to drive in snow plus the inability of most people to drive on ice, well, you see how things just kinda spiraled out of control. They quickly got...that bad.

I'm still not ready to trade this for say, Boston, where it's cold five months out of the year...but sometimes it does test me.  

So what to do? I talked with my brother, who last night was helping cars cross the bridge down the street from his house, and he came up with an idea that's been floating around my head since. Just an idea, I'm certain there are I'm missing but here it is:

Idea: Designated Local Agents; on an as needed basis for inclement conditions.

The idea is that the city of Atlanta...and it's surrounding boroughs...go ahead and buy more than few of these abundant foreclosure homes still sitting around our great city in strategic spots. Offer to pay a small fee for them, but if the banks get antsy you can always invoke eminent domain. Then, tear down the structure and build a concrete bunker. An artistic bunker. If you want, you can even landscape the area, get a local artist to paint the side. Call it infrastructure improvement or a citywide Art show. Then inside this structure, place a few hundred pounds of road salt, shovels, maybe even a plow you strap to front of a four wheel drive vehicle or two. Then take bids for the area. One or two people to hold the key. During inclement weather that contractor handles that specific area's street needs. Pay them say $2500 for their time per incident. Have a city manager check on them once a month to make sure the agents haven't moved and to inspect the bunkers. It might look costly on the front end, say an outlay of a five million dollars, but over the long run it would be more than cost effective.

And if you consider how the city responded to people in peril on the streets, I'm sure the contractors may even get a few volunteers to help out in our times of need. Neat all the way around. 

It's not a great plan. But it's a start. And I'm fairly certain a number of people can probably spot a dozen or so flaws fairly quickly. We in Atlanta thank you, because if you can spot the flaws that means we can fix them.

Barkeep. I believe I'll have a Hot Toddy, because that one time at that party....  

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