A transportation and development expert with the Andrew Young School, assistant professor Joseph Hacker looks beyond the interstate blaze to address an even more explosive dilemma.
What can we take away from the collapse?
While 250,000 vehicles couldn’t take I-85 in and out of town every day and traffic delays inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of people for months, we should be pleased that the rest of the transportation network, both roadways and transit, was able to accommodate the collapse. The alternatives may not have been ideal, but people adjusted and made it work because there were other ways to get around.
But it has been a terrible ordeal. Why?
Suburban Atlanta, both inside and outside the Perimeter, is home to a lot of very bad land-use planning. Countless subdivisions, each with only one or two access points, empty into an astounding number of unwalkable four- and six-lane collector roads, which in turn empty into interstates.
But without a street grid or dedicated transit, collector roads and interstates become necessary because such poor circulation design forces everyone into cars for even the smallest tasks.
This could only happen in Atlanta, right?
The I-85 collapse should have been little different from a transit strike in a northeastern city, the 1989 Los Angeles earthquake, the 1996 fire outside Philadelphia on I-95 or routine maintenance bridge closures in Portland, Ore. Unfortunately, suburban Atlanta has grown almost exclusively on an automobile and road network without regard for transit or duplicative street design.
The suburban dream forces lots of cars into limited road choices, and this collapse shows how delicately that dream is held together — how easily it can be undermined by a single crack in the funnel that directs all our traffic.