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The Gridlock Guy- Doug Turnbull

  • Distractions, like snowflakes, come in many forms. Violations of either the state or human code often happen in little variances and not in intentional, egregious ways. What often starts as a small crime, a rationalization or an ignored detail can end up with serious consequences. Distracted and drunk driving are the mistakes. Death and injury can be the results. TEAM Georgia is a safe and sober driving coalition whose main mission is to promote that message and to get fans at different events to pledge not to drink and drive. This pledge often comes with a voucher for a free soda at the event’s concession stands. TEAM Georgia has worked in the past with the Falcons and Braves and currently sustains an army of volunteers to work events at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, GSU Stadium and KSU’s Fifth Third Bank Stadium. I have both volunteered with TEAM Georgia and sit on its board. Captain Herb Emory was a founding member. At its annual holiday press conference this week, TEAM Georgia released some sobering driving stats. While four died in alcohol-related crashes between Dec. 23, 2015 and Jan. 3, 2016, there were 289 booze-related wrecks with 181 injuries in that time. And in the last five years, 28 percent of all December crash deaths in the U.S. involved a driver with a blood alcohol content above the .08 legal limit. Another nemesis to safety is distracted driving and Atlanta’s Jim Ellis Automotive Group is putting its money where its mouth is on the issue. President and CEO Jimmy Ellis says that he wants both his employees and the general public to make a pledge to limit these distractions. “All too often we hear of vehicle accidents and lives lost as the result of distracted driving,” Ellis said. “As an organization that helps meet the mobility needs of our local communities, we also want to be a voice in those same communities challenging drivers to operate their vehicles responsibly. I invite you to join with my family and the Jim Ellis Automotive staff in a pledge to be a more attentive driver. Put away distractions that take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off the drive ahead. We each have the capability to make the roads we drive on at least one driver safer.” The pledge is straightforward: “I pledge to keep my EYES on the road, my HANDS on the wheel and my MIND on the drive ahead.” Distractions are more than just texting. Phone calls, messing with the interactive dash, GPS and even eating and drinking can all compromise decision-making behind the wheel. For every new pledge to drive alert, Jim Ellis Automotive Group will donate to the National Safety Council, an organization that lobbies for this cause. Sign up to make the pledge on JimEllis.com. The city of Smyrna had to delay its vote on a total hands-free (from devices) law until Jan. 2, but momentum seems to be swinging toward its passing. Some Georgia lawmakers are considering pushing through a similar law statewide later in 2018. The pendulum policy-wise seems to be swinging in a more stringent direction. Frustration with other distracted drivers seems to be at an all-time high, based on feedback I get from AJC readers and WSB listeners. But whether the problem is distracted or impaired driving, the solution always starts with ourselves. No matter the laws, we can make that first step. We can and should make that pledge to drive safe and sober — and save lives. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at doug.turnbull@coxinc.com
  • Forecasts for this past weekend’s winter weather scare called mostly for light snow that would only accumulate on surfaces other than roads. By Friday mid-morning, after many had gotten to work or school, the skies opened for far more snow than predicted. As the giant, fluffy flakes quickly coated trees and grass in the north, west, and southwest metro area (with apologies to Conyers and McDonough), employers and school officials faced a tough decision. Atlanta immediately had a flashback to Snowmageddon 2014, when tens of thousands got stuck in traffic jams all over town and then frozen in place. Fortunately, this system did not carry with it freezing rain and temperatures largely remained above freezing until Friday evening. But the traffic jams did exist. Friday morning drive was a snooze fest, as seemingly just enough people called it a day to keep the inbound rush moving. But once schools set early dismissals and businesses began to let out, gridlock ensued and that 2014 nightmare crystallized. Small trips took over an hour and big treks across the metro took three to five hours. But for as much gridlock as there was and as bad as weather conditions deteriorated, there wasn’t a tremendous number of crashes. And by 4 or 5 p.m., the jams dramatically improved. Friday’s ride home was pretty much a really bad and snowy version of a holiday rush hour. It happened early. The weather being just snow and not ice helped things, but so did GDOT’s preparations. Both state and local crews pre-treated roads, beginning Thursday night and then continued adding brine, salt, and a little mayo (okay, not mayo) for the duration. With some exceptions like on I-20 west of town and Highway 140 at the Fulton-Cherokee line, major roads stayed largely passable and few people got stuck. When the sun arose Saturday morning, most roads were wet and slushy. Hills, bridges, and overpasses were tough, but people generally could get around, though GDOT urged them to stay off the roads. Just plain rainy, wet roads see increased wrecks, so icy roads surely would see a rash of crashes. Our monitoring from the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center really didn’t pick up that crash outbreak. The biggest surprise in this December snow was the amount of trees and wires that fell. Even without freezing rain, the timber patrol was in full force, as the heavy snow bent over and pulled down thousands of trees and wires. Crews in Cobb, Cherokee, Douglas, Paulding, and Carroll counties saw the most widespread problems. This makes sense as some of the western suburbs got a foot of snow. 911 dispatchers in some of those counties urged me to tell WSB Radio listeners to just stay off of the roads, because there were so many downed trees and small wrecks. Trees even came down on parts of I-20/westbound in western Douglas County around Post Rd., so many that it was almost impassable Saturday morning. That stretch if I-20 was the worst interstate in this storm, but nothing like in 2014, when trucks got stranded for days. Considering how much snow fell and how many people went to work and school Friday, Atlanta braved this heavy snow well. There were semblances of all kinds of problems that normally characterize Atlanta wintry weather. But public emergency agencies took the threat seriously, as did the private sector. And North Georgia got good luck in the form of zero frozen rain. All of this combined to make Atlanta’s handling of the storm mostly a success. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at doug.turnbull@coxinc.com
  • Most installments of this column are different iterations of the same premise: be a good neighbor on the roadways. Commuting is one of the most important things we do and is one of the few things that unite almost everyone. In Metro Atlanta, anything related to traffic is higher on our list than in most cities. So being considerate — whether a driver, a worker, an officer, a cyclist, or pedestrian — is even more important in the Capital of the South. Motorists, the most inconsiderate thing we can do is drive distracted. That encompasses much more than just texting. Distractions can be an emphatic conversation, tinkering with the tunes in the dash, eating, putting on makeup (farding) or even talking on the phone. The biggest consequence of distractions is terrible wrecks, but inattentive driving also causes late lane changes, missed turns, people missing greenlights and simply frustration. Keeping our full minds on our driving is every level of considerate. Cyclists, we need to do a better job driving around you, as addressed in this column last week. You are in a vulnerable position, compared to cars. But with equal treatment on the roads, comes the expectation of equal behavior. Nothing torques motorists off about bikes more than when riders run stop lights and stop signs. That not only is an illegal advantage, but it also puts you and motorists in harm’s way. Please help the goodwill and obey the traffic laws. Pedestrians, you are in the most vulnerable spot of all. But you have to pull your weight in the plight of your safety. Texting and walking can be as dangerous as doing so when driving; don’t do it. And please don’t cross the roads illegally and force traffic to stop for you on your terms. Cross when your turn arrives. And, for goodness sake, please stop trying to cross the interstates. First responders, God bless you. You put your necks on the lines to keep everyone safe. We do ask, though, that you not block extra lanes for the different operations, but only what is needed. Just because you have the authority to put a fire truck across four lanes of I-85, doesn’t mean you should. And police officers, when you stay behind long after a call has cleared and just leave your lights on, while on the side of the road, it causes delays. Rubbernecking is our fault, but we could use your help with judicious use of the light bar. Construction crews, we also respect that you risk your lives to fix our roads. But we really wish that project managers applied more common sense to road closures. In the WSB Traffic Center and behind the wheel, we often see much larger portions and stretches of roads blocked than what is necessary to work. We also see road closures scheduled during rush hours and sometimes for when little to no work is even being done! Atlanta needs to be more patient, but that is hard when these closures are so tone deaf to the world around them. We implore the managers and public officials who approve the closures to have a better look at the small picture, while they work on the bigger one. We all share blame in the complicated Atlanta commuting web. But since we are all in this paved jungle together, we can all support each other also. This means we need to put others’ needs before our own and think beyond our own auspices. We should drive, bike, walk, construct, and govern defensively. We cannot cure every Atlanta traffic ill, but a nice dose of consideration will beat it back. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at doug.turnbull@coxinc.com
  • With the Atlanta roads being backed up so constantly, people want faster and different ways to get from points A to B. Cycling offers that option, but at some costs. Of course, bicycles move slower and take athleticism, but they move faster, if a bike lane is clear and vehicle traffic is at a crawl. Bikes keep the rider out in the elements. And cyclists do not have a thousand-pound steel cocoon to protect from theirs or others’ mistakes. Stephen Spring, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition education coordinator, offers some tips that those both on four wheels and two can use to keep others safe. Be visible Spring said that bicycles should have front and rear lights and they should be operating at all times, since many people forget to turn them on at the most vulnerable riding time — dusk. “If you don’t have access to bike lights and live in the city of Atlanta, contact us,” Spring said. But it’s not all about lighting. “Wear a bright, reflective jacket or clothing, or use reflective tape to add visibility on darker items, your bike, or helmet. Many of us don bright, yellow reflective vests.” Spring said that motorists can help by using their headlights at all times, so they are visible to bikes and, likewise, can see all cyclists. Be predictable This is a great tip for all motorists in dealing with each other, but especially around cyclists, who are so much more vulnerable. Many roads don’t have bike lanes, so Spring’s advice is ultra-important. “When riding in Atlanta’s urban landscape, ride in the rightmost lane that serves your destination, in as straight a line as you can, in or near the center of the lane.” That advice seems counterintuitive, since bicycles are slower; we think they should stay completely off to the right. This is not so, for two reasons. “First, because when you “take the lane,” cars know your intentions and can predict what you are going to do. Second, there are often hazards on the far right - doors opening on parked cars, glass, people stepping off the curb, parallel grates, parts of cars that have fallen off and gotten pushed to the curb, you name it. Riding to the far right means that when you encounter a hazard, you have to swerve, and often pushes you out into traffic in a very unpredictable way.” As for vehicles, Spring said to always use turn signals, so cyclists know what to expect, and to maintain consistent speed. Be aware Spring said this is very straightforward: people in both cars and on bikes need to constantly assess their surroundings. “Someone told me once that we check our surroundings 1,000 times a minute. When moving, what’s going on in front of us, to the left of us, to the right of us, behind us, below us, and above us requires constant scanning.” This is yet another reason motorists should not be looking down at their phones while driving, even stopped. And Spring offered another aid to both motorists and cyclists. “Not wearing headphones is key, for it allows us to use one of our critical senses - hearing - to keep us ultimately aware.” Signal and communicate This feeds from the previous tip. Motorists should always be on the lookout for cyclists’ communications, Spring explained. “We use our arms to let other vehicles know which way we are turning. We also make eye contact and await a hand gesture or a nod to assure us that you see us. This is so important.” So motorists should acknowledge they see cyclists’ gestures, giving them the go ahead to make their turns safely. Laws we may not know Spring wanted to make very clear that bicycles are guaranteed the same rights on the roads as vehicles — that’s Georgia law. He also noted a 2012 state law passed about passing. “When a person in a car passes a person on a bike, the car must do so at least three feet horizontally away from the bicycle being passed. Three feet is the length of a yardstick.” Riding and driving aware, predictably, with visibility, with proper signals and with enough space can make the ride safer for all involved. As commuting in Georgia evolves, we are all at task to make it safer, especially for those in more vulnerable situations, like cyclists and pedestrians. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at doug.turnbull@coxinc.com
  • Peachtree Street in uptown Atlanta has been a hot mess for most of 2017. Constant daytime lane closures on the bridge over I-85, just south of Deering Road have severely hampered those traversing that route between Midtown and Buckhead. But just like any road project, the modifications to Peachtree are meant for long term gain and cause short term pain. The problems some motorists have, however, are removed from those future benefits. One of the biggest gripes those stuck on Peachtree have is that the lane closures were taking place during drive time. Typically, a DOT lane closure during the week has to take place outside of the rush hour windows: 5-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. That’s a general rule, though rush hours spill outside of these bounds. But the closures to build the arches on Peachtree’s I-85 bridge were not done by GDOT, even though they were on a GDOT-maintained route. Midtown Alliance gained approval to beautify the bridge and got permits for closures from GDOT. However, an oversight allowed Midtown Alliance to put some of these closures in place before PM drive ended - in the six o’clock hour. This caused 20-30 minute delays on Peachtree/northbound. And when I reached out about it early in the year, Midtown Alliance wasn’t very apologetic or flexible about it. Then the I-85 bridge collapsed and along with it came an edict that lane closures would be restricted until the interstate opened. After life returned to normal in mid-May when I-85 re-opened, the arch-building closures seemed to not interfere with drive times nearly as much. But the daytime closures caused big headaches, as so many businesses are crammed in that area and so many people use that Buford-Spring Connector ramp to access I-85. There was just no way around it. Fortunately, those days are coming to an end. “According to the contractor, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the daily lane closure should cease around Thanksgiving, if not before,” Midtown Alliance Director of Marketing and Communications Brian Carr, said. The project is almost done, but crews need to do “touch-up paint for the arches, landscaping and site cleanup. During this time, a temporary lane closure will still be used on one southbound lane or one northbound lane as necessary and removed during peak travel periods.” Another Peachtree project will definitely improve traffic in the long run. GDOT has resurfaced Peachtree, but more importantly turned the northbound left lane between Deering and Pharr into a turn lane. This prevents the traffic-causing, unpredictable stops people used to make to turn left when it was a thru lane. The problem, however, is that with only two thru lanes on Peachtree/northbound, the aforementioned bridge lane closure leaves only one lane open during the day. That, of course, makes the backups even worse. So why didn’t GDOT wait until the bridge project was done? “If we’d waited for the bridge project to be done, that would have pushed Peachtree to next spring. The resurfacing was badly needed and honestly couldn’t wait,” GDOT Director of Strategic Communications Scott Higley said. And with the efficiency gained in PM drive by the new striping, GDOT feels that outweighs the extra inconvenience to those driving by middays. (Disclaimer: all of us at WSB are particularly sensitive to the Peachtree closures, as it jams our way in and out of our studios). Several commuters told me that the re-striping on Peachtree came out of nowhere - that they had no idea lanes had changed. Some drove the wrong way in what became turn lanes. One reason this happened, is because only temporary, smaller striping was in place. Higley said that is for good reason.“Permanent striping and arrows can’t be applied until the asphalt has been down for 30 days. Signage indicating right turns only in far right lanes at Buford-Spring Connector and Deering Road have not been installed and signal timing hasn’t happened yet.” The bottom line on these Peachtree delays is that most of both projects is done. The daily lane closures on the I-85 bridge now vacillate between northbound and southbound each day. And the striping will get better in the next couple of weeks. Both GDOT and Midtown Alliance could have communicated closures better and maybe even worked together to keep some from being concurrent. Nonetheless, we’ve sat in backups for most of 2017, so we can see a more efficient and prettier Peachtree in 2018 and years to come. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at doug.turnbull@coxinc.com

News

  • The 58-year-old Uber driver who allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl while taking her home did not have any red flags in his background that would have disqualified him from the ride hailing service.  Abdoulie Jagne, of College Park, had been driving for the company for several months. He was permanently banned from Uber after his arrest Thursday morning, according to a statement released by Uber.  The only blemish on his record was for not having evidence of auto registration in 2015 when he was living in California, according to California court records obtained by the AJC. RELATED: Pregnant woman: “I kept bleeding” after being attacked by Uber driver RELATED:Jailed ex-Uber driver faces additional burglary, peeping Tom charges RELATED: Uber driver carjacked at Cascade Road gas station According to Uber’s policies, that would not have automatically disqualified him from being a driver.  Drivers for the ride hailing app are automatically barred if they have more than three minor traffic violations in the past three years. Minor violations include speeding tickets and non-fatal accidents, among others.  A driver also cannot have had their license suspended or revoked in the last three years, or have received a ticket for DUI, speeding over 100 mph, reckless driving, or have been in a hit-and-run in the past seven years. Any conviction of a felony, driving-related offense, violent crime, sexual offense, or child abuse or endangerment in the past seven years would also disqualify a driver.  The company uses a third party, Checkr, for background checks, according to Uber. The process screens national, state, and local databases including the National Sex Offender website and the PACER database of court records.  “What’s reported here is horrifying beyond words. Our thoughts are with the rider and her family during this time.'  Any behavior involving violence, sexual misconduct, harassment, discrimination, or illegal activity while using Uber can result in immediate deactivation, according to driver policies.  That includes physical contact, touching or flirting, or inappropriate and abusive language, among other offenses.  Early Monday morning, Gwinnett County officers were dispatched to an apartment complex off Old Norcross Tucker Road in unincorporated Tucker. There, they found the 16-year-old girl who said she was sexually assaulted by her Uber driver.  The girl, who officers said was intoxicated, said she was at a local bar drinking with friends, when one of them scheduled an Uber ride to get her home.  When officers arrived on the scene, the 16-year-old’s pants were around her ankles. The victim was taken to a local hospital for treatment and evaluation.  With information obtained by Uber, investigators determined the rape probably occurred somewhere on South Norcross Tucker Road between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Old Norcross Tucker Road.  The victim’s friend, also a minor, helped police identify Jagne as a suspect. According to Cpl. Michele Pihera, there is no bond for Jagne and he is being held at the Gwinnett County Jail. He made his first court appearance Saturday and has a hearing scheduled for Dec. 27, Channel 2 Action News reported. Detectives want to know if any other woman has been sexually assaulted by Jagne. They are asked to call 770-513-5338.
  • A man is in jail after he struck and killed a crossing guard near a Cobb County school, police say. Channel 2 Action News received the mugshot of Lamonte Whitaker, who has been charged with vehicular homicide.    Police said he hit Edna Umeh in late November by Lindley Middle School in Mableton. RELATED STORIES: Students witness deadly accident involving school crossing guard Family demands action after school crossing guard killed by 'aggressive' driver Family pushing for change after crossing guard killed by hit-and-run driver  
  • A 7-year-old’s heartbreaking letter to Santa asking for a blanket, ball and food, brought in hundreds of donations to help her and other impoverished children at her school. >> Read more trending news “I have (been) good this day,” Crystal Pacheco wrote. “This Christmas I would like a ball and a food. I need a (blanket).” The letter was part of a classroom exercise by Monte Cristo Elementary School first-grade teacher Ruth Espiricueta, who asked them to list two wants and a need. “I started reading them and it's like, I did not expect her to say, ‘I need food. I want food, but I need a blanket more,'' Espiricueta told KGBT. 'And I asked, ‘Well, why do you need a blanket more than the food?’ ‘Well, I get to eat at school -- sometimes I may not have at home, but I get to eat at school. A blanket I have one, but it's not warm enough.’' Espiricueta posted the letter on social media, sparking hundreds of donations of blankets and other items to the school, according to KRGV.  'Unfortunately, there are other students that, as part of their needs, they included food, towels, blankets, pillows, bed, clothes, shoes and a stove,' Espiricueta told ABC News. 'Some of my students were not even excited about Christmas because they know that their parents cannot afford to buy a Christmas tree or gifts for them.' Crystal wrote the letter thinking about her brother, with whom she would use the ball, food for the family and the blanket because the house is too cold, her mother Maria Cortez told KRGV. “I'm just very emotional and proud of my children, because I raise them to appreciate the little that we have,' Cortez told KGBT. The school hopes to get 724 blankets to give to each student, so far they have 616.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian contacts with President Donald Trump's campaign has gained access to thousands of emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration, according to several people familiar with Trump's transition organization.But the investigators did not directly request the records from Trump's still-existing transition group, Trump for America, and instead obtained them from a separate federal agency that stored the material, according to those familiar with the Trump transition organization.A transition attorney sent letters Saturday to two congressional committees saying the General Services Administration had improperly provided the transition records to Mueller's investigators. Kory Langhofer, general counsel for the transition group, wrote to the Republican chairmen of the House Oversight committee and the Senate Homeland Security committee about what the transition contends was an 'unauthorized' disclosure of its emails.The GSA has provided office space and other aid to presidential transitions in recent years and typically houses electronic transition records in its computer system. But Trump for America considers the records private and privileged and not government property.The people familiar with the transition organization spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the records' sensitivity.They said the materials included communications from more than a dozen senior Trump transition officials. Among the officials who used transition email accounts was former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to a count of making false statements to FBI agents in January and is now cooperating with Mueller's investigation. Flynn was fired by Trump in February for misleading senior administration officials about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S.It's unclear how revelatory the email accounts maintained by the GSA will be for Mueller. Several high-level Trump advisers sometimes used other email accounts to communicate about transition issues between Election Day and the inauguration.Mueller's spokesman, Peter Carr, declined to comment. Jay Sekulow, an attorney on Trump's personal legal team, referred questions to the transition group. Neither GSA representatives nor Flynn attorney Robert Kelner were immediately available to respond to AP's emailed requests for comment.Officials with Trump for America learned last Wednesday that GSA officials had turned over the massive cache of emails to Mueller's team. The transition group's top officials were alarmed because many of the emails that Mueller's investigators now have are sensitive records ranging from national security discussions about possible Trump international aims to candid assessments of candidates for top government posts, said those familiar with the transition.Officials with Trump for America had been bracing for months for the prospect that Mueller's team would demand its emails, but they had been assured that any requests to the GSA would be routed to the transition organization, which claims legal ownership of the records. According to those familiar with the transition group, a top GSA official informed Trump for America last June that any request from Mueller's office would be referred to the transition.On Sept. 1, after requests in late August from Mueller's office, the GSA turned over a flash drive containing tens of thousands of records without informing Trump for America of its move, those familiar with the transition said.Those records included emails sent and received by 13 senior Trump transition officials.The media site Axios first reported on the transfer of the emails to Mueller's team.
  • The smallest KFC in the world, serving miniature $5 fill ups, opened Saturday in Portland.  >> Read more trending news Customers lined up for the free sample of the tiny fried chicken, biscuit, mashed potatoes with a small dollop of gravy, a finger-nail sized cookie and what could only be a sip of a soft drink. The novelty fast food restaurant was open until 4 p.m., according to The Oregonian.
  • Google recently released its list of the top search trends of 2017. Across the globe, people asked Google about subjects such as Hurricane Irma, April the Giraffe, the solar eclipse and more. According to Atlanta communications agency Jackson Spalding, which works with a multitude of companies, including Google, many of Atlanta’s top search results mirrored the nation's trends. Here are Atlanta’s top 10 most-Googled topics in 2017: 1. Hurricane Irma 2. Irma path 3. Tom Petty 4. Super Bowl 5. Aaron Hernandez 6. Atlanta Falcons 7. Solar eclipse 8. Las Vegas shooting 9. Charlie Murphy 10. Fidget spinner Google’s Year in Search 2017 lists are based on search terms that “had a high spike in traffic in 2017 as compared to 2016,” the company said. Information from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was used in this report.