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    There are many “bad traffic days” on Atlanta’s roads, but an 18-hour stretch from Thursday, May 16th, and into Friday, the 17th, was absurd. In particular, the subsequent closures of I-75/northbound between McDonough and Stockbridge on Thursday almost entirely proved Murphy’s Law. This was a period for the ages, and the horror also broke out elsewhere. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: When traffic is stopped and you need to go The gridlock started at approximately 10 a.m. Thursday, when a tractor trailer overturned on I-75/northbound at I-675 (Exit 227) in Henry County. The big rig stretched perpendicularly across the lanes and completely shut down I-75/nb. “(Thursday) was one of the most unusual middays I’ve ever worked,” WSB Triple Team Traffic’s Alex Williams said, still a bit aghast after processing the day. “We had a total of roughly four traffic RED ALERTS.” As we have covered here before, the WSB Traffic Team defines a RED ALERT as an interstate’s or major highway’s entire closure for an extended duration. For four such closures to happen near or at the same time is not a common thing. The first I-75/nb closure was bad enough, but just as it started clearing, a far bigger RED ALERT unfolded around noon. “I-75/nb south of Highway 20/81 in McDonough, which is south of the first RED ALERT, was shut down with a deadly crash & big rig fire,” Williams explained. The WSB Jam Cam showed a tractor trailer sliced open and engulfed in flames, obviously necessitating all of I-75/nb’s closure. The breadth of the wreckage made clear very early that this closure would last for hours. Then we learned that two big rigs actually collided and smashed a car between them, killing two. That meant an investigation extended the closure even later. There was correlation between the two wrecks, as the extreme backups from the first wreck created the traffic changes that galvanized the other. The Atlanta roads mirror NASCAR: cautions breed cautions. The I-75/nb shutdown in McDonough drilled traffic back into Butts County, before Highway 36 (Exit 201). Police diverted traffic off on the exits south of the crash and the side roads, especially Highway 42/23, became jammed. The extreme northbound commotion jammed I-75/southbound with onlooker delays all the way back to I-675. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: How we decide where the WSB Skycopter flies The South Metro Express/Peach Pass Lanes stayed pointed in the northbound direction all the way through Friday morning. Crews near the crash before Hwy. 20/81 forced some traffic into those toll lanes, which worked effectively like an open freeway lane. Both the rubbernecking and the lack of relief the reversible lanes usually bring made for an evening commute that was an hour worse than normal on I-75/sb. And this was in the direction opposite of the closure. “What an unbelievable day for Henry County commuters,” WSB’s Veronica Harrell stated, after working those wrecks from the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center. “I-75 northbound was shut down from 10:30 a.m. until well into the evening rush. I felt so sorry for everyone involved.” From the WSB Skycopter, I watched I-75/nb finally re-open just before our 6 p.m. Non-Stop News Feed. The cleanup of the two mangled and charred trailers on the right shoulder didn’t completely clear until around 10 p.m., WSB’s Steve Winslow observed. When monitoring major problems, like those on I-75 on the south side, losing sight of other problems is easy. Thankfully, Williams and Harrell did not. “I-285/northbound shut down at LaVista Road, so we had three RED ALERTS at once,” Williams recalled. “Luckily I-285 opened shortly after. Then, less than an hour later, I-20/eastbound shut down at I-285 in Fulton County.” But Williams and Harrell, and then WSB’s Smilin’ Mark McKay and Mike Shields, kept scouring the WSB Jam Cams and updating our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App with new problems. As soon as I-75/nb finally opened in Henry County, a vehicle flipped over on GA-400/northbound south of the Glenridge Connector. We arrived in the WSB Skycopter, just as a HERO unit spent about five minutes towing it to the right; traffic was awful back before Lenox. And to top off the rush hour, a devastating wreck shut down I-285/southbound at Atlanta Road (Exit 15) around 7 p.m. Thursday, keeping Shields busy through the evening. The wee morning hours of Friday saw Atlanta Police shut down I-85/northbound at Cleveland Avenue and I-75/85/sb at Highway 166, for crash reconstruction scenes. Those opened quickly. Then the south side got hit again with a three-hour RED ALERT at about 5:30 a.m. on I-675/northbound at Highway 42. The last hour of that closure saw half of I-75/northbound in Morrow, the main I-675/nb alternate, get blocked with its own wreck. McKay watched I-675/northbound open from the Skycopter after 8 a.m. We spell this all out to say that bad traffic happens with very little rhyme or reason. Drive alert and always prepare before your commute by checking our app, wsbradio.com, and keeping in tune with our live reports on News 95.5/AM750 WSB and Channel 2 Action News. If you don’t, you may find yourself saying, “Ohhh-ah,” as Harrell often does when the, uh, traffic hits the fan.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: WSB Triple Team Traffic App helps navigate commute Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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.
  • The Atlanta road system is in construction parallax; it has to be. Our population continues to grow and the externalities of this expansion manifest themselves in the way of trucks, cones, barrels, bulldozers, barriers, and paint. The most ostensible and cumbersome of these projects is the immense Transform 285/400 project in Sandy Springs. That interchange redesign came on the heels of the massive I-75/I-575 Northwest Metro Express Lanes construction in Cobb and Cherokee counties, which concluded last September. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Treating the right of way the right way Even small road adjustments and improvements can cause closures, but more subtle construction changes can cause intense delays without actually blocking lanes. One such side effect of big-time road work is a lane shift or lane restriping. An avid WSB listener who wishes to be called “Traffic Trooper Squirrel” (they love squirrels, in case you’re wondering) asked me a great question, as they approached one of these work zones on I-75 in Butts County: What is a lane shift? Squirrel is from another country and isn’t familiar with certain American vernacular. That question put the presence of these slants in travel lanes front and top of mind for me. When construction crews have to build bridges or build out lanes next to roads, they often have to take some capacity from the regular through lanes. Instead of blocking an entire lane for weeks and months, they restripe the lanes. Usually, crews will paint the lanes with a slant to the left or right, and sometimes they make the lanes skinnier, to allow for this construction. This causes problems. Any time the environment changes, traffic cringes. When just a bit of rain falls, people make wrecking look easy and traffic automatically moves more slowly. So certainly when travel lanes suddenly juke left or right and constrict, the travel flow slows. And this ripple in the “trip time continuum” causes more wrecks as well, which then cause even more delays. Take the pain that Cobb commuters felt on I-75 for the several years leading up to the completion of those new toll lanes. The lane shifts between I-285 and Marietta slowed traffic at very unpredictable times of day. And this happened simply because a few more variables (lane shifts and restriping) joined the commuting equation on that stretch. In recent weeks, the I-285/westbound ramp to Peachtree Dunwoody Road and exit lanes to GA-400 have been restriped. Crews there did eliminate a net lane of capacity, taking the left exit lane to Peachtree Dunwoody and making it an exit lane to GA-400. That has made the exit to “Pill Hill” a nightmare, which backs up the right lanes of I-285 even worse during both rush hours. Add in the lane shift on I-285 in that same area and lane shifts on GA-400 in that spot and “slower than normal” has become the new normal. The new Peach Pass lanes on I-75 and I-575 have brought plenty of relief to the northwestern suburbs. I-75 used to be awful, but has instead moderated greatly with the addition of the two reversible lanes during each rush hour. However, a new lane shift just last week on I-75/northbound north of Chastain Road, combined with construction equipment sitting off to the right, has done to Marietta-Kennesaw traffic what a pugilist did to Jared Leto’s beautiful face in “Fight Club.” The lane shift and restriping on I-75/northbound in Kennesaw has turned what had decreased to a sub-20 minute ride from I-285 to Chastain into a 30-minute-plus trek. No lanes are blocked; conditions simply changed. There are many more examples of what restriping, lane shifts, and lane constriction can do to traffic. But there aren’t really many great solutions on how to minimize their impact. As motorists, we need to drive with more awareness and with more authority. We can still be cautious and decisive; those are not mutually exclusive traits. And let this serve as a reminder to always drive at our best in work zones, because mistakes in these areas are more costly. Construction areas often leave less room for drivers to correct themselves or pull to a shoulder, and crashes and inattentiveness have higher chances here to cost lives. Construction is with us for years to come — please be careful.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Getting around roundabouts shouldn’t throw you for a loop Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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.
  • The last Saturday in April, regardless of the weather, is a beautiful day in Atlanta. April 27th saw the 28th running of the Georgia Police Memorial Ride: a congregation of hundreds of motorcycles, police cars, and other vehicles that travel in formation to salute Georgia officers that have fallen in the line of duty. Blue Knights Georgia chapter VII, a fraternal, non-profit motorcycle club of current and retired law enforcement, hosts this massive event each year. The late Captain Herb Emory was heavily involved in the memorial ride for more than 20 years. “Every year when this ride comes up, I stop to hear the Blue Knights’ and other’s stories about Captain Herb’s perpetual involvement in this big event!” WSB Triple Team Traffic’s Ashley Frasca exclaimed. “I believe he became involved by the second or third annual ride, and was there every year since.” In the spirit of Captain Herb, Frasca volunteers with C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) and helps host and put together C.O.P.S. events the night before the Memorial Ride and for other times during the year. Her relationship with Captain Herb and his widow, Karen, sparked her interest in this cause. “A cool thing for me each year is seeing his memorial flag flown on a bike in the ride,” she explained. “Our great friend Karen usually brings the Mayberry Patrol Car out, too.” » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Community service years after losing Captain Herb Emory Captain Herb was an honorary Douglas Co. Sheriff's officer and, as we talked about a few weeks ago, died of a heart attack after rescuing crash victims and then directing traffic in front of his house. He also was simply a huge police geek. Captain Herb went to police roadblocks in the middle of the night. He also loved police memorabilia, scanners, and “The Andy Griffith Show.” When Karen surprised Herb with that restored Ford Galaxie years ago, Herb was in rare form: speechless. “Aunt Bea,” as the license plate says, is always a favorite at auto shows and at this annual ride. Frasca said that over 1,000 motorcycle riders showed up from all over Georgia and even Kentucky and the Carolinas. The procession, that started on Jonesboro Rd. in southeast Atlanta at about 11 a.m. was some kind of spectacle. The current and vintage police cars, hundreds of bikes, and two MARTA buses carrying the surviving families roared and paced like a majestic lion that demanded attention and respect. It also created a huge traffic interruption. “I think the word got out in a big way about closing the Downtown Connector around lunch time on a Saturday,” Frasca said. Frasca and I, along with others on the Traffic Team, warned people on News 95.5/AM750 WSB of the impending closure Friday. And the ensuing gridlock warnings and traffic jams themselves were front and center in Jill Nelson’s and Floyd Hillman’s reports Saturday morning. I actually helped Hillman send out some tweets and Triple Team Traffic Alerts App push alerts from the backseat of the Mayberry Patrol Car during the ride. But the warning effort didn’t stop there. “I also want to commend GDOT for working with the Blue Knights for this ride. They helped spread the word using the overhead matrix boards in the city,” Frasca said. HERO drivers and law enforcement sealed off entrance ramps and intersections to allow the mile-long parade to pass. And as Frasca on the back of an officer’s bike and myself, Karen Emory, Triple Team Traffic’s Mike Shields, and Douglas Co. S.O. First Lt. John Jewell in the Mayberry car saw, people respectfully took notice and paused to remember the fallen officers. The Georgia Police Memorial Ride gallops each year up I-285/westbound, to I-75/northbound, to I-75/85/northbound. Then it exits on the Piedmont Avenue HOV ramp and into Midtown, turns left on 14th Street, and left on Spring Street. After passing Centennial Park and the Five Points Station and Underground Atlanta, the long mass of metal and flags re-enters I-75/85/sb just below I-20 and goes back. Traffic stayed jammed on I-75/85 in both directions for over an hour - well after the lanes opened. And people certainly are upset each time. The traffic RED ALERT - as we call it on WSB - stopped Downtown Atlanta traffic for longer than President Trump’s motorcade did earlier that week. And while that is a major inconvenience, it provides a mandatory pause to think about the gravity of it all. Just as we got to stop and remember Captain Herb and other fallen heroes in the patrol car, those stuck in traffic got to see how many people care about and/or were affected by the loss of an officer. Headlines sometimes become just that; they can lose their meaning. The Georgia Police Memorial Ride is a list of dozens of headlines, suddenly gleaming to life, and passing by with guttural realness.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: What our Traffic Troopers mean to us Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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.
  • This column has gotten emotional and spiritual this month, as spring sinews into summer and Atlanta’s traffic patterns are really rush-hour Rorschach tests. The morning and afternoon drives, once very much accentuated from the other, now bleed together. That sets up just about the right imagery for the painful commutes most of us share. With so many moving pieces on the Atlanta traffic-scape, a return to practicality in this space of prose is in order — but not this week. We must color outside of the lines once again, which more than likely is a subconscious emulation of how this metro area’s traffic behaves. This week sees the end of National Poetry Month. So to stay thematically relevant, let’s celebrate, malign, mourn, chide, deride, mimic — and maybe even enjoy — our complicated journey on the streets of Metro Atlanta. Will this amateur poem feature Perimeter pentameter, crash-filled couplets, or maybe a sluggish sestina? Let’s keep adding sentences to the setup to shorten this painful attempt. » RELATED: Where to hear poetry in Atlanta One finds little refuge In this mass of cars. That pile in to every open space Landing near and very far. For every quixotic attempt To scratch a way out Is met with too many others lost On your secret alternate route. The Inner Loop is jammed, Maybe head Downtown. Seven lanes of relief on the Connector — But a bus has broken down. Why didn’t I know this? Waze has failed me! Stupid technology sent me out of my way. Should have checked with WSB. Patience left last half hour, Hands clench the wheel. How does 5 mph take this much energy? We move and the tires squeal. Finally passing the bus, Off to the side, unloaded. The pedal hits the mat, the race has begun. All participants have emoted. The horde gallops, flailing, Trying to compose its fury. Furious lane changes and brake checks Signal everyone’s hurry. Conflicting goals breed contempt. Hasty, sweaty humans clash. For their communal suffering for minutes on end Has just bred the newest crash.  » RELATED: Listen: Poetry in Atlanta shows another side of city culture Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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.
  • Pushing my deadline back for this Gridlock Guy column was a good idea this week. Procrastination allowed me to attend Buckhead Church’s Good Friday service before sitting down to write. The story of Easter really put me on a thought train about our vehicular travails. So even if you don’t track with Judeo-Christian traditions, there is a theme that is both very powerful and disarming from Holy Week that could ease the painful Atlanta commute. Sacrifice. Selflessness. » RELATED: Atlanta among America’s best places to celebrate Easter 2019 Even if you only believe that the crucifixion-resurrection story is just a fairytale, it is about as lopsided and unjust as they come. Jesus, the blameless and deified Messianic rabbi, got sentenced to death for blasphemy. He predicted and preached that his death was the solvency to save all of humankind from the damnation of their sins. A perfect man willingly died because all other humans are imperfect. This isn’t exactly fair for Him. In the lead up to the terrifying and stultifying events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, Jesus of Nazareth selflessly took his time investing in a group of mentees. The Apostles had no idea of the gravity of the yoke they chose to wear. They learned it after the great sacrifice and miracle of Easter. The lesson pushed them into lives of self-sacrifice and eventually on to grizzly deaths for their cause. Yes, this is a heavy consequence, especially when weighed against Atlanta rush hours. By the time of the Last Supper, the last night Jesus was alive, his followers knew he was special. Yet He got down on His hands and knees and then washed their nasty feet. He deserved exactly the opposite treatment, but acquiesced to prove a greater point about sacrifice. » RELATED: 12 hopping ways to celebrate Easter in metro Atlanta Now, imagine being hell bent on an arrival time. You are leading the meeting. You are driving the carpool. You are coaching the soccer game. Your goals are certainly more important than the person you are cutting off or not letting in in front of you. In fact, if that (insert mean moniker here) had any idea how important you were, they wouldn’t drive like such a (insert mean moniker here). The above example may be an exaggeration, but many of us drive in selfish, complacent bubbles. I, for one, find myself drunk with selfishness and apathy behind the wheel when I’m trying to, say, get to my Captain Herb Ballroom in Chamblee in time for my 2:30 p.m. traffic shift. All of these unsavory characteristics cause bad traffic and ill will. Our commutes are hard enough, even when traffic is just sluggish and we are having a great day. But when the clouds of angst, selfishness, apathy, and complacence gather, we end up driving in a metaphorically stormy commute. We know that driving and thunderstorms do not mix. The examples of Messianic sacrifice and bullish self-centeredness may seem extreme, but they illustrate and juxtapose major underlying solutions and problems to our crazy traffic system. An array of secular and spiritual motorists should agree: a little bit of “You first, then me” can go a long way. And that compromise and sacrifice can make going a long way take less time. And even if selflessness saves you zero time, the spread of goodwill can make all parties happier.  » RELATED: Adult things to do on Easter in Atlanta Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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.
  • April 12th, 2014, changed the lives of the WSB Traffic Team, me, many of our friends and co-workers, and throngs of others in not just Atlanta, but around the country. Captain Herb Emory, our eye-in-the-sky leader and voice of reason on the roads, died suddenly of a heart attack. Emory, or Captain Herb as I will call him for the rest of this piece, left this world ten days after celebrating his 61st birthday. He got called away at the top of his game — his game being both his on-air duties and his massive community footprint. » RELATED: WSB's Capt. Herb Emory passes away For those that even remotely knew Captain Herb personally, his legacy as a community servant shared equal spotlight with that of his traffic anchoring in the WSB Skycopter. His death even showcased those two talents equally. When a car wrecked in front of his Douglas County home, Captain Herb and his law enforcement buddy ran to the victims’ aid. They pulled the teens out of the wreckage and then they went to direct traffic on Burnt Hickory Road. Community service. Traffic. As Captain Herb directed traffic, the excited combination of that, plus yard work and rescue appeared too much for his heart of gold. He collapsed in cardiac arrest, never again with the opportunity to welcome the “bluebird of happiness” on his shoulder or to lament his “aching big toe” about the traffic. Captain Herb would never again play Santa Claus on the phone on News 95.5/AM750 WSB for Atlanta’s children on Christmas Eve or MC and help organize the annual Toys for Tots drive at his favorite Fred’s BBQ House in Lithia Springs. But the collective need for those things would not die with Captain Herb. The responsibilities fell on the rest of us — including you. As we brainstormed on an idea of a way to properly recognize the five-year anniversary of Captain Herb’s passing, Ashley Frasca from our Traffic Team had a brilliant idea. Frasca, who helps plan quite a bit of the community service that our team does, hatched “A Day of Service.” She posed the idea on the closed Facebook group page for our WSB Traffic Troopers, who are the listeners that call us with traffic info. We honor them each year with a lunch, meet and greets, swag, and a tour of our studios. They don’t need too much encouragement to serve. » RELATED: Late Captain Herb Emory has a bridge dedicated to him Frasca’s post prompted group member Catherine Yacola to share that she volunteers the second Saturday of every month at a cat rescue place. This community service post spurred our other Traffic Troopers to start talking about how Captain Herb showed community service directly to them. At our annual lunches, he loved to raffle off some, well, interesting prizes that he had collected. “Colonel Chuck” said he still has the five-dollar bill Captain Herb gave him. “Eli” laughed about her raffle item. “I still have the funny floral coffee mug he gave me that came in a hatbox. I will never get rid of it!” Maybe she can unload it in her own Dirty Santa game one day. Captain Herb’s calendar of the last year he was alive had him down for 83 community appearances or events. 83! That’s 1.6 events per week for a Georgia Radio Hall of Famer in his 60s who worked incredibly hard in morning and afternoon drive Monday through Friday. His mantra was simple: always say yes. He would appear at little festivals, fundraisers, and community gatherings without publicity. He helped elderly, disabled, and poor people in ways that the public never knew, because he rarely mentioned it. And he didn’t do this because his boss told him to or to keep up appearances. Captain Herb went above and beyond in the community because it was his charge to pay forward his dream job. Like I do sometimes, you may feel overwhelmed by the idea of shoe-horning public service into a busy schedule or a tight budget. But serving others manifests in many ways. Service isn’t just organizational or monetary. You can hold the door for someone, pick up a shift at work, run and grab your spouse some food, pick up the check for someone in front of you at a fast-food restaurant, or feed stray cats in your neighborhood. Service is as much a mindset as it is actions. If we think more often about other people than ourselves, the world is instantly a better place. “Put a smile in your face, song in your heart, and a tap in your toe.” That is the line that Captain Herb opened most mornings with on WSB-TV and radio. That creed, I believe, helped him tackle his job of serving people with his reports with fervor — even on a down day. That philosophy willed Captain Herb to burn the candle at both ends in his community. Optimism and selflessness can bring all of us a second wind to better this world. And those traits, I truly believe, could make enduring Atlanta’s daily gridlock easier. Thank you, Captain Herb Emory. You invested in your family, your city, and me. Your heart for service over six decades will be an inspiration that changes the world for years to come. You still feel alive to us. » RELATED: Captain Herb’s Three C’s among the many sayings that shape WSB Traffic
  • The cars of the future could have automated speed limiters; that shouldn’t be surprising. CNN reported that the European Union is mandating that all vehicles have “intelligent speed assistance” by 2022. One shouldn’t be surprised that the E.U. has passed a new regulation; the governing body has just a few of those. Whether laws of this kind draw one’s thumbs down or up, consider what a similar law could mean in the U.S. or Atlanta, specifically. » RELATED: Georgia lawmakers consider speed traps in school zones E.U.’s mandate is broad and doesn’t identify a specific technology to govern speeds. As vehicles become smarter, the general idea is that vehicles across the pond will use various technology to read speed-limit info on European roads. Then the automated engine governors would have vehicles top out at the the posted speed limits. Drivers, however, would be able to override this feature. This malleability already exists in driverless cars now. Some smart cars, like the Tesla Model S in which I rode in a couple of years ago, allow drivers to set the aggressiveness level at which the autonomous vehicles drive themselves. Conservative settings keep these cars close to the speed limit and more apart from one another. As the aggression levels increase, so do the accepted maximum speeds and minimum space requirements. Drivers, of course, can “take the wheel” over from the computer at any time. This same principle would apply in Europe, where 25,000 people die in crashes annually. The E.U. official’s statement that CNN cited also said that the vast majority of wrecks involve human error. The entire argument for autonomous vehicles centers around eliminating human error. Cars communicating with one another and strictly following their own rules will create far fewer mishaps and make traffic move more freely. Intelligent speed assistance is very attainable and essentially has existed for decades, in the form of cruise control. The U.S. government already mandates broad safety features in vehicles, so seeing a speed rule of this sort in the future is not far-fetched. But would an E.U.-like speed mandate be effective in our society? One could argue that intelligent speed assistance, if only a deployed as a suggestion, would at least start a conversation about safer speeds. I have made the same argument many times about the Hands-Free Georgia Act: The law may not be effective enough, but conversation can change behavior. » RELATED: Georgia rules for electric scooters scrapped until next year Should the “Slow Down Movement” start with government regulations, corporate marketing, or private citizen campaigns? The best answer is yes — to all of it. Personal responsibility is a staple in a modern, free society. People have to buy in to an idea for it to be truly effective. The idea of something as a regulation, doesn’t often create “buy in,” but it may move, say, automotive companies or safe-driving campaigns to push for the cause. This is exactly what happened with the somewhat effective hands-free law here in Georgia last year. Another row in the “personal responsibility aisle” is the complicated dependence on technology. Driving skills have decreased. That is an anecdotal statement and one backed by the increased number of wrecks and fatalities on the roads in the past few years. Distracted driving is seemingly the biggest cause of this spike in single-vehicle wrecks, but a general lack of awareness of environment also might be. As GPS apps have gotten better, drivers simply are less invested in actually making their own decisions. We are driving mostly at the behest of satellite mapping … and that friendly voice. This listlessness makes navigating convenient and keeps us from getting lost as often. But it also leads us to make turns late, stop in the middle of the road to not miss a turn, or just generally maneuver abruptly and less safely. Taking our ability to govern our speeds out of our hands could have the same effect as GPS and distracted driving do. The less we become responsible for our rides, the less invested we are in our driving. The most dangerous period for the growth of autonomous technology on the roads is this 5-, 10-, or 15-year transition period of in betweenness. Once the wheels are totally out of our hands, we may be in a better place. But getting to the “Promised Land of Autonomy” could involve a lot of bad and mysterious turns. Be careful.  » RELATED: Report: Atlanta drivers some of the most aggressive in the nation Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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.
  • One assumption about traffic reporters is that all of us fly in a helicopter. In fact, most — almost all — do not. Smilin’ Mark McKay, Ashley Frasca, and I are the only airborne traffic reporters left in Atlanta. McKay is in the WSB Skycopter each morning drive and I take flight in the afternoons. Frasca has recently gotten the chance to fill in for us, as she gets the feel of both looking at traffic from above and arranging and leading the WSB Triple Team Traffic reports for the rest of the team on the ground. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: WSB Triple Team Traffic App helps navigate commute But none of us has a pilot’s license. We have a rotation of pilots, led by our Monday-through-Thursday stalwart Bob Howdy, a former police officer who prefers that pseudonym. And we carry a videographer on each flight, Brett Barnhill, who has the responsibility of providing a feed that all four TV news stations in Atlanta use. This cross-pollination allows us to stay airborne, but this balance with the needs of TV stations also can influence where we fly. I recently got a question from a WSB listener and viewer about how we decide where to go. I had not explained that in a while, so I found it a worthy topic for this column. The pilot has the ultimate say in where we fly. If they have to avoid busy airspaces around airports or cannot lift off in bad weather, that is their call. Regardless of how bad the weather is, they always drive in and make that call from the hangar at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. There are so many stimuli to consider as a pilot that we would have no way as reporters of doing that job simultaneously. We do traffic every six minutes and they carry in their hands life or death; we “let” the pilots fly. When TV stations have special video requests or if we find something that the other stations want, Barnhill has to check with his producer on the ground to make sure to stay at those scenes long enough. If, say, I am ready to move to another problem, we cannot go until Barnhill is cleared. Balancing the demands he receives with what we want for News 95.5/AM750 WSB makes both of our jobs harder, but the reward of flying is worth the pause. All else being equal — i.e., when we do not have to wait for TV — we are a traffic helicopter. And that is more than 90% of the time. So we simply fly up and down the interstates when there aren’t any big wrecks or news stories that alter our routes. We generally do not go south of I-20, because Hartsfield-Jackson’s airspace is so wide. We have to make such a wide route to fly to McDonough or Fairburn that going that way isn’t worth the time cost, unless there is a big problem. In this past week, however, we have flown to the south side multiple times for different traffic issues. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: When traffic is stopped and you need to go We try to make our decisions to maximize our time flying over interstates, in hopes that we discover something new. Finding a crash that we didn’t already know about in the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center “pays” for the whole two-hour ride in the Skycopter. We take the airborne advantage seriously and want to leverage it to help Atlanta commuters to the greatest extent. Earlier this month, we flew over a wreck during PM drive on I-85/northbound at Jimmy Carter Blvd. It took forever to clear, and the Traffic Team had a live ground shot of it on the WSB Jam Cam. But we stayed over it to get more detail and see the impact on surrounding roads. We noticed that commuters heavily underutilized Oakbrook Pkwy. as an alternate and started telling traffic to go there. Observing small details like that or something in a wreck that might make the clean-up last longer are the added value we can still give. And that is value that automated traffic apps still do not offer. Common sense is a great human trait. With technology becoming smarter and more superfluous, we tailor our flight paths differently. If we know that the Traffic Team has a good feel on a wreck without us flying over it, we don’t waste the fuel going there. We try to maximize our advantage. News helicopters generally fly a la carte to stories, whereas the WSB Skycopter flies for a couple of hours each morning and afternoon drive. Some days are very humdrum, but others see major problems. In a city with traffic jams like ours, WSB knows the importance of staying airborne in the Skycopter. In this time of automation, we have seen news organizations wave white flags for traffic reporting. They outsource it to bigger companies that assign one reporter to five stations and who just read crashes. We cover multiple stations in the WSB Traffic Center, but they are all local and we do it with the best tools and the most expertise in the city. We know your ride is important and we want the information you need to come at you constantly on radio, TV, online, on social media, and on the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App. The WSB Traffic Team is still on offense against Atlanta gridlock, and the WSB Skycopter is a huge weapon.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Residential cost of GA-400 expansion illustration of bigger conundrum Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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.
  • Atlanta’s population is booming, as evidenced by, well, many things. The crowd swell keeps this weekly column topical, as more residents slowly commute locally and more freight uses Atlanta as the transportation hub that it is. Sandy Springs residents recently learned the cost of expanding the infrastructure to fit these demands. » RELATED: Hit the brakes on transit expansion? Gwinnett voters to decide GDOT announced two weeks ago the need for the land where 19 homes sit on Northgreen Drive, in order to expand GA-400 by two lanes in each direction. Northgreen sits just a football field-or-so to the west of GA-400, as it runs off of Spalding Drive. The optics of this look a bit worse for GDOT, as the addition to GA-400 will be Express Lanes - A.K.A. toll lanes. Those always are polarizing. 'We are entering the right of way-acquisition process,' GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale explained on the March 4th 'The Mark Arum Show' on News 95.5/AM750 WSB. Dale said that this is different than and precedes eminent domain. In fact, Dale told Arum that both federal and state laws outline a specific process that GDOT must follow, before eminent domain even comes into play. “We are entering a negotiation with these property owners to negotiate a sale of their property.” Dale said that the government can exercise eminent domain only if the homeowners refuse the offers. “It is one of the harder things that we have to do; we don’t have to do it a lot. I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone to come to me and tell me they need my home. When we design these projects originally we look to avoid any circumstance like this. Beyond that, we look to mitigate it and then to minimize the impact, so if we only had to take part of the property, and then mitigate it if we have to take it all.” Dale said GDOT does not enjoy making these hard choices. “And I think that’s sort of a misconception — that this is something that we do without feeling and we just do.” In this case, Dale said it is absolutely necessary. “We want it to be part of an ongoing Express Lanes system in the metro area,” Dale explained. New such lanes along I-285, I-85, and GA-400 would be double and separate in each direction. They would not be reversible like the lanes along I-75 on both sides of town. The GA-400 lanes would go from I-285 to McFarland Pkwy. and the I-285 lanes would reside in all directions anywhere north of I-20. Construction for the GA-400 lanes will not begin until around 2021 and may not conclude until 2024. » RELATED: North metro Atlanta mayors propose east-west transit plan Dale and Arum discussed how the I-285/GA-400 corridor, an area already carved up for the new interchange GDOT is building, is chock full of both businesses and residences. “You have some pretty densely-populated residential communities that are set up alongside of the interstate — not a great scenario for avoiding trying to take property,” Dale said. This, again, brings up a real problem for the desirable living places in Atlanta. More people bring more traffic. More people galvanize a need for more housing. More traffic means a need for bigger roads. The construction of bigger roads sometimes interferes with said housing. And an increase in people brings the increased need for commercial areas. And so on and so on. As tastes and demands have changed, the “live, work, play” concept has made popular both condos and townhomes that are near both public transit and places to, well, do life. Compressing living spaces in convenient areas can free up more room for development and roads and decrease traffic. On Arum’s show, Dale quickly outlined GDOT’s Major Mobility Investment Program, a cadre of 11 projects statewide that aim to decrease traffic congestion by 5% by 2030. That’s a 5% decrease statewide, not just in those 11 zones, so the improvements are significant. But they come not only at a significant monetary cost, but possibly a residential one. Looking ahead, the idea of traditional, spread-out subdivisions in highly populated areas works against the efficient expansion of roads, highways and mass transit. Just as the car culture must change at least slightly, so must residential culture. This isn’t a call to action for all situations. But this notion is something to consider in both city-planning and life-planning moving forward in Metro Atlanta.  » RELATED: Federal budget deal allows Georgia DOT to catch up on road work Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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.
  • Don’t grab the smelling salts; you’ve dealt with this news before, Uptowners. Beginning Monday, Peachtree Street/Road just northwest of I-85 will see intermittent lane closures during daytime hours until as late as the early fall. Before turning beat red and stringing together four-letter words and gerunds about the dysfunctional government, consider the reasoning. These are not closures for hanging and painting big “PEACHTREE” letters and arches on the I-85 bridge, or fixing the sewer and then fixing the fix, or for an unauthorized crane that then broke, or for the construction of private buildings. Georgia Department of Transportation spokesperson Natalie Dale explained the project. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Innocuous turn could save a ton of time in Midtown “The focus of this project is a utility pole safety program,” Dale told News 95.5/AM750 WSB news director Chris Camp. Dale said the project is a phase in the Clear Roadside Program (CRP), where GDOT works with various utility companies to move utility poles farther back from the edges of the roads. “We look at corridors that have a high rate of drivers leaving the roadway and hitting these utility poles.” Both the public and private sector pick up the tab. “We look to fund a program that is 50% funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation and 50% by the utility companies, to move these poles away from the road ways and create a safer clear zone.” The premise is simple: GDOT and, in this case, Georgia Power identify places where poles are very close to the road. By moving back, say, a road of streetlights, drivers have a higher margin of error. “If you fell asleep or weren’t paying attention and ran off the road, you’d be able to correct back onto the road before you hit a pole,” Dale explained, noting that GDOT and Georgia Power have done this on Northside Drive at Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway in northwest Atlanta. Dale said that crews need one to two days to move a pole back far enough. Initially, this project will focus on Peachtree between Deering Road and Collier Road. A cursory look at Google Maps shows at least a few dozen utility poles in that half-mile stretch. For sure, the project will cause intermittent lane closures, but Dale said those closures could expand to a bigger stretch on Peachtree. The CRP will continue to meet to decide the sections of Peachtree — and elsewhere — that most need these pole push backs. » RELATED: Lanes reopen after I-285 sinkhole repaired on the Southside The hours of work are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Dale wants to remind drivers that these, “are not full lane closures, they are intermittent lane closures on certain sections.” And the contract for the work allows for the minimum pain inflicted on the midday commute. “It would only be on the north side or the south side at a time, so you’re not going to have lanes closed on the north and the southbound at the same time.” Officials are still finalizing some parts of the project, but Dale said that these pole shifts cannot happen overnight. “It is safest for the Georgia Power crews and for the general public for these closures to be done during the daylight hours.” Do not discount the cost of labor to pay people to work overnight, as well. The contract allows for the project to last until November, but builds in possible weather delays. Essentially, November is a worst-case scenario. “It’s not outside the realm of possibility that this may be finished much sooner,” Dale said. So as some of you prepare to stew and simmer over crawling traffic on Peachtree — as many of my co-workers (and I) will — Dale said to remember the main reason both GDOT and Georgia Power are beginning such an undertaking. “The end result is to create a safer atmosphere and possibly save someone’s life down the road and we think that is well worth it.” » RELATED: Georgia Legislature passes school bus safety bill Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter 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

  • Two Walmart clerks in Florida are accused of marking down video games to $1 and reselling them at a higher price, defrauding the store out of nearly $5,000, the Tampa Bay Times reported. >> Read more trending news  Seth Jackson Lulow, 19, of New Port Richey, and Dominic Haydin McGhee, 20, of Holiday, were arrested Friday, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. The two men face charges of scheming to defraud, according to arrest records. Lulow also faces charges of dealing in stolen property and false verification of ownership. Lulow was being held in lieu of an $87,500 bond, according to arrest records. McGhee was released after posting $5,000 bail. Lulow is accused of stealing $3,795.41 worth of video games on eight occasions between April 1 and April 23 at a Walmart in New Port Richey, WTSP reported. He was caught on surveillance video working with McGhee, who is accused of stealing $771.65 worth of video games, the television station reported. Both men were seen on surveillance cameras marking down games. According to the Sheriff’s Office, Lulow would change the prices of the games in a back room and later buy them at a self-checkout station, the Times reported.  Lulow allegedly told deputies that after buying the games, he would sell them to local game shops, the newspaper reported. On at least one occasion, McGhee allegedly met Lulow and other person and brought a box of marked down games to a checkout lane, where they sold the games to each other, according to the Times. McGhee also marked down 22 games and sold them to friends, the newspaper reported.
  • Billionaire Robert F. Smith gave Morehouse scholars the ultimate graduation gift when he vowed to eliminate the student debt of the entire Class of 2019.  >> Read more trending news  The technology investor, who received an honorary doctorate from the HBCU, made the surprise announcement during the institution’s Sunday morning commencement. The gift has been estimated to be worth up to $40 million Related: Billionaire Robert F. Smith, Morehouse commencement speaker, to pay off class of 2019's student debt “On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” he said during his speech. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.” Want to learn more about the businessman? Here are five things you should know. 1. He began his career in technology as a teenager. Smith, who grew up in Denver, developed an interest in the tech field in high school. When he was a junior, he landed an internship at Bell Labs by calling the company every week for five months until he got a position, according to The Washington Post. During his summer and Christmas breaks, he worked on computers.  “I got hooked on technology,” he told the publication in a 2016 interview. “The excitement of figuring a complex problem out creates a eureka moment. It’s one of the best moments in life.” 2. Smith is an Ivy League graduate.  Smith earned his degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University, where he became a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He later snagged his master of business administration degree from Columbia Business School in 1994. 3. He has topped the Forbes list of the world’s black billionaires.  The investor, who now lives in Austin, is the nation’s richest black man, according to Forbes. He’s worth approximately $5 billion. The 56-year-old made his fortune through the private equity firm, Vista Equity Partners, which he founded in 2000. According to the company’s website, Vista currently manages equity capital commitments of more than $46 billion and oversees a portfolio of more than 50 software companies Before launching Vista, he worked an investment banking job at Goldman Sachs for several years, where he worked on tech mergers and acquisitions for brands such as Apple, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, eBay and Yahoo.  >> On AJC.com: Morehouse to use $1.5 million earlier gift from Smith on scholarships and a new park 4. The philanthropist has made several major donations throughout his career.  Before the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened, he pledged a $20 million gift to the facility, according to the Smithsonian. The donation has allowed the attraction to become a hub to archive photographs from institutions like other museums, funeral homes and more.  In 2016, he, along with the Fund II Foundation, gifted Cornell University with $50 million for its chemical and biomolecular engineering school. And ahead of his graduation speech at Morehouse, he donated $1.5 million to the school for scholarships and a new park.  5. He’s a husband and father.  In 2015, he married Hope Dworaczyk. John Legend, Seal and Brian McKnight reportedly sang at their wedding. Dworaczyk is a model, TV host and reality television personality. The 34-year-old is the host and co-producer of “Inside Fashion,” a series on Canada’s E! network. She has also made appearances on “The Celebrity Apprentice” and Fox’s “The Choice.” >> On AJC.com: Robert Smith is one of the world’s 13 black billionaires The couple has two sons together. Hendrix Robert Smith was born in 2014 and Legend Robert Smith was born in 2016. Their names pay homage to two of Smith’s favorite musicians, The Washington Post said. He also reportedly has three other children from a previous marriage.
  • New cellphone video appears to show a Florida substitute teacher body slam a student while breaking up a fight between at least two students. >> Watch the news report here Witnesses told ActionNewsJax that this happened Monday at Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville. ActionNewsJax spoke exclusively with Towyhia McAffee, who says her 15-year-old son was the one tackled. “You slammed my son,” she said. “You picked him up and slammed him.” She said her son is the teen shown wearing a cast in the video. “Do you intend to make any kind of complaint?” ActionNewsJax reporter Russell Colburn asked. “Absolutely,” she said. >> Read more trending news  Last week, after at least five recent allegations of teachers hitting students came into the ActionNewsJax newsroom, Colburn sat down with superintendent Dr. Diana Greene to discuss training. “Is there ever a situation where a teacher would want to put their hands on a student?” Colburn asked. “There should never be a situation where a teacher wants to put their hands on a student, unless they are preventing they are preventing that student from hurting themselves or hurting someone else,” Greene said. Duval County Public Schools policy does state the teacher 'must act reasonably given the circumstances when they intervene.' McAffee said that didn’t happen here. “Something needs to be done about that,” she said. “That’s not right.” ActionNewsJax followed up with DCPS on this specific case for more information on the teacher and what may have led up to the fight, but officials said that because fighting is a student disciplinary situation, they won’t provide details or comment further.
  • Former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton was taken into custody this morning by the FBI, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshal’s office told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Bret Williams, Barnes’ attorney, said federal authorities arrested her at her home this morning despite previous offers from Barnes to turn herself in. “I just think that was unnecessary because this is somebody’s aunt,” Williams said. “That’s there prerogative, but they’re just making a show out of it.” Williams  said he expects his client to have an initial court appearance later today. No further details on Sutton’s arrest or the charges she faces are available at this time. She has been under investigation for years, and has been the subject of a series of subpoenas that both she and the county had received from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section. Reached on her cell phone last week, Sutton would not say if she had spoken to federal agents and refused to discuss why she may be the target of an investigation. Channel 2 Action News was the first to report on Sutton’s arrest. Her attorney, Bret Williams, told the station that his client has done nothing wrong and 'has always stood ready and willing to face any allegations against her regarding her unblemished time.” Sutton received a subpoenae earlier this year that demanded campaign and banking records going back to 2012. It's unclear if today's arrest is related to that.  In 2014, an AJC investigation found that Sutton paid her then-boyfriend $34,000 in public dollars, most of it for political advice during her first two years in office. That same year, the Ethics Board investigated complaints that Sutton had used her county purchasing card for personal expenses. While that investigation was pending, DeKalb voters in 2015 approved changes to the Ethics Code that allowed private groups to appoint members to the Ethics Board. Sutton filed a lawsuit saying those changes were unconstitutional, and the investigation of her actions was put on hold. Barnes left office in 2017 after losing a re-election bid. This report will be updated.
  • A father in Tuscumbia, Alabama, surprised his daughter’s entire second-grade class with a field trip to her favorite place. But Jeremy Smith’s little girl wasn’t among the kids jumping and laughing at the town’s local trampoline business, Sky Zone. Jaleia Smith died in September after the family was involved in a car crash, WHNT reported. Weeks before the crash, Jaleia and her friends celebrated her 8th birthday at the same Sky Zone. >> Read more trending news  So, to remember his daughter, and to thank the school and students for everything they have done for him this year since Jaleia’s death, Jeremy Smith treated all 111-second grade students at G.W. Trenholm Primary School to a surprise field trip to the trampoline business, WHNT reported. Her friends still miss the little girl. “[We] try to have as much fun as we can, but sometimes we can’t have as much fun as we would have if she was here,” Mia Awwad told WHNT.  Jaleia’s friends have tried to keep her memory alive too over the past school year. They retired her student number and planted a tree in her memory. They also left messages to Jaleia on the chalkboard in her classroom, according to WHNT.
  • Sisters Hailey and Hannah Hagor of North Carolina spent the weekend selling lemonade to pay off their classmates’ lunch debt. >> Watch the news report here >> Fired lunch lady was 'dishonest,' didn't follow rules, food vendor says Student lunch debt at Southwood Elementary in Davidson County is up to $3,100. >> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news  “There's one family that owes $800,” the girls’ mother, Erin Hager, said. “I don't know how many years worth that is, but it's a big deal.' >> Read more trending news  The girls also sold chili, hot dogs and chips. >> See the girls' Facebook page here More than $40,000 is owed to schools across Davidson County.