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    “The right of way is given, not taken.” My dad shared this saying with me some 25 years ago and I seem to remember him telling me this in the presence of my grandmother, who is an avid reader of this column. I found it so profound (or as profound as an eight-year-old can find something, anyway) that I presented it in my second grade show-and-tell session that week. My classmates found it less impressive. I’m sure someone with a new pack of Nickelodeon Gak stole the show. » RELATED: Is the 'Tollercoaster' Atlanta's next 'Spaghetti Junction'? Kurt, a regular Gridlock Guy reader, wrote me last week with a great list of suggestions for column topics and most had to do with the right of way rule on the Georgia roads. I am happy to oblige — and I welcome your suggestions any time, as well. Arguably the most often application of right of way is in merging from a smaller road to a bigger highway. Merging incorrectly can create danger for cars both with and without the right of way. Here is what the 2018 Georgia Driver’s Manual states: “When the roadway you are traveling on is merging into other traffic without stopping, adjust your speed and vehicle position to allow you to merge into the new lane safely.” As you may have known, the traffic on the faster highway has the right of way. But in the spirit of “the right of way is given,” this oncoming traffic has equal responsibility. “If traffic from another roadway is merging into the roadway you are traveling on, safely change lanes away from the merging traffic if possible. If it is not possible to change lanes away from the merging traffic, adjust your speed and vehicle position to safely allow the traffic to merge.” Right of way also very much comes into play at intersections. Very simply, traffic with a green light has the right of way. But the driver’s manual is very clear that proceeding under green is not an automatic right, without a previous application of common sense. “At intersections with traffic control lights, wait until the intersection is clear of traffic or approaching traffic before entering. Do not proceed ‘just because’ you have the green light.” Also remember that turning right on red is only okay after coming to a complete stop and oncoming traffic leaves a safe gap. Do not impede or slow that oncoming traffic. Red lights always yield to green. The same holds true for flashing yellow left turn signals. Those beacons only permit that maneuver after the predominant, oncoming traffic allows it. » RELATED: Decatur beginning right-of-way acquisitions for long-planned project Four-way stops may be one of the most egalitarian times in traffic, so the driver’s manual spells out right of way in detail. “At a four-way intersection where all drivers are faced with stop signs, all drivers must yield to pedestrians; otherwise the vehicles should proceed through the intersection in a ‘first to arrive, first to proceed order.’ If two vehicles reach the intersection at approximately the same time, yield to any vehicles on your right.” And the manual urges absolute common sense. “If another driver tries to take your turn, even if you have the right-of-way, let the other driver proceed. It might prevent a traffic crash.” The right of way is given, not taken, yes. Pedestrians always have the right of way. If they have the “walk” signal in a crosswalk, they get to walk, even if vehicles have a green turn signal in that direction. This is obviously for safety reasons. And if they are jaywalking, drivers are still required to slow down and be safe around them. Cars almost always win the battle against people on foot, if they connect. We need to drive with that truth in mind. Illuminating one’s turn signal does show the intention to turn or change lanes, but it does not afford the right to do so. Drivers already in the right of way position must allow that to take place. The desire to do something does not create the right to it — imagine if society worked that way. We discussed roundabouts two columns ago, and the right of way in those is very simple: whatever traffic is already in the traffic circle has the right of way. This very similar to the rules of merging onto highways. The basic premise of the “right of way” is to settle traffic “tiebreakers” and make the roads safer. But the right of way is not an entitlement. Driving without entitlement might be the biggest salve to our overall traffic pain. If drivers practiced both yielding to and having the right of way correctly, the whole traffic ecosystem would flow much better. And we would feel better, too.  » RELATED: What to do at an intersection when the power goes out 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.
  • Transportation is a unity ticket of sorts. Candidates may have nuanced disagreements about how to tackle Georgia’s - and namely, Metro Atlanta’s - transportation and traffic issues, but their views are largely similar. This is why transportation, for as big as the problem is, isn’t a centerpiece in most campaigns. » RELATED: How Georgia counties voted in the 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial election Clay Tippins’ ill-fated gubernatorial campaign was one exception to this strategy, with his transportation-fueled attack on former Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. The primary race didn’t work out well for either. AJC transportation reporter David Wickert did a great piece on where both Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams stand on transportation. At the time of the deadline, the governor’s race is technically undecided, though Kemp has an almost certain clear path to victory. But whoever takes the governor’s mansion will change the trajectory that outgoing Governor Nathan Deal has set. “In one-on-one conversations with Secretary Kemp, I think he is planning to continue existing GDOT plans for greater use of reversible lanes,” CSI Crane principal and WSB Radio political analyst Bill Crane said. “And though he sees the benefits of greater connectivity between Georgia's population centers, I'm not sure he is sold that we need more than 'good roads' to do that.” Wickert’s piece explained how some of the state’s long term plans received approval, but not very transparently, something both Kemp and Abrams said they would change. Kemp also wants to see more public-private partnerships on projects, particularly mass transit. Abrams, meanwhile, wants to set aside $150 million in government bonds for transit. “[To] ensure that the state remains a key investor in transit through our bonding capacity; general fund incentives where appropriate; and inclusion of transit as a permitted use of motor fuel taxes, without sacrificing our current efforts on roads, bridges and economic development projects,” Abrams told the AJC. Former state representative Geoff Duncan won the Lieutenant Governorship, succeeding Cagle, and Crane said this could impact transportation legislation going forward. “The Senate has a new L.G., who isn't Lieutenant Governor Cagle on these issues. That may as a result be new committee chairs, though I know Senator Brandon Beach would prefer to remain in his position, he was among the most visible Cagle supporters.” Crane said the Lieutenant Governor chooses the committee chairs in the state Senate and Cagle was very much a proponent of expanding transportation funding. » RELATED: Strong support for transit across metro Atlanta, survey shows With Republicans maintaining state House control, not much should change. “House leadership will be changing less, and it may sound odd, but we may end up with House Speaker David Ralston as the most visible spokesperson for further state investment in transit and transportation in the near term,” Crane said. Outgoing Representative Meagan Hanson, R-Brookhaven, centered her campaign on transportation, in hopes of winning some purple votes. Her TV ads focused almost solely on mass transit expansion. But despite that popular stance, she lost her seat to Democrat Matthew Wilson. This election is (mostly) in the books, but another special one on the horizon may do much more to shape the Atlanta transportation landscape. “The Gwinnett MARTA referendum in March rises significantly in importance. There are clearly some watershed changes in demographics and voting patterns underway there. But very little has been done to promote the referendum or benefits of expanding connectivity/transit into Gwinnett,” Crane explained. “We are now just under 120 days from that special election. My concern, as an advocate of transit options, connectivity and being competitive with the other great cities of the world, is that ifthe referendum fails in Gwinnett, MARTA may become landlocked in its current footprint for another decade or so. We are already behind the eight ball in terms of system size, expansion, etc...on that front.” In a few short paragraphs, Crane encapsulates very well how subtle changes after elections can sway Atlanta and Georgia’s traffic trajectory. Big questions on mass transit expansion, for example, get answered as low as the county commission level, where those leaders decide what happens in their areas. County commissioners are also stakeholders in the Atlanta Regional Commission, which works cooperatively to plan Atlanta’s traffic plan for decades down the road. Most people agree that Atlanta’s traffic absolutely must improve. But the path to get there may take some different turns in the coming months. » RELATED: MARTA's final Atlanta expansion plan: A detailed look 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.
  • As transportation officials dig for cheaper, safer ways to improve both traffic flow and safety, there seem to be two trends proliferating at intersections. Local governments and the state DOT have constructed several diverging diamond interchanges (DDIs) at busy interstate interchanges in Metro Atlanta. Those are designed to eliminate left turns across oncoming traffic, a design which decreases wrecks and can improve the wait times. » RELATED: $3.3M Cobb roundabout construction closing road until March 2019 Driving thru DDIs is different, but doing so requires very little maneuvering. Drivers simply follow their lane and have very little confusion about crossing to the other side of the road and then back again. The road does all the work for the motorist. Roundabouts, meanwhile, are showing up in more places in Atlanta, but they require a bit more effort and thought from commuters. Roundabouts have been common in other countries and not just for small, neighborhood intersections. I’ve ridden through some intimidating roundabouts in Grand Cayman and Aruba that are fast, multi-laned, and confusing. But they are constantly moving. And that is the main reason that these intersections are popping up in more places in this metro area. Much like DDIs, roundabouts keep traffic moving and eliminate left turns across oncoming traffic. By decreasing overall wait times and idling time at stop signs and lights and by lessening the likelihood of wrecks, roundabouts seem like a win-win. But they take adjustments from first-time navigators. The first rule for traffic approaching a roundabout is that it must yield. All traffic outside of the traffic circle must yield to traffic inside it. It also must yield to pedestrians or bicycles in the crosswalks on each turn of the roundabout. This obviously is for safety purposes and to prevent any hesitation to the traffic flow. If drivers didn’t know which one had the preferred spot, more crashes would occur and the hesitations would cause more delays. » RELATED: Fayette County postpones Antioch Road roundabout Roundabout confusion is greatest when they have multiple lanes. Multi-lane roundabouts are not common in Atlanta, but as more engineers embrace them, there certainly could be more of them. Roundabouts move one direction: counterclockwise. Drivers entering the traffic circle and progressing just one street over — what would be a right turn in a standard intersection — enter the roundabout in the right lane and then stay there until that first turn. Drivers that are going what would be straight or left would enter the roundabout in the inside or left lane and then turn from that lane onto their desired street. They keep moving and the drivers in that outside lane can continue moving, because they have a designated lane to make that turn, without interrupting the other vehicles. In a double-lane roundabout, the turns onto each street have two lanes: one for the outside lane vehicles and one for the inside lane. This allows seamless transitions, without cars stopping. Quite possibly the golden rule of roundabouts is this: never change lanes. The lane in which one enters the roundabout is the one in which they stay until they exit. This is another genius innovation in this configuration. Eliminating lane changes means removing the friction they cause. Traffic simply keeps moving, until it exits the circle. The lack of traffic lights at intersections also means more efficient traffic flow during non-peak times. Isn’t waiting at a light when there is no traffic a real annoyance? This isn’t a problem at all in roundabouts. Just proceed with caution. One of the most noticeable roundabouts in Atlanta is that at Riverside Drive and I-285. GDOT recently converted that interchange from the standard traffic signal arrangement to a roundabout two years ago. This was done to try to make traffic off of busy I-285 somehow move better onto two-lane Riverside. Many people use Riverside to cut up to Johnson Ferry and commute into East Cobb. Unfortunately, the backup in PM drive from the right lane I-285/eastbound still stretches back about as far as it did with a traffic light. But, there are definitely very few crashes in the interchange. Do not be intimidated by roundabouts. Just follow the few simple rules and embrace them. They are much more cost-effective ways to help traffic than stringing up signals and paving more lanes. But this is Atlanta and embracing the concept of traffic actually moving can seem foreign. » RELATED: Georgia DOT held groundbreaking new Diverging Diamond Interchange 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 complaint that arises, as schools reopen every August, is about how commutes out of neighborhoods are significantly longer. School buses stop every so often and carpool lines at schools spill out onto and clog up major roads. Schools being in session no doubt impact the commute in many areas, reaching far beyond those school safety zones. The school calendar is arguably the biggest factor in the Metro Atlanta commute. But Georgia Commute Options says that the trick to a better commute is actually more buses.  » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: This rule for sharing road with school bus just changed National School Bus Safety Week just concluded and GCO has partnered with the National Association of Pupil Transportation to promote both of their initiatives: better commutes and safety. GCO managing director Malika Reed Wilkins, PhD., wants to encourage parents to start putting their kids on school buses, instead of driving them singularly to their schools. “Our direct tie-in is about parents having their kids ride the bus,” Wilkins said. “It’s safer to ride the bus, actually 70 times more safe.” Wilkins also said each school bus takes approximately 36 vehicles off the roadways, improving both the commute and air quality. And school buses provide more reliable arrival and departure times for our youngest commuters. Each annual National School Bus Week has a theme or focus. “This year is ‘My Driver, My Safety Hero,’ which focuses on those drivers that are transporting literally hundreds of thousands of students in the region on school buses every day,” Wilkins explained. Students choose the National School Bus Safety Week theme each year and this year’s winner is from Henry County. “It’s very near and dear to our heart that the winner of a national contest came right here from Georgia, so we’re even more excited about the promotion this year.” » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Your craftiness at the wheel may be making things worse But school buses aren’t the only concern for GCO and the school commute. Wilkins said they are promoting carpooling, another option to reduce congestion in those constricted school zones. And if parents cannot find others with which to share the driving burden, GCO has a carpool-matching service. Wilkins recommended that when parents bring their children to school, whether singularly or in a pool, to not idle in the carpool lanes. That pointless running of engines creates extra fumes that are bad for the surrounding environment and especially for the health of the kids. Teachers and other school employees that have to work that lane each day get the brunt of the extra exhaust, so their health should also be considered. For parents or anyone that wants more information on Georgia Commute Options, the services they provide, and information on school buses and commuting, visit GACommuteOptions.com or find them on various social media. Wilkins sums the campaign up: “It’s really a win-win, in terms of promoting another commuting option and a safer way to get to school.” » RELATED: Students safer, but some question school bus camera use 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.
  • We are upon the busiest time of year on the Atlanta roads. The height of the spring and fall semesters understandably sees the most delays, as schools and activities are in full swing. The heavier the volume is, the worse the consequences are when drivers make mistakes. A recent New York Times article summarized some common driving habits and how they cause unnecessary delays. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Tips for drivers new to Atlanta traffic Columnist Malia Wollan talked to Northwestern University professor of transportation engineering Hani Mahmassani and garnered several helpful tips for drivers to deploy. These tips not only help the driver, but also make the whole ecosystem flow better. And that is where we should begin. Driving solo psychologically dupes us into anti-ecosystem behavior. As author Tom Vanderbilt explained in his 2009 book, “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do,” we react at and against people in traffic like we never would if they cut us off in a grocery store line, because layers of steel and glass separate us and put us in our own bubbles. If we simply drove with more courtesy — more give and take — everything would flow better. And we would have the added benefit of being better humans. Mahmassani told Wollan that a first step a driver should take is by avoiding lanes with big rigs in them, because those semis cannot accelerate as quickly. That is easier said than done in Atlanta, as tractor trailers dot just about every lane on our freeways. Mahmassani also advises simply staying out of the right lane, as that is where most merging and exiting occurs. When making that lane change (this may seem like common sense), don’t just meander into the lane. Try to accelerate to a speed as fast, if not faster, than than the cars approaching in the new lane. Causing others to slow down actually amplifies the delay several cars back, in an effect called “shock wave,” Wollan said. But even in doing so the correct way, the act of changing lanes itself creates more traffic. This friction builds on itself, as others react to the delays in front of them by either braking hard or changing lanes themselves. Transportation engineers, including Mahmassani, tend to say that holding your line — staying in your lane — is the best policy for all traffic moving better. » RELATED: Driving tips that can help us in life This is a problem that autonomous driving technology hopes to alleviate. By eliminating the human element, driverless vehicles can communicate with each other and only make objective decisions. If these cars hold their lines, traffic will move better. Without fallible humans, these cars can even run right in front of and behind each other, creating more capacity on the roads. But the bugs haven’t been worked out of these vehicles just yet and the cost is too high for every person to scrap their car for a new one. So the ball is back in our court. One final tip may be the most obvious — but people just need to get going. Whether rubberneckers slow for no reason to look at the first set of police lights they have ever seen or Georgia drivers are illegally checking their phones when traffic stops, we all need to simply commute more decisively. Call it smooth urgency. Have awareness of your surroundings. If people are bottling up behind you, speed up or change lanes. The less abrupt and erratic the maneuver, the more smoothly traffic will flow. The faster one gets back to the gas when traffic starts moving, the less the delays will be behind them. These traffic tips may seem so common sense that they are patronizing. But people, including me, violate them all the time. As Wollan said, we should drive as if part of a formation of geese. Stay in line and keep moving. Deviations cause delays. We may zig and zag to give ourselves the perception that we are making up time, but we often are not. Holding our line and being less crafty could go further than we think to making our commutes better. » RELATED: Atlanta school traffic: Tips to keep your kids safe 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 traffic bears an inevitability and conjures a resignation. Very few events curb it. Finished road projects may beat it back, but population growth beckons the gridlock again. Rain causes it. Sun causes it. The parallax of stop and go traffic allows that it will always stop again - somewhere or sometime. That “stop” doesn’t need much of an invitation to show up at the banquet and bring its friends. » RELATED: Heavy congestion continues in metro Atlanta; temps hover in low 70s With so many road projects constantly in place to eventually improve Atlanta’s road system, the delays they cause are mandatory. But the goal for any road or lane closure should be to, at most costs, minimize the impact on the commute. This thinking is why driving on weekends is so miserable: because weekday commutes are seen as sacred. But even this thinking on weekends gets taken to the extreme juxtaposition, as evidenced by the three or four left lanes blocked each way on I-75 in Marietta the last few weekends. The delays from that were terrible. And while more could have been done to alert motorists of the impending doom and news outlets could have underlined it, the delays at least stayed well out of rush hour. This has not been the case during several recent weeknight or midday projects. Crews on I-85/southbound in north Gwinnett had to stay out far into an AM drive last month. The reason is because a tack machine got too far ahead of the rest of the crew and the lane wasn’t dry until morning drive was half-over. The delays were awful. Just this past Tuesday, a striping machine broke. So, lane-paint on I-285/westbound (Outer Loop) between Ashford Dunwoody Road (exit 29) and Riverside Drive (exit 24) stayed wet and crews had to leave the four left lanes closed until into the 6 a.m. hour. Their picking up the closure also went painstakingly slow - it took close to an hour. I flew over this in the WSB Skycopter, as I-285 backed up all the way to I-85, thus jamming I-85/southbound from Gwinnett and Peachtree Industrial/southbound, too. » RELATED: How bad is Atlanta traffic? It depends on how you look at it A lane closure on I-675/southbound at Highway 138 in Stockbridge lasted late into PM drive a couple of weeks ago. That caused a big backup also and the explanation there was also pavement that did not dry. These delayed re-openings all had explanations: equipment or paving failures. Just bad luck or human error caused the lane closures to remain in place past the deadlines. But then there are other closures that are perplexing. For example, paving crews in Lawrenceville recently have stayed out through PM drive on Highway 20/northbound north of Highway 316. This isn’t in the sticks, this is in a high traffic-density area. And they just continued this non-emergency work, rush hour be damned. Decisions like that are unacceptable. The Departments of Transportation on the state level and then down to the county levels need to enforce with iron might the sanctity of open roads during rush hours. And in doing so, they need to consider widening the windows of when drive times take place. No longer is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. a dead zone. Rush hours normally last longer and start earlier. And 5 a.m. needs to be the hard quitting time for overnight crews, because jams are often large when closures stay in place until or past 6 a.m. Yes, this never ending list of road projects leaves a damage trail of delays in the off hours also. And yes, GDOT could use more tact when they close lanes on weekends and how many they allow blocked at once. But at the very least, Atlanta traffic needs its rush hours are clear as possible. Traffic is bad enough on its own and when accidentals spoil it, without traffic professionals making mistakes and leaving lanes blocked. This continuously growing city cannot afford unnecessary lanes blocked. » RELATED: Photos: Weird things that have snarled Atlanta traffic 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.
  • Metro Atlanta has had three cattle truck crashes in the last five months. As you may have gotten wind of (no reference to cow flatulence intended), a truck carrying 89 cattle tipped over on the I-285/eastbound (Inner Loop) ramp to I-75/northbound in Cobb at 3:30 a.m. Monday. 11 cows died in the melee, but many ran loose for hours. That Cobb Cloverleaf ramp stay closed until the afternoon, creating massive delays on I-285/northbound up from I-20 through AM drive. That sent extra traffic onto I-75/85/northbound, which then got terrible with a major wreck at 10th Street. Scared out of their bovine minds, cows ran loose on I-75 and I-285 and on side streets in the area. At least 10 cars hit them and got damage. One on the run seemed to object to Channel 2 Action News’ Steve Gehlbach’s phone video of it. Another charged at first responders, who were trying to guide it into a truck next to I-75. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: What in the world went wrong on Peachtree this summer? At least two cows evaded authorities until Monday evening, meaning authorities had to allocate resources for close to 18 hours for this mess. Triple Team Traffic’s Alex Williams, Jill Nelson and I watched on the WSB Jam Cam on I-285/eastbound over the Chattahoochee River bridge as police corralled one against the right hand wall around 4 p.m. But it somehow got loose and hopped the wall, running down the hill and through the woods. Newschopper 2’s Jason Durden eventually spotted it from above taking a stroll in the Chattahoochee River.  After all this, my traffic cohort Ashley Frasca posed a great question to me: who has to pony up (pun intended) in major tie-ups like this? Do the offending drivers also have to pay for the giant time inconveniences they create? “In the case of an ‘at fault’ crash, trucking companies and large truck drivers are responsible for the damages they cause, just like other motorists operating passenger cars and light trucks,” a Georgia State Patrol spokesperson told the AJC and WSB. “Usually, these damages are paid by the company or the insurance carrier.” » RELATED: I-75 lane closures this weekend near SunTrust Park This is why investigations for commercial vehicle crashes can last even longer. Not only do big vehicles often create greater damage, but determining fault channels the giant bill in someone’s direction. But this principle also applies to the more common wrecks between passenger vehicles. If one damages the guardrail, the government isn’t supposed to be the party that pays. “If there is physical damage to the infrastructure associated with the crash, we have a third-party contract in place for claims,” GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale explained. This outside company works on behalf of GDOT to collect damages from the offending party’s insurance company. With the numerous wrecks around town, those damage bills add up. Besides the physical cost of either repairing walls or hiring cowboys to wrangle steer (as occurred Monday), there is also the opportunity cost for thousands of motorists inconvenienced by a closure that someone caused. Don’t wait for a check on that. “We do not recall any situations where anyone has been paid for any ‘inconvenience time’ suffered because of a crash,” GSP said. And Dale echoed that same sentiment. Most Atlantans would have a small fortune if this was true and enforced. At the very least, we can rest assured that those found at fault in wrecks have to pay for the carnage caused and extra manpower needed to clean up messes. But take note that this fault can fall on a motorist that cuts off a tractor trailer or slams into the back of a HERO unit. With so many big trucks hauling freight through our metro area, we need to be extra cautious and give a wide berth around them. We knew the gridlock consequences and now we know that our insurance premiums can feel the consequences also. As of press time, we do not know whom Cobb Police faulted with Monday’s “Great Cow Escape” tumble. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: What caused string of crashes on I-20? 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.
  • I had an entirely different topic prepared for Gridlock Guy this week, but my inbox had different ideas. Since last weekend’s immense construction delays on I-75, multiple AJC readers and WSB listeners have reached out about the direction that the new Northwest Metro Express reversible toll lanes run on the weekends. There is quite a bit of confusion, as the rules for weekend lane reversals are completely different. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: New I-75 Peach Pass lanes making impact, so far The normal ebb and flow of the brand new, raised toll lanes is for them to run in the rush hour direction on weekdays. So they run southbound on I-575 and I-75 during morning commutes and northbound in the afternoons. GDOT HERO units and law enforcement close the lanes at approximately 11:30 a.m. Monday thru Friday to properly flush the lanes of any traffic, debris, and stalls. Then they open the gates in the northbound direction at 1 p.m., ahead of the afternoon commute.  Crews then close the express lanes on weeknights around 11 p.m. and re-open them at 12:30 a.m., ahead of the next weekday’s AM drive. This same process is in play for the South Metro Express Lanes on I-75 in Henry County, except in the reverse directions, of course. And the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) needs a 30 minute stagger between when the two different lane systems reverse, so the Henry County lanes begin their process before Cobb and Cherokee. But what happens Saturday and Sunday has left motorists scratching their heads.  As Cobb and Cherokee commuters have happened upon the I-75 and I-575 toll lane system these last three weeks, they have expected the lanes to operate in the same directions during the weekend as they have during the week. Those freeways were in decent shape the first two cost-free weekends after the lanes’ opening, so the need to use them didn’t exist. But I-75 in Marietta was a disaster the past weekends, with three or four lanes blocked in each direction near the South and North 120 Loop exits both Saturday and Sunday. People actually wanted to use the lanes then.  But multiple people leaving Downtown Atlanta and driving home to the northwestern suburbs on the afternoons of September 22nd and 23rd were shocked to find the Peach Pass lanes still pointed in the southbound direction. This is because SRTA and GDOT have had a general rule of thumb of putting the lanes in direction needed for Monday’s morning drive very early in the weekend. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Officials explain the new Peach Pass lanes on I-75 and I-575 But after checking traffic flow data (the delays), SRTA is amending when the lanes change on both sides of town. Starting with this past Friday’s PM drive at 10:30 p.m., crews in Cobb and Cherokee each weekend will close the lanes and reverse them from northbound to southbound by 1 a.m. The lanes will then stay southbound until 11:30 a.m. Sunday, reverse to northbound by 1:30 p.m., then stay that way until 11 p.m. Then crews will reverse the lanes again back to southbound by 1 a.m. and well enough in time for Monday morning drive.  On the south side, the reversible express lanes stay southbound direction from after Friday PM drive until about 11 a.m. Saturday. Then the lanes re-open northbound at 1 p.m. and stay pointed that way until 10:30 a.m. Sunday. The lanes will then close for two hours and run southbound until 11 p.m. Sunday, before closing again and reversing to the northbound direction for Monday’s commute. Rules change during holiday travel weekends, though this new schedule benefits those travel patterns more than before.  In general, the lanes do not follow the weekday rush hour schedule on the weekends, because there isn’t a scheduled weekend rush hour.  Since construction crews blocked up both directions of I-75 September 22nd and 23rd, this didn’t matter. One side was going to have the lanes and one was not. Both needed them. But what if there is construction on only one side of I-75 or I-575? Will GDOT and SRTA change those procedures to cater to projects?  In talking to officials, they haven’t ruled out the idea of pre-planning express lanes reversal times. But this takes a lot of coordination. Construction crews actually have to close the lanes when and where they say they are going to do these projects. Both GDOT and SRTA have to work together to make these schedule changes hours, if not days before the scheduled event. As we have learned, reversing the lanes takes at least an hour and a half. This coordination effort is precisely the reason that they cannot just up and reverse the toll lanes because of something more ephemeral, like a big crash.  If you’re planning traveling on the north or south sides of town on I-75 and I-575, plan ahead. Check the schedules for the Northwest Metro Express Lanes or the South Metro Express Lanes to know if you will even be able to use your Peach Pass. Besides reading the overhead digital signs, one can check the pricing and direction of the lanes real time on PeachPass.com. Follow the tabs “Peach Pass,” “Pricing,” and “Live Toll Rates” in that order. This feature isn’t available in the mobile app.  Hopefully officials can plan more flexibility in these lanes around special events and major road projects in the future.  » RELATED: Here's what happens if you use the Peach Pass lane illegally  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.
  • Have you ever had one of those days? That’s rhetorical, because everyone has. Nothing seems to go right and the problems happen in succession. Then those trials cause more issues. Before you know it, you’re saddled with an inconceivable and seemingly insurmountable entanglement of logistical (and probably emotional) baggage. Come sit on your therapist’s couch next to I-85 in Gwinnett County … or, better, a motorist stuck on it this week. » RELATED: Driver arrested in crash that killed passenger on I-85 North in Gwinnett Tuesday morning saw I-85/northbound near Hamilton Mill (exit 120) practically shut down by a crash involving two big rigs. My Triple Team Traffic cohort Smilin’ Mark McKay saw the jam from the WSB Skycopter. “Debris from the crash was strewn all over the roadway with only the right shoulder getting by during the most of the clean up operation that extended into the heart of morning drive.” And the backup wasn’t just on I-85. “Surface streets north of the Mall of Georgia turned into a mess.” My Skycopter duty Tuesday afternoon involved far too much I-85 coverage. There were two different wrecks before and after Hamilton Mill (yes, the same spot as the morning drive’s debacle) that made the already-rough drive from Duluth even worse. Then on the way back from those two crashes, we found trouble blocking lanes I-85/northbound at Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road (exit 111), Steve Reynolds Boulevard (exit 103), and Shallowford Road (exit 93) in DeKalb. Buford Highway did not serve its proper duty as an alternate, because a gas leak blocked its northbound lanes at Holcomb Bridge Road from roughly 3 to 5 p.m. McKay also presided over a putrid Wednesday AM commute. The ongoing overnight paving work on I-85 in north Gwinnett lasted far too long into morning drive on the southbound side, causing the WSB Traffic Team to issue a GRIDLOCK ALERT on the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App. GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale explained the cause. “There’s something called a tack machine that got ahead of the paving crew and went too far.” This meant the pavement wasn’t dry by the time AM drive got underway — and they will have to pony up some fines. “The contractor absolutely admits that they were at fault and will have to pay liquidated damages for the time they stayed in the road past their contracted work hours.” McKay traced those backups all the way to Highway 211 (exit 126) and Ashley Frasca in our Traffic Center spoke to a caller stuck over an hour and a half in the jam. As traffic channeled off of I-85, it moved to I-985/southbound as an alternate. Then that went to the hounds when a crash took out lanes for a while below Highway 20 (exit 4). But that wasn’t all. “We came upon a violent crash on I-85/northbound north of Pleasant Hill Road just after 6:30 a.m.,” McKay said. It left only an H.O.T. lane open for a couple of hours. “Based on the rapid and overwhelming response by Gwinnett Fire & Rescue, I knew it was bad. As firefighters and paramedics frantically worked on the back seat passenger down below, we watched from the WSB Skycopter as a first responder placed a white sheet over the damaged vehicle, signifying a fatality.” The investigation lasted into the 9 a.m. hour and jammed the ride back to Jimmy Carter Boulevard (exit 99). McKay said these bad crashes are a reminder to always be alert behind the wheel, especially on those dark, drowsy morning commutes. “It’s always sobering seeing such an accident scene and a reminder that life is precious and the responsibility of driving a motor vehicle of any type should be taken seriously.” Bad traffic is not a new story on the Atlanta roads, but seeing so many outlier, unusual problems in the same place is both serendipitous and unsettling. Sometimes this stuff just happens and sometimes recurring conditions cause the problems. Either way, I-85 commuters, this wasn’t your week. Drive carefully and better luck next time. » RELATED: Buford Highway mostly re-opened in Gwinnett after water main leak
  • Since the September 8th opening of the I-75 and I-575 Northwest Metro Express Lanes, drivers have seemingly taken to them like ducks to water. The mid-Saturday debut of the nearly 30-mile stretch of toll lanes has run toll-free. But only drivers that already have a valid Peach Pass, Florida SunPass, or North Carolina Quick Pass are allowed in the brand new lanes. That stipulation hasn’t kept thousands from trying out the finished product of Georgia’s largest infrastructure ever. That means thousands that aren’t using the main through lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, improving those rides. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Officials explain the new Peach Pass lanes on I-75 and I-575 “Preliminary review of the data for the lanes indicates an estimated 5,300 trips on opening day Saturday and nearly 6,000 trips on Sunday,” State Road and Tollway Authority’s (SRTA) Ericka Davis shared. And the numbers increased for the first rush hour test of the express lanes. “For Monday, the preliminary review indicates an estimate of 6,700 trips southbound and 7,500 during the afternoon northbound commute.” Those numbers do not include any Florida or North Carolina toll passes.  Officials at the Wednesday ribbon-cutting for the four-year, $800-plus million project said they had recorded as many as 18,000-plus daily trips in the lanes by mid-week. Davis said that SRTA’s numbers are ahead of schedule. “SRTA’s goal for the number of transponders in the Northwest Corridor region was 25,000, starting July 1, 2017. We are happy to report that we met and exceeded that goal with 32,613 transponders so far. Our goal for transponders statewide during that same time frame was 62,000. We exceeded that goal as well with 85,713, so far and counting.” SRTA has had an intensive, multi-platform ad campaign to prime the public for what it needs to know for the lanes. The commercials and the lack of toll for the first two weeks have driven results. From the WSB Skycopter, we saw a steady stream of volume in those lanes both AM and PM drive. The lanes never got below the speed limit and enough vehicles used them that the traffic patterns on I-75 and I-575 have changed. » RELATED: New express lanes may have drivers paying to drive along  Both northwest freeways now get slow later in each rush hour and they slow in different areas. I-75 and I-575 also return to the speed limit earlier. In the mornings, I-75/southbound seems to slow just a tad in the 6 a.m. hour right where the new lane system begins at Hickory Grove Rd., north of Wade Green Rd. This is the only place to actually enter the lanes southbound from I-75 itself. Every other entry point is from a surface street or I-575. Later in the morning commute, the I-75 delays seem to push forward - below Highway 5 down past the Chattahoochee River. And the inverse happens in the afternoon; the delays shift northward and are less intense than before. I-575/southbound is lighter than normal and really only gets slow after 7:30 a.m., when the crowd from Canton and Holly Springs collects between Sixes Road (where the new lanes begin) and Highway 92 in Woodstock. I-575/northbound is also lighter than normal in the evenings. The Monday morning commute had a weird pattern, because some other interstates were lighter than normal and a bad wreck I-575/southbound in Holly Springs also kept people off of I-75. But the other commutes (through the Thursday midday writing deadline) have definitely been a good measure of how the new lanes have added capacity and improved the rush hour in Marietta and Kennesaw. But judging these lanes’ success right now is not proper. If no one was using them, we would say the same thing. Analyzing the Peach Pass lanes while they are toll-free is like predicting an election based only on absentee ballots. First, people may only be using the Northwest Metro Express Lanes because they are free. The plan is have them start charging money on Sunday, September 23rd and not at any kind of discount rate. Will drivers still use them then? On the flip side, some drivers aren’t yet even aware that they are open or how to get a Peach Pass. As time wears on, more people will buy their transponders and start using the lanes. That then could slow the lanes down actually below the speed limit. This hasn’t been a problem on the reversible lanes in Henry County, but it has on the seven-year-old HOT lane system on I-85 in Gwinnett. Until dynamic pricing begins on these new Peach Pass lanes, Atlantans really will not know their true success. But, so far, the returns have been great. » RELATED: Here's what happens if you use the Peach Pass lane illegally  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

  • A Houston-area father is charged with child abandonment after police said he left his children alone in a car for more than an hour as he shopped. Police said Adrian Dreshuan Middleton was in the store for an hour and a half before he came out to the car. His daughter was crying in the back seat. She told police that she and her brother were playing, but she was angry that he didn’t stop crying so she wrapped the seatbelt around the baby, The Associated Press reported. She thought he had fallen asleep. But the baby was strangled by the belt, police said. Middleton said he saw his son unconscious with the belt wrapped around him. He called 911 and performed CPR on his son until first responders arrived, KHOU reported. >> Read more trending news  The baby was taken to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead.  Middleton first told police that the children were in their car seats but then said in a different statement to law enforcement that there were no car seats in the car when the incident took place, KHOU reported. Police charged Middleton Friday in the case that happened in May.  According to police records, Middleton told police he left his 6-year-old daughter and 1-year -old son in the car, parked outside a thrift store. He said he left the air conditioner running, a movie playing and gave them water and a snack when he went in to shop for clothes, The AP reported. Middleton turned himself in to police on Monday, KHOU reported.
  • A Tennessee woman was attacked by her husband because she “took too long” getting ready for church, according to a police affidavit. Kevin Pugues, 25, is accused of hitting and strangling his wife at their home on Durango Road in Memphis on Saturday afternoon, the affidavit said. The victim reportedly told police that the pair got into a verbal argument around 2 p.m. Saturday because she was taking “too long dressing herself for church.” >> Read more trending news  Police said the victim blocked her husband’s path to speak with him as he was gathering his items to leave the home. At that point, Pugues shoved her onto the couch and started slapping her on the face, the affidavit said. As she tried to call police, she said Pugues grabbed her neck with both hands and strangled her.  Pugues admitted to police that he struck his wife on the face and strangled her, the affidavit said. He is being charged with aggravated assault.
  • Handcuffs couldn’t stop Jesse Thedford. From the back of a patrol car, the 32-year-old was able to slide behind the wheel of a Carroll County deputy’s car, according to police.  Ignoring commands to stop, Thedford instead drove toward deputies — the same ones who had arrested him after finding methamphetamine in his pocket. One deputy fired a shot, striking and killing Thedford in one of Georgia’s 79 officer-involved shootings through Nov. 15 this year.  The number of shootings involving Georgia law enforcement officers this year will likely pass the number in 2017, and it has also been a deadlier year, according to the GBI. Law officials say drug use is one reason for the increase. One drug in particular has been a factor in nearly 20 percent of the fatal shootings involving officers since 2012: methamphetamine.  “I believe that many of the bizarre and very violent crimes that occur, the perpetrator is a meth user, and that’s from my experience,” GBI Director Vernon Keenan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It is a very destructive drug, and it causes violent behavior.”  Previously, investigators only had anecdotal evidence of the amount of meth on the streets and the violence it causes, Keenan said. But the GBI recently analyzed its records to get a more factual estimate of the problem. The agency’s autopsy reports, including toxicology results, for people killed by cops, show that meth is involved in about 1 in 5 officer-involved shootings.  The majority of those killed by Georgia police officers from 2012 until mid-November had drugs in their system, including cocaine, meth and marijuana, according to the GBI. Over that period, 188 people were killed by law enforcement and toxicology tests were performed in 173 of those cases. The tests found 124 were positive for a variety of drugs, and 35 — about 19 percent — were positive for meth. Results are still pending on 5 additional cases, including Thedford’s.  Marijuana was the most common drug used by those in deadly altercations with police, followed by methamphetamine, GBI data showed.  And though illegal drugs are just one factor in officer-involved shootings, the data can be used by law enforcement agencies that train officers to de-escalate situations before the use of force is necessary.  “They could be high on methamphetamine,” Keenan said. “And that alone is not going to justify the officer using force, but it is a factor to be considered.”  Meth in Metro Atlanta  The GBI crime lab, which handles drug testing for most of the state’s police departments, sees more than twice as much meth as other drugs. In 2016 and 2017, meth was the leading cause of drug deaths, passing cocaine from previous years, the GBI said.  In Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods, meth isn’t the typical drug of choice, according to police. But travel a few miles into metro suburbs, and it can be found everywhere.  Methamphetamine isn’t new: it has been around nearly 100 years since it was first developed in Japan. During World War II, it was used to keep troops awake and ready for battle, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Experts now believe it is more common than ever.  Sgt. Josh Liedke, who runs the Marietta police department’s Crime Interdiction Unit, said heroin previously was among the top illegal drugs seized during investigations, but that has changed.  “We’re seeing less seizures of heroin and we’re seeing more seizures of meth,” he said. “We seem to see heroin trickling off a tad. But as soon as we attack one, the other starts creeping up.”  In 2016, the Gwinnett County police department’s special investigations unit seized approximately 262 pounds of meth, worth an estimated $14 million, and arrested 78 people, according to Lt. Eric Wilkerson. The following year, the unit recovered 344 pounds of meth, leading to 68 arrests, he said. The numbers for 2018 are expected to be similar.  It’s not just suburban areas where meth is widespread. It’s also a problem in rural areas, according to law enforcement agencies.  RELATED: Meth is back and killing more people than ever “Meth is the predominant drug right now in north Georgia,” Phil Price, commander of the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad, said. “It’s readily available and it’s commonly used by those in the drug community.”  The active ingredient in meth is pseudoephedrine, found in many over-the-counter cold medications. When combined and heated with other easy-to-find chemicals — which weren’t intended for human consumption — it doesn’t take a scientist to make meth, according to experts.  But chemicals used to make meth are volatile and toxic, leading to explosions for those without chemistry knowledge, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition, the fumes are dangerous for others in the area. Meth can be found in a variety of forms, which can be ingested by swallowing, snorting, smoking, or injecting it.  “There’s so many different ways to make meth, you just don’t know what you’re getting,” Liedke says.  In recent years, meth labs operating in homes and even rolling meth labs in cars frequently made headlines in metro Atlanta.  But more recently, there isn’t a need for users to make their own meth, Keenan said. It’s now being manufactured in Mexico and smuggled into the U.S., and investigators believe that drug cartels are supplying Georgia with meth that’s purer than what is made here — and it’s cheaper.  “It’s like liquor. It’s cheaper to buy it from a Mexican source,” Price said. “At the end of the day, you really don’t have people going out and getting the ingredients to make meth.”    Can officers train for meth?  Keenan, the GBI’s director, said many bizarre and violent crimes that occur involve a meth user. But tracking data, including officer-involved shooting deaths, can help law enforcement agencies better prepare to avoid future violence.  “I think the officer is better prepared to respond when they have an understanding of what they’re up against,” Keenan said.  Like others in the metro area, Marietta officers attend a week of crisis intervention training as part of their ongoing education. The crisis training focuses on both mental health and drugs, including how to identify warning signs that someone is under the influence of drugs. Officers learn de-escalation techniques to calm people: ways to hopefully stop a situation without violence. Whether someone is having a mental health breakdown or has been using alcohol or drugs, the tactics are similar, officers said.  “It may be a different substance, but the way you deal with it is the same across the board,” Price said.  But the effects of a meth on a person’s demeanor is completely unpredictable and creates a particular challenge for officers. Violence and paranoia are common among users.  “These people are physically aggressive and paranoid, and they’ll perceive things that aren’t reality,” Price said.  Meth users also may be desensitized to pain, Price said, so using a Taser may not affect them. If other tactics don’t work, officers may have to use their weapons.  Despite the emphasis of the Trump administration on the opioid crisis, Keenan calls meth an “international assault on the U.S.” And he sees no signs that meth use is slowing down.  “We traded one evil for another,” he said. “Fire and explosions and toxic chemicals for ultra-pure methamphetamine.”  Investigators may not be able to keep the dangerous drug out of their communities. But local, state and federal law enforcement officers aren’t giving up. Every drug bust gets the dangerous drug out of more people’s hands.  In August, after a nearly year-long investigation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — along with metro Atlanta agencies and the Georgia State Patrol — busted up a major drug ring. More than $5 million worth of cocaine, and 250 pounds of methamphetamine along with $850,000 in cash was recovered and 15 people were arrested.  DEA Atlanta agent Robert J. Murphy said the drug bust involved one of several Mexican cartels operating in Atlanta.  “Another successful law enforcement success targeting the Mexican organizations targeting this poison in our community,” Murphy said. MORE ON METH  • Methamphetamine is usually a white, bitter-tasting powder or a pill. Crystal methamphetamine looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks  • Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that is chemically similar to amphetamine, a drug used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy  • People can take methamphetamine by smoking, swallowing, snorting, or injecting it  • Short-term health effects include increased wakefulness and physical activity, decreased appetite, and increased blood pressure and body temperature  • Long-term health effects include risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis; severe dental problems; intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching; violent behavior; and paranoia.  • Methamphetamine is highly addictive. When people stop using it, withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, fatigue, severe depression, psychosis, and intense drug cravings.  • The most effective treatments for methamphetamine addiction so far are behavioral therapies. There are currently no government-approved medications to treat meth addiction.  Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • It's that time again. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will host the annual presidential turkey pardoning ceremony Tuesday afternoon in the White House Rose Garden, where one lucky bird will be named the National Thanksgiving Turkey.  >> Which restaurants are open on Thanksgiving? Here’s a list The pardoning, set for 1:05 p.m. EST, has been an annual tradition since 1989, but Thanksgiving turkeys have been presented to presidents for seven decades, The Associated Press reported. >> Read more trending news  This year, Peas and Carrots, two turkeys from South Dakota, are vying for the honor. Peas, a 39-pounder with a 36-inch wing span, loves Brad Paisley and popcorn, while the 41-pound Carrots enjoys yoga and boasts a 'strong and confident' gobble, the White House joked on its website. >> See their stats here In true reality show fashion, you can vote for your favorite gobbler on the White House website or on Twitter. >> See the poll here After the ceremony, Peas and Carrots will live at Gobbler's Rest at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Read more here. – The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • A DeKalb County woman said her mega bank made a mega mistake and now nearly $9,000 of her money is missing. Roslyn Baitney said her money went through the tube at Wells Fargo and then disappeared. She blames the bank for what happened next. Baitney said 10 days ago she put $8,754 into the drive-thru tube to deposit with a teller at the bank on Flat Shoals Parkway.  Baitney said the teller told her that the deposit was too large and that she would need to go inside. Baitney said the teller never told her that she was going to send the tube back. >> Read more trending news  The incident report which said the teller alerted Baitney she was sending her money back through the tube. There was no money when she got inside. “I tapped on the window and said, ‘Hey, where's my money?’” Baitney said. A car had been in line behind her at the drive-thru.  “And then the teller said, ‘I wondered why the car behind you never did a transaction. They just pulled off.’ ‘Yeah, because you gave them my money,’” Baitney said. The police report also indicates security video was recorded off site, the bank won't talk about the video. The money is not the only worry for Baitney. “But I'm an open book because my identity is out there. My drivers license, my bank card, my bank info. It was all inside of that tube,” Baitney said. Baitney fears a thief now knows where she lives. She's been staying with her fiancé. “I don't like throwing people under the bus but there was a mistake made and the bank made the mistake,” Baitney said. A Wells Fargo spokesman emailed: We are aware of the issue at the Chapel Square branch and are working to resolve it.” The spokesman refused further comment due to an on-going criminal investigation “That's my house note, my car note, my car insurance. What are you all going to do?” Baitney said. A Wells Fargo official in Birmingham has called Baitney to say she'd have her money in full by midday Tuesday.
  • A kindergarten student was burned so badly by food at a Tennessee school that she had to be treated at a local hospital, according to a lawsuit filed in Shelby County. >> Watch the news report here The lawsuit, which is filed on behalf of the girl by her mother, names Shelby County Schools as the defendant. The alleged incident happened on Oct. 23 at Double Tree Elementary School in Memphis. The child was getting lunch – mashed potatoes – at the on-site cafeteria. >> Read more trending news  After getting her food, she was walking toward a table when she slipped on a wet spot on the cafeteria floor. The hot food landed on her arm and “resulted in severe burns … that required medical treatment,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims the kindergartner did not know the mashed potatoes were that hot – and she did not see the wet spot on the floor. It claims Shelby County Schools is liable for the incident and that every aspect could have been prevented. The family is seeking compensation for damages that include: Physical pain and suffering Emotional pain and suffering Medical bills and expenses Permanent disfigurement Loss of enjoyment of life Post-judgement interest Statutory and discretionary costs And all such further relief to which she may be entitled WHBQ reached out to SCS regarding the lawsuit, and officials said they cannot comment on 'pending lawsuits.' WHBQ’s Greg Coy spoke with the family’s attorney. 'A child should not suffer second-degree burns at a school,' said attorney Thomas Greer of Bailey and Greer Law Firm. 'I don't think anybody would expect a burn like to happen. It’s just something that should not happen. 'Our kids should not be burned with the food that has been served.' Greer told WHBQ that the girl has returned to school, but she brings her lunch now and avoids the cafeteria line.