On Air Now

Listen Now

Weather

clear-night
38°
Partly Cloudy
H -° L 38°
  • clear-night
    38°
    Current Conditions
    Partly Cloudy. H -° L 38°
  • cloudy-day
    Today
    Partly Cloudy. H -° L 38°
  • heavy-rain-day
    52°
    Tomorrow
    Chance of Rain. H 52° L 37°
Listen
Pause
Error

News on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

Listen
Pause
Error

Traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

Listen
Pause
Error

Weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

    The first song on CAKE’s 1994 debut album “Motorcade of Generosity” is “Comanche” and repeats this line, “If you want to have cities, you have to build roads.” The line is symbolic, meaning success comes in steps. But in literal practice, the phrase is becoming less true for city developers. Connected or “smart” vehicles and traffic signs and signals are increasing in number, and Georgia has become a cutting-edge testing ground. With a main goal of decreasing traffic delay, the technology is bucking the traditional paths to gridlock relief. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Why I-285 flooded in the same place — twice iATL, the Infrastructure Automotive Technology Lab, just opened two weeks ago off of Haynes Bridge Road just west of GA-400 in Alpharetta. The main room in the brand-new building displays several types of traffic signs and lights on its left wall. Then two long rows of traffic signal boxes, simulating all the types in use around the country, take up the rest of the room. Each box and signal is equipped with wireless radio technology that allows them to communicate with each other — and with smart vehicles. “It all changed on January the 7th, 2019,” iATL director Bryan Mulligan explained. “The reason being is that the Ford Motor Company announced at C.E.S. that they were doing connected vehicles.” Ford became the first automaker to commit to making all of its new vehicles connected by 2022. This means that their entire showroom fleets will soon be able to work with traffic signal settings and other radio-equipped smart cars to decrease congestion and the instance of high-risk maneuvers. These cars will not all be self-driving, but they will be able to prompt drivers to make better decisions and move more freely. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Setting an extremely attainable commuting bar for 2020 Enter the entrepreneur Mulligan, who is also the president of Suwanee tech company Applied Information. This firm builds this smart signal technology and also deploys it via its Travel Safely app, which can communicate with traffic signals as a smart vehicle would. Mulligan explained this technology in a Gridlock Guy piece on the North Avenue smart corridor two years ago. Applied Information and an army of other tech firms, automakers, and other stakeholders in the technology and transportation industries are using their strengths in the private sector to innovate and then work with the public sector for traffic solutions.  In metro Atlanta, the City of Marietta was the first to deploy Mulligan’s technology and now equips first responders’ vehicles and CobbLinc buses this way. Traffic lights turn green automatically, for example, for a bus that is behind schedule and has five or more people on board, and the city controls that threshold. Traffic lights also go green for fire trucks and med units on emergency calls. “(The cities using this technology) see that they can deliver better health outcomes by saving heart attack, stroke, accident and opioid victims,” Mulligan explained. Marietta City Manager Bill Bruton told Mulligan the hastened response time is most helpful to those who overdose on opioids, because successfully administering the opioid antidote Narcan is extraordinarily time-critical. » RELATED: Remembering WSB’s Pete Combs and the I-85 plane landing “The data shows that (smart technology) saves about 11 seconds per intersection, and the paramedics fly between five and six intersections on their way to a call.” So the data has shown Mulligan and city planners that response times have decreased by about a minute. Mulligan calls this a “Day One Application” of his products: They are immediately successful for first responders, before the first civilian smart car ever prevents a crash or before the connected buses alleviate traffic. 125 smart intersections have just gone online in Alpharetta, and the city’s fire trucks are already equipped to trigger these traffic lights. The City of Marietta has continuously grown this technology in its densely populated areas. Atlanta has had the North Avenue smart corridor for more than two years, but now has smart technology on Campbellton Road and is working on it for Martin Luther King Junior Drive. Each of those corridors sees heavy MARTA use, and the city believes connected buses and signals can make big impacts there. This technology is catching on statewide, in fact, as smart speed limit and school-zone signs and signals dot the entire state. Mulligan said that Georgia truly is on the cutting edge in this realm. “There is a very robust and progressive culture here that is not prevalent in the rest of the world,” Mulligan said of both the Georgia private- and the public-sector entities with which he has dealt in the past few years. State officials, including Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, mingled with stakeholders in the automotive and technological fields at iATL’s recent grand opening. Many chest-pounding events of these are all bark and little bite. But given the sincere interest from cities and automakers and their use of iATL as a testing field for the technology, this wireless wave has some punch. And given that any city that deploys these innovations can nearly guarantee faster emergency-response times means the investment is successful out of the gate. Mulligan estimated that the cost of the entire connected systems that Alpharetta bought roughly equaled the cost to add an extra lane to one intersection. The answer to building cities is no longer just building the roads. Listen to Turnbull’s interview with Mulligan on the WSB Traffic Podcast.  Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@cmg.com. 
  • “What the flood?” — or some variation thereof — was a likely reaction from commuters stuck in recent watery messes on I-285. The pejoratives have flown twice in 2020. Heavy rain on both Friday, January 3, and during the line of severe storms on Saturday, January 11, caused heavy ponding in the four left lanes of I-285/westbound (Outer Loop) at Ashford Dunwoody Road (Exit 29). In each case, crews took a couple of hours to find and unclog the responsible drain, leading WSB Triple Team Traffic to issue our “GRIDLOCK ALERTS” for the stopped traffic back before I-85/Spaghetti Junction. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Setting an extremely attainable commuting bar for 2020 The first flood came on the tail end of AM drive and at least one vehicle got stuck in the water. That kind of flooding one time raises eyebrows. But a second occurrence just a week and a day later connects faces and palms. And GDOT has had to wag some fingers. “We had intense or heavy rain in a short amount of time,” GDOT’s Stephen Lively told the AJC. “And then inadvertently the developer and their team had temporarily blocked an outfall, which was in stage construction.” Lively is the construction lead for GDOT’s Office of Innovative Delivery. So this tasks him with making sure various developers hold up their end of the work contracts. The developer of the Transform I-285/GA-400 project is North Perimeter Contractors (NPC), and we talked about their responsibility in maintaining the roads in their project zone last week. Someone on the ground at NPC’s I-285 job in Dunwoody supposedly accidentally blocked a certain drain twice during this rainy period. So Lively and GDOT have had to work to ensure a third mistake doesn’t happen. “We, as an agency, met with them and stressed the importance of maintaining the travel way on I-285 and not ponding water,” Lively explained. He said GDOT’s own inspection team has surveyed the area to make sure it fits their standards. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: DUI death rates and the easy options to get home safely The other way GDOT can enforce this is to levy certain penalties or consequences spelled out in the contract. Whether those mean fines or not, Lively would not specify, because he said each situation has different factors. He did say that NPC has laid out a plan on how they would prevent that kind of flooding again. Because the flood took up such a large space on such a critical and busy highway, GDOT sent its own crews to un-stop the drains. That job would normally fall under NPC’s scope, but Dunwoody commuters could not afford to wait longer for that smaller firm to alleviate the blockage. GDOT also puts people on the ground in potential trouble spots when they suspect bad weather, so they can assess the area and deploy crews and fixes more expediently. On a smaller level, the flooding closure of Chamblee Dunwoody Road in Chamblee has been a fly in that city’s recent traffic ointment. That low-lying stretch of road has been submerged in water at least three different times since Monday, December 23. Each instance normally lasts multiple days. Again, the same problem occurring multiple times in a short period raises questions. “In the first two weeks of this year, we’ve had about four-and-a-half inches of rain,” Chamblee Public Information Officer Tisa Moore told the AJC. “The intensity of that amount of rain in such a short amount of time, along with the rainfall the prior week, caused the problems on Chamblee Dunwoody Road.” Chamblee PD has had to put up barricades on this popular cut-through between American Industrial Way and New Peachtree Road, because of the inches-deep water collected under the Peachtree Road, MARTA, and railroad overpasses. » RELATED: Remembering WSB’s Pete Combs and the I-85 plane landing “We are pumping the water out so staff can safely get into the drain and place cameras there that will assess the situation,” Moore said. But Moore also said they need a drier weather period to keep the drains clear for repair. Chamblee oversees the traffic in the area, but DeKalb County maintains the sewer system. So much like GDOT’s relationship with NPC, Chamblee has to work in concert with the county to properly fix the problem. And all parties involved in both boondoggles are hoping for a stretch of dry, preferably sunny, days to dry the puddles and take the stress off of the panting drainage systems, work crews, authorities, and motorists. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@cmg.com. 
  • Weather and road construction, combined with heavy traffic, cause major wear and tear on our roads. Two points of interest in 2020 caught my eye and prompted me to reach out to the Department of Transportation for how and why they unfolded. Major construction projects require crews to shift travel lanes away from where they build bridges and other major structures. This traffic pattern change on I-285 near Ashford Dunwoody Road (Exit 29) in DeKalb actually caused holes to form in the road on the different seams between the ribbons of pavement and prompted a jam-inducing, rolling closure. » RELATED: Remembering WSB’s Pete Combs and the I-85 plane landing “When the road was previously constructed, the wheel paths after the lanes have been shifted are actually on those joints,” GDOT District 7 Assistant Engineer Paul DeNard explained. So cars are often driving on the creases, gradually forcing apart the pavement. “As we grind out those things to make the new pavement, as well as the cars traveling over it, it weakens the integrity of the pavement.” DeNard explained that the contractor on any road build is normally required to maintain and fill those cracks during projects. In the case of the Transform I-285/GA-400 project, North Perimeter Contractors has that domain. GDOT then repaves the entire area when the project finishes. I noticed these cracks where the old lane stripes were on I-285. I drove near Perimeter Mall the weekend before the major repairs and the damage had gotten worse very recently. So DeNard said that urgent repair-need played into why the rolling closures happened sooner in the day and not later at night. He also said that the availability of road crews factors into which repairs are done at night or within the normal 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekday window. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: DUI death rates and the easy options to get home safely Of course, the repeated multi-lane closures on one of Atlanta’s busiest interstate stretches created miles of delays at a time. Those extraneous traffic jams behind the slow-moving patching crews greeted the starts of the PM drives both last Monday and last Tuesday. The beginning of the “Back to Everything” post-holidays week had bad enough traffic without these unplanned interruptions. Reality bit. Routine road maintenance also changed the topography of the Buford-Spring Connector/Highway 13 in both directions south of Monroe Drive this month. That stretch of pavement looked cracked, scarred, and used-up during and right after the deluge on the first Friday of the decade. By the following Monday, crews had filled those fissures. “That’s a pavement preservation preventative measure that we do,” District 7 Maintenance Manager Jason Moore said. “Because of the distresses in the roadway, the cracking in the roadway, we did a crack-sealing operation, by putting that emulsion in there to seal those cracks off.” » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: The urbanist view on street design Moore explained that sealing the cracks isn’t just for vanity or to prevent traffic on them from opening potholes. It is also a seasonal maintenance state teams perform to keep water from seeping into and damaging the pavement even more. This extends the life of the asphalt, Moore said, staving off a full-on paving operation that would cause a much larger inconvenience and cost taxpayers more money in the long run. As to why Moore’s team decided on January for this: “We tend to do that during the winter months, because the temperature makes the cracks expand to the widest width. That way, we are able to get the material down in there.” Bemoaning and analyzing construction closures is part of the culture in Atlanta traffic; giving the state and local governments grief is a way to blow steam. And while characteristics of some road projects just seem to make zero sense to some people, plenty of thought and myriad factors influence the closures. The jams on I-285 were major, but if crews ignored the cracks, people would then gripe about terrible road conditions. And if maintenance crews hadn’t been proactive in sealing the Buford-Spring Connector, a bigger, more expensive overhaul would have taken place sooner in the future. You may be repeating this mantra to yourself during your new 2020 workout: “No pain, no gain.” You’re absolutely right. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@cmg.com. 
  • Keeping New Year’s resolutions is hard because people have a tendency to set goals that are either too lofty or too broad. Losing 25 pounds and getting a cheese-grater six-pack (make it eight, no, 10) are hard for most to achieve. But simply committing to living a healthier lifestyle might allow for too many progress-stifling mistakes. Since this is the “Gridlock Guy” column and not “Diet Dude,” let’s set a goal that all Atlanta motorists can achieve. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: DUI death rates and the easy options to get home safely Say this together: “I will not put people’s lives in danger just to avoid a delay.” Let me explain my focus on this heavy but simple goal. On Monday, December 30, we brought the WSB Skycopter to a crash scene between Newnan and Palmetto. Early-morning emergency pothole repair had caused a backup on I-85/northbound near Highway 154 (Exit 51), and just as that had cleared, a vehicle flipped over in the tail end of the slow traffic. Crashes often happen when drivers hit delays unexpectedly and take seemingly evasive action. As the scene began to clear, police, a wrecker, and a GDOT CHAMP unit began packing equipment and leaving. The CHAMP operator had a trail of cones diagonally set in the two left lanes, tapering up to the crash scene. As he walked back, by himself, stacking cone after cone, cars started whizzing right by him in the newly-opening lanes. » RELATED: Remembering WSB’s Pete Combs and the I-85 plane landing The two right lanes had been open for a long time, so drivers easily could have gotten over early, slowed just a little bit, and left a safe bubble for the CHAMP operator to finish the job. But selfishness, tunnel vision, and “Hey, they’re doing it, so it must be okay” groupthink put the CHAMP operator in danger. Then, to add extreme insult to near-injury, one obviously extremely important sports-car driver passed the CHAMP unit on the left shoulder. That narrow patch between the CHAMP truck and the wall seemed the perfect outlet to squirt past for this motorist. Unreal. Later that same day, 511 Georgia, the organization that dispatches HERO and CHAMP units and manages traffic incidents all over the state, tweeted a disturbing video. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: The urbanist view on street design The clip shows a driver choosing to avoid delays in one direction of I-985 by driving on the shoulder in the opposite direction of travel. Yes, this hurried commuter figured that driving the wrong way on an interstate and putting their lives and those of others in serious peril was better than getting stuck in a traffic jam. Neither of these extraordinary lapses in judgment made headlines. The only way these daredevils (emphasis on devils) likely end up on the front page and in the A-section is if they injure or kill someone. So please take something away from the Metro section here: These stunts just simply are not worth the risk. Neither keeping a schedule nor avoiding an inconvenience is worth life and limb. Commute preparation is key. Tune-in to Channel 2 Action News in the mornings before you leave for work and school and 95.5 WSB any time of day. Know where the unusual jams are before you get to them. Keep the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App running in the background on your smartphone as you drive. With all of the information out there, there is little excuse to be surprised by a traffic jam, unless a crash happens only a few minutes before you arrive. This whole “Driving and not risking others’ lives” New Year’s resolution is the diet equivalent of “I will not eat an entire cake every single day.” But this commuting goal is specific and attainable. We’re setting an almost subterranean low bar here, yet people sadly will still trip over it. Just because the homesick blues have us in a tizzy to get to point B, they don’t license us to risk the lives of first responders or our fellow motorists to get there. Cheers to a safe 2020 for us all! Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@cmg.com. 
  • The 95.5 WSB family suffered a big loss on Dec. 12, when iconic reporter Pete Combs lost his short battle with bone and lung cancer. Combs worked two stints with WSB between 2006 and 2019, covering national stories for CBS Radio and ABC Radio, along with the local beat in Atlanta. When the AJC’s breaking-news team started working from our radio newsroom, Combs and beat writer Kristi Swartz worked in back-to-back cubicles. “We clicked from the start. I mean, he had this energy and enthusiasm that were just infectious,” Swartz, who now writes about utilities and energy for EnergyWire.com, said. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: DUI death rates and the easy options to get home safely Early into this collaboration, they began working stories together. The Sept. 20, 2010, emergency plane landing on I-85 one will go down as one of the most memorable and odd. “It was pretty calm out there and there was some scanner chatter,” Swartz recalled. Combs was closer to that police scanner than her and heard the first reports that DeKalb County 911 received about a plane possibly going down on I-85. Combs and Swartz wasted no time, though Swartz admitted she needed a minute to process what Combs had just heard. “We both looked at each other and he said, ‘You wanna go?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’” They checked in with their bosses and then hit the road, obstacles be damned. “We were getting closer — we could see the plane from the other side of the highway. And Pete’s driving and I’m in the passenger seat and we are just talking a mile a minute.” Their station vehicle was traveling a bit faster than 60 mph, however, as they approached the Shallowford Road exit off of I-85/northbound. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: The urbanist view on street design “Both of us had our heads turned to the left, so we are looking across the highway and we can see the plane.” Swartz said. Their attention to the plane and their speed almost sent them into stopped traffic on the exit ramp. “He looks at me and goes, ‘You look, I’ll drive.’” Their urgency in leaving WSB’s and AJC’s Midtown offices meant they got to pull up right next to the plane. At just before 5 p.m., a Piper aircraft scraped to a stop in the three left lanes on I-85/southbound about one mile south of Shallowford. It didn’t crash, hit zero cars, and the pilot even posed with a thumbs-up after officials got him safely from the plane. It was a miracle. Had he been forced to land on the busier northbound side, the plane very likely could have hit vehicles and made the landing far more infamous. The late Captain Herb Emory relayed the first reports the WSB Traffic Team received of this landing. “We’ve got four left lanes blocked on I-85/southbound between Shallowford Road and Clairmont Road in DeKalb County,” Emory bellowed during the opening of the 5 p.m. newscast on 95.5 WSB (WSB had just begun simulcasting on 95.5 FM the month prior). Emory then pitched to former WSB Skyplane reporter Kim McCarthy, who circled above the melee. “There are a lot of emergency vehicles on the scene. It doesn’t look like the plane is damaged too badly,” McCarthy calmly reported. “There is no fire at this time — only southbound traffic is affected. Traffic is slow back to Shallowford Road, Captain.” As I worked from the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center on the ground, relaying what information I could to Emory and McCarthy, they worked hard to assure everyone that this improper plane-interstate connection was not nearly as bad as it sounded. Once Combs and Swartz arrived, they got right up close and did just the same. At 5:11 p.m., Combs described to WSB news anchor Chris Chandler just what he saw. “Right now, I’m looking directly at this Piper Saratoga, a single-engine, high-performance airplane, red and white, with gold stripes on it.” Combs was an aviation wonk, even hosting a podcast, “The Human Factor: Tales from the Flight Deck.” Swartz was impressed that Combs knew to take down the tail number of the aircraft, so they could easily look up flight information. And Combs’ knowledge of planes made for a richer dispatch to WSB’s listeners. “I think (calling this) landing is probably pretty charitable,” Combs’ adrenaline rang. “It looks like (the pilot) had some gear down landing on touchdown here and that maybe another problem actually brought him onto the highway.” » RELATED: Why the West Freeway ride keeps getting worse Combs continued, “There appears to be no fire. The pilot is out and appears to be talking to fire officials right now. The propeller of this plane is bent, so it was moving as the airplane struck the ground. One of the tires on the main landing gear is flat, the nose gear doesn’t appear to have deployed at all.” Combs was obviously just seeing and gathering some facts as he talked, a talent that few can pull off well. His snap judgments throughout his coverage of this strange news story astonished, educated, and reassured the listening audience. Crews eventually towed the wounded Piper down the I-85/southbound exit to Clairmont Road and then north to DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. The scene’s diminuendo was very much like that of a car crash scene: tow and go. The delays could have been much worse and the closure much longer. Swartz said she was always so amazed with one particular trait of Combs’ and those like him: “The amazing ability to boil something down to 30 seconds or 20 seconds and then he would paint a picture.” Swartz said that even though she saw the same things Combs saw up close, she could close her eyes and listen to his reports and see them just the same way. Much like the vicious whiplash of the news cycle, Combs’ battle with cancer came like a blind left hook and knocked him into hospice care almost before any of us really got to process that he was in such shape. His war with the disease, though, ended much as the I-85 plane scene did: peacefully and mostly painlessly for him. Many who worked alongside him, including myself, have described him as a “reporter’s reporter,” always thirsting to get as close to a story as quickly as possible. He once asked me for any NASCAR aviation connections to try to bum a ride to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. He always found a way. To Combs’ widow, Karen, son Daniel, and the rest of his family and close friends: thanks for sharing him with us and with the many listeners his unmistakable voice graced all over the United States. The Atlanta motoring public needed that calming baritone on that hot Monday evening over nine years ago and many more times of crisis. Godspeed.
  • The message is a familiar one from a coalition of law enforcement agencies, state safety and transportation departments, advocacy groups, and private sector firms: Drinking and driving is a big problem every holiday season. And once again, Georgia will have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone driving under the influence. The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety unveiled the 2019 “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign last Wednesday at Stone Mountain Park. About 20 lit-up police cars from the Georgia State Patrol, various agencies, and DeKalb County’s DUI task force truck flanked several speakers that chilly morning. This hearty, statewide enforcement mobilization goes into effect as 3.1 million Georgians hit the roads for Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Maybe the best bargain for holiday travel “They’re going to arrest any and all drunk and drugged drivers that they find behind the wheel of a vehicle,” GOHS Director Allen Poole sternly said, motioning to a couple dozen officers in formation behind him. “So be aware — this is your Christmas present, this warning right here today. There will be no exceptions.” Drunk-driving fatalities have decreased in the past 40 years, but a GOHS news release highlighted some startling figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on these avoidable deaths. More than 10,500 people died in these crashes in the U.S. just last year, with more people dying over the late December holiday period than any other. Georgia saw 375 inebriation-related deaths on the roads in 2018, which is 5% more than in 2017, the GOHS said. More than a quarter of all traffic-related deaths involved alcohol in Georgia in 2018. This campaign is supposed to scare people straight, but that isn’t the sole goal. It’s not about writing tickets, collecting revenue, and imprisoning people. “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” is about spreading awareness; this coalition also wants people to know that they have options, even free ones, if they celebrate a bit too hard. “We urge all of you to have a plan,” AAA spokesperson Garrett Townsend said. “Make sure you know in advance how you’re going to get home or to your destination, if you’re going to have something to drink.” AAA is one of at least two organizations to give people an out, if they have their car and have had too much to drink. AAA’s “Tow-To-Go” program offers a free tow and ride home for up to two people. That may seem like too much of an ordeal, but it is free to anyone (not just AAA members) until 6 a.m., January 2nd, 2020. People can just dial (855) 2-TOW-2-GO or search for the offer online. TEAM Georgia is a safe- and sober-driving coalition that mobilizes volunteers at different events to sign up attendees to pledge not to drink and drive. I’m on the board with TEAM Georgia and have been on hand for these different concerts and sporting events and seen many people make pledges. Chairman Ron Fennel, who is also an outgoing Smyrna city councilman, explained how TEAM Georgia partner Checker Cab Company is helping the cause. “They’ll give you a free ride home during the holidays. If you can’t make it home unimpaired, they’ll take you home.” Checker Cab has been a TEAM Georgia partner for 30 years and has offered these rides to anyone in DeKalb County or the City of Atlanta during the holiday season each year. Like AAA, they will offer these rides home only (not to another party) through January 2nd. People can book rides at 404-351-1111 or AtlantaCheckerCab.com. Fennel also reminds people that distracted driving is part of the problem on the roads, especially with so many people driving in unfamiliar areas. So drivers need to plan their ride as far as who may be driving to and from a party and then plan that commute beforehand. Texting and driving has the same effect as inebriation. Just as we discussed in the distracted driving column last week, a series of small bad decisions can add up to a supernova of consequences. We (me, too) justify small slips in judgment as our best bad decisions in the moment. Good, well-meaning people often say “I’m fine” or “Let me have a cup of coffee to sober up” when facing the prospect of leaving their cars at a party. They often aren’t greedy thieves or monsters that kill squirrels with hammers. They’re regular folks who get behind the wheel just a bit too tired or inebriated. Then tragedy strikes and the cosmic fabric changes forever. » RELATED: Here are the worst times to drive in Atlanta for Christmas 2019 Partygoers, take this all to heart and know that you have options. Party hosts, you have responsibilities to make sure people are taking the safest routes home. If they push back, order them an Uber yourself or offer to drive them home and Uber back yourself. There aren’t many things in this country that kill more than 10,000 people per year, but booze-wrecks do. As a nation, we have made inroads on this epidemic, but there is still a long way to go. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@cmg.com.
  • Considering my profession, my affinity for observing how other cultures handle traffic probably isn’t a surprise. My October trip to Costa Rica exposed me to San Jose’s recent additions of countdown traffic lights. And now with a few days of German automobile travel under my belt, I have a few observations. First, the autobahn is not a single superhighway of unlimited speed. The German autobahn system is the same as interstates in the U.S. — it is any limited-access highway (with exits instead of intersections) that extends to different parts of the country. » RELATED: Why the West Freeway ride keeps getting worse And just because one is on an autobahn does not automatically mean there is no speed limit. Speed limits usually are in place in high-volume areas or in construction zones. And the limitless speeds aren’t insane. We ran at nearly 100 mph in the fast lane and that seemed to be similar to others’ speeds. Germany is more suited for autobahns than the States for several reasons. First, the size and population of Germany mean there are far fewer autobahns for the government to maintain, thus the pavement is very smooth. Also, Germany requires vehicles to get safety inspections every two years to stay registered. And Germany has a very high bar for driver education: it is mandatory and requires many more hours of classroom and road time to pass than in America. Germany can handle high-speed roads because of its higher standards for pavement, vehicles, and drivers. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: The urbanist view on street design German drivers take two preventative measures in traffic backups that American drivers do not. First, the law requires drivers who approach unexpected delays on multi-lane roads, such as autobahns, to automatically pull to the left and the right to leave an additional second left lane open for potential emergency vehicles to use. This hastens response time and causes people to slow down earlier, which then lessens the chances of a wreck in the backup. If traffic slows very dramatically or suddenly, drivers happening upon that backup also hit their hazard lights in addition to their brakes. The flashing lights act as an exclamation point of sorts and alert trailing drivers that the slowdown isn’t just a tap of the brakes, but is a full stop. I watched my girlfriend, Momo, do this as she drove us. And after we had stopped for a moment, she quickly turned off the hazards. » RELATED: How bad is Atlanta traffic? It depends on how you look at it Germans have a better time on the roads than Atlantans, because the population is less dense, meaning fewer cars are on the roads. Traffic is also lighter because cities are more multimodal and gas is several times more expensive. Even with these characteristics, traffic in busy Cologne was bad and people we talked to didn’t want to drive there. But there were other options, including simply walking. Overall, automobile travel in Germany has been pleasant. (I’m writing this column in the backseat of Momo’s mom’s Volkswagen, by the way). This is an automobile culture like ours, but Germans seem to hold driving in a higher regard. The standards for the roads and cars and the caution drivers take are lessons we could apply in some shades in America. Driving is a privilege, not a right, and that is easy to forget. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@cmg.com.
  • I hope you’re not disappointed to learn that I write this column a few days before it posts. As I write this now, the Thanksgiving exodus has begun on the Atlanta freeways. In fact, I have just started anchoring our Triple Team Traffic coverage early, so I’m working in stereo. The Thanksgiving traffic stew is quite hearty. The corridor most predictably jammed this crazy travel day is I-75 in Clayton and Henry counties. I-75 in Cobb and Cherokee also is seeing its grind rise to a boil. Reversible Express Lanes border each of these freeways and still seem to either take a bad rap or almost completely go unnoticed altogether. » RELATED: Pay n Go Peach Pass available at Walgreens, CVS The I-75 Express Lanes south of town are arguably the best bargain on days like this. As the regular thru lanes winnow from four to three, traffic bottlenecks. As I write, I-75/southbound jams below Mt. Zion (Exit 233) and doesn’t break free until almost Hwy. 20/81 (Exit 218). That’s a normal thing to expect on holiday getaway days. I-75/northbound is grinding along from just above Locust Grove (Exit 212) to about Jonesboro Road (Exit 221). Peach Pass users along I-75/sb can elect to use the Express Lanes if they are heading southbound. In fact, the total trip from I-675 to where the lanes end at Highway 155 (Exit 216) is just under $2 right now. That couple of bucks is saving southside motorists between 20 and 30 minutes, as the toll lanes are wide open. A downside to the lanes is that they can only help one side of the interstate at a time. Currently, I-75/southbound is moving a bit better than northbound traffic, because of the extra capacity from the Express Lanes. This does leave inbound commuters up the creek, but they still can use Hwy. 42/23 between Locust Grove and Stockbridge as an alternate. I-75/northbound in Henry County will get Express Lane assistance when they reverse them in that direction. SRTA adjusts the reversals of the lanes based on holiday volume and typically leaves them southbound on both the south and north sides of town until midway through a holiday weekend. Then the State Road and Tollway Authority keeps those same lanes northbound for most of the second half of the heavy-travel extended weekend. That’s confusing and might not be exact enough for those trying to plan days in advance. SRTA officials sometimes gauge the backups and adjust the times to reverse the lanes. So the best bet when traveling I-75 north or south of Downtown Atlanta is to check the Peach Pass website for the status of the lanes. Under the “Using Peach Pass” tab on PeachPass.com, click on “Pricing” and then on “Live Toll Rates” on the right side of the page. Then choose the freeway you’re trying to take and highlight the different Peach Pass pricing signs with the cursor. Those same signs also show the direction the lanes are operating. Remember that the Express Lanes are truly meant for express trips — trips meant for several exits — and not the shorter, local trips. The South Metro Express Lanes really have only one midway entry/exit point, which is at Jonesboro Road. The lanes in Cobb and Cherokee on I-75 and I-575 have a few more, but not nearly as many exits as the regular freeway. So that adds an extra layer of planning to these trips. Make sure that your friends and family from out of state know that the Florida SunPass and North Carolina NC Quick Pass also work in the Georgia lanes, and the Peach Pass works in those neighboring states. Having this option in the back pocket could be a huge win for the road trip. Full trips in the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes are often less than a dollar. They’re not much more than that in even high travel periods, as demand sets the pricing and the lanes haven’t caught on as well on this side of town. The Northwest Metro Express Lanes normally do not cost more than a few dollars for full trips during rush hours, and while they have much higher demand, they have improved the toll-free lanes quite a bit. The I-85 HOT lanes are the oldest in the state (October 2011) and have the most usage and, thus, cost the most. But they also often provide an outlet for those trying to save a few minutes. The first step in preparation for any Metro Atlanta commuter is to go ahead and get a Peach Pass, even if the commute path never heads on freeways with those toll lanes. Have one for those random trips in those corridors, just in case. And then when the opportunity to drive on I-85 north of town or on I-75 on both sides of the city arises, check PeachPass.com for the pricing and for the directions the lanes are open. And, of course, be sure and follow along on 95.5 WSB and our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to see if conditions are bad enough to take the lanes in the first place. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@coxmg.com.
  • Imagine your favorite Thanksgiving meal — all the tasty morsels and elements — placed in a nice spread on the holiday table. If you’re like me, you mix your food together a bit. I prefer using the mashed potatoes as a palette for the other stronger-tasting items. Get it just right. Now scrape your plate into the blender, the pumpkin pie, too. And pour in that wine, tea, cider, Coke, water — whatever you normally imbibe this joyous day. Pour in everyone else’s plates and cups also. Now set that blender on high; maybe pulse it a couple of times. Gross, right? » RELATED: Thanksgiving traffic: Here’s when (and when not) to travel in Atlanta Welcome to Atlanta traffic in the fourth quarter. Atlanta commuters have already faced tremendous challenges in recent times, as volume has ballooned at the height of the fall semester. The early darkness in the time change always adds insult to PM drive and prolongs the ride home. Horrible, long-lasting crash scenes have peppered the days. Major construction continues to kill weekend chill time. Earlier sunsets blind afternoon drives. Fall is a busy time and traffic reflects it. Bake in the pre-Thanksgiving exodus and the maps on the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App go dark red. Tradition (and data) shows us that Wednesday afternoon is the absolute worst time to travel for Thanksgiving. You’re better suited to try to leave town Thanksgiving morning (the roads are empty then) or earlier in the week. » RELATED: 8 mistakes to avoid with holiday travel in Georgia 2019 But Wednesday travel may be inevitable for some, so that means others of us can correct for the extra push. For those who have to work and are able to telecommute, this Wednesday is the perfect day for it. Many offices let out early anyway, so taking that half day in the home office would help alleviate some of the road pressure not just for holiday travelers, but for people (like yours truly) who have to work. Another reason Wednesday could be particularly awful for driving is the weather. WSB Radio meteorologist Kirk Mellish has been studying some models that indicate stormy weather east of the Rockies is very possible in this portion of the week. This forecast could change very easily, but even a probable likelihood of “just add water” to the Thanksgiving drive should change behavior. For the return trip, the Thanksgiving bounceback is usually the worst on Sunday afternoon and on the south side on I-75. Arm yourself with a Peach Pass to save time, as those Express Lanes stay cheap and are lightly used. The trick will be to make sure the lanes are open in the direction you’re traveling. Traveling back to town on Black Friday is better than trying the outer lying freeways on Sunday, when people are trying to return for the work week. Black Friday traffic around busy shopping areas will not be that bad on Friday morning. Sure, some will chase deals, but the rush to the malls for the door-busting deals is not nearly the event it was ten years ago. But as the gravy and football comas wear off late in the day Friday, the arteries around those busy shops (and quite possibly those of the shoppers themselves) will be clogged. Holiday shopping’s effect on the roads is more spread out and gradual. The change to Standard Time has been the first slap in the face to the evening commute, with drivers more drowsy and having to navigate in sunshine at a bad angle and then early darkness. I wrote about this two years ago, and the trend continues. Then extra shoppers jump in the mix and traffic devolves into that terrible ingredient mix from our opening paragraph. “By the time the (time change) transition wears off, holiday season is upon us, and there is more shopping traffic on the road,” Georgia Tech Senior Research Engineer Angshuman Guin said. Since a shopping-bound driver may not be as versed in their route as the everyday commuter in that area, tensions can arise, Guin said. “There is also the difference in aggressiveness between drivers, (which) leads to less efficient movement of traffic as well as causes safety hazards.” As people become more and more rushed or simply begin running more late, tempers flare. When motorists drive at a time or in an area that they are less familiar with, they are likely going to make moves that slow the flow even more. This can hold true for Thanksgiving travelers or holiday shoppers. Be patient. » RELATED: The best and worst times to drive and shop during Thanksgiving week We can’t just drive at the worst times and in bad conditions and then complain about the results. Telecommuting and adjusting departure times for Thanksgiving travel will help all parties involved. Exercising patience and scheduling those shopping trips outside of the last minute windows or the PM commute will also help achieve better results. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@coxmg.com.
  • At least there were several days to prepare. And Atlanta needed quite a bit of warning for one of the biggest traffic tie-ups of 2019, as word came four days before that both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence would visit the city. But even with several days’ notice, numerous news stories and pleas for forbearance, Friday, November 8th was a horrible date on the roads. And at least some of the backups were avoidable. » RELATED: President’s visit leaves massive delays on Atlanta interstates Trump would visit a fundraiser for Georgia Senator David Perdue at The Whitley Hotel (formerly the Ritz Carlton) in Buckhead, before speaking at the Black Voices for Trump rally at the Georgia World Congress Center. Pence would fly in an hour later to Dobbins AFB in Marietta and attend the rally before Trump. This meant two different contingencies would move at different routes and times. All of this added up to five different periods of closures on parts of I-285, GA-400, I-85, I-75, I-75/85 (the Downtown Connector), Cobb Parkway, Lenox Road, Peachtree Road, Piedmont Road, and Northside Drive. This list doesn’t include the entrance ramps along the routes and the closed overpasses to allow the motorcades to pass safely. These closures started occurring during the lunch hour, on a Friday, with bouts of rain threatening — in Atlanta. There were sets of very expected and unexpected consequences and closures between lunch and dinner that Friday. » RELATED: MARTA prepares for region’s first bus rapid transit line Typically, the Georgia State Patrol and GDOT HERO Units shut off interstates and exits just before motorcades start rolling. The consistency of when those closures start and how long they last varies. Both Trump’s and Pence’s arriving motorcades caused closures only on the roads they were on just before and just after they traveled those roads. For example, I-75/southbound in Cobb County stayed closed between Delk Road and I-285 until the motorcade exited I-75 onto I-285/eastbound. Then it re-opened. That was the standard for Pence’s arrival also. In the past, the WSB Traffic Team has seen closures begin far sooner and last longer. The protocol seems to vary, but the brief closures were the right way to do this. Law enforcement did not shut down GA-400/southbound, I-85/southbound, or I-75/southbound extremely long for Trump’s middle trip between Buckhead and Downtown Atlanta. And because the freeway was completely free of vehicles, the motorcade moved quickly and minimized the closure pain. This was not the case for Trump’s return trip. When Pence finished speaking and left town in the 3 p.m. hour, the motorcade strangely did not shut down the entire freeway for its trip. GSP blocked I-75/85/northbound only long enough to allow the motorcade onto the freeway and then released traffic. Trump’s exit more than an hour later was the opposite. GSP and HEROs starting shutting down I-75/85/northbound, I-75/northbound, I-285 in both directions, and Highway 41 around Dobbins well before Trump left the Congress Center. In fact, he was still on stage and had begun speaking off the cuff. So entire freeways ended up staying closed 20 minutes longer than needed during the 4 p.m. hour of a Friday rush hour. That is absurd. To add salt to the wound, our job as traffic reporters is far more difficult for each event of this type. First, the WSB Skycopter and many other aircraft are not allowed to fly in a 30-mile radius during the entire time. And then sometime during the Obama years, the Secret Service began forcing GDOT to disable all of its traffic cameras for security reasons. Soon after that, GSP began speaking in code or using different channels to communicate about the closures, so we couldn’t follow them on police scanners. All of this secrecy severely limits our ability to track exactly when and where the many closures are. The interruption of so much information just pours fuel on the fire of the big time delays. » RELATED: Metro Atlanta transit plan: Here's the project list We got around some of these difficulties by using a couple of different cameras stationed in key areas, and we also relied on the traffic flow data inside the WSB Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to see when closures began and ended and the delays behind them. We also got calls from our Traffic Troopers stuck in the backups. We staffed up early, broke into programming often, and took the time we needed to share what we knew and what to expect. If you needed to know the status of your likely terrible ride Friday, 95.5 WSB was the place to turn. But taking a diagnostic of such a stark set of closures shouldn’t be so difficult. The Secret Service being, well, secretive of some things is understandable. But disabling all traffic cameras is an unnecessary overreach and just adds to the problem. If they’re worried about anyone seeing the motorcade in real time, then they need to empty both sides of the roads, evacuate every building, and confiscate every smartphone. Not happening. And law enforcement was far too hasty in shutting down the freeways so far ahead of Trump’s departure. Could they not have waited for the speech to end? Traffic was going to be bad enough; it didn’t need to get any worse. The commuting public and employers could have done more to help their fates also. That fateful Friday was a perfect excuse to telecommute, take a half-day, or work flex hours Monday through Thursday. These aren’t options for many jobs, but a few thousand fewer cars on the roads still makes a difference. Many treated the day normally. And those who did not deserve praise. The procedures for handling the Trump and Pence arrivals seemed perfect; they were only as disruptive as necessary. Business returned to normal soon after the roads opened. But Trump’s departure back to Dobbins was a boondoggle. And not having cameras, real-time communications from law enforcement, and the WSB Skycopter left us tasked with helping people avoid these jams at a deficit. Consistency, sensible security, and better coordination need to be tenets of the next Air Force One or Air Force Two trips to Metro Atlanta. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 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@coxmg.com.

News

  • Florida's St. Augustine Police Department said they are searching for the suspect who robbed a group of children at gunpoint at a popular park. The robbery happened at Project Swing park on Saturday around 9:30 p.m. Several signs at the park read, “For your safety, park is closed from dusk to dawn.” According to the report, the victims, whose ages are redacted, were sitting at the tables in the middle of the park when a man approached them and demanded money. In the report, one of the victims said the suspect pointed the gun into his chest when he told him he didn’t have any money. Police said the man took $16 from one of the victims before he tried to grab a backpack from the other. The victims told investigators when the suspect tried to take the backpack, they ran towards the parking garage for help. Detectives said the suspect took off running in the opposite direction toward Ketterlinus gym. By the time police responded, the suspect was gone. Investigators said they found a bag believed to belong to the suspect near the tennis courts next to the park. It was sent to the lab for DNA testing. Anyone with information on the suspect is encouraged to call the police department.
  • A 77-year-old man was punched in the face as he walked into a grocery store in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and now police are looking for the person responsible. It happened at the Kroger on Braselton Highway, and it all started in the fire lane in front of the store. It happened at the Kroger on Braselton Highway, and it all started in the fire lane in front of the store. The victim, who did not want to be identified by name, said on Jan. 23 around 4:30 p.m. he pulled up, saw someone parked there, and on his way inside the store, he said, “You're not supposed to park here.” Police said surveillance video shows a woman, who was in the parked car in the fire lane outside, go in the store, walk up to the victim and say something. Officials said a man who was with her then assaulted the 77-year-old man. “And the next thing I know, this jerk comes around and just cold-cocks me right flat on the floor,” the victim said. Witnesses told police they couldn’t believe it happened. The suspect took off and police are still looking for him now. There’s video of the assault that Kroger cameras recorded, but investigators said they’re not releasing it yet because the case is still open. “I had no idea he was even in the place until he came round in front and punched me,” the victim said. The incident is a reminder to shoppers that you may want to tell police when someone is doing something illegal instead of saying something to that person. You never know what they are going to do.
  • A bill sponsored by Utah Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, would restrict people from purchasing a hunting license if they aren’t up to date on child support payments. The “Fishing and Hunting Restrictions for Nonpayment of Child Support” House bill would prohibit “the issuance of a license, permit, or tag related to fishing or hunting if an individual is delinquent in child support.” According to KUTV, the bill would affect anyone who owes more than $2,500 in child support. Once a person is no longer behind on their child support payments, they can obtain a hunting license. If the bill passes, it will go into effect in the summer of 2021.
  •  For the first time, NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal opened up about the death of his former teammate and friend, Kobe Bryant. Bryant, his daughter 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed Sunday when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in Calabasas, California. O’Neal’s comments came at the start of TNT’s pregame show, as he sat on the court at Staples Center along with the rest of the network’s studio team. TNT was supposed to televise a doubleheader, but the NBA canceled the Lakers-Clippers game that was scheduled to be the nightcap because the Lakers organization is still too devastated after the death of Bryant and his daughter. I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” O’Neal said. Shaq said he was working out with his son and nephew, when another nephew walked into the room crying and showed him the phone. “I snapped at him,” O’Neal said. “I said, ‘Get that out of my face.'” O’Neal said he thought it was a hoax at first, and then he started getting phone calls from friends and other fellow basketball players. “Forty-seven years old, I’ve lost two grandmothers … lost my sister. And now I’ve lost my little brother,' O’Neal said. O'Neal and Bryant teamed to help the Lakers win three straight championships from 2000-02, but they occasionally feuded and O'Neal was traded to Miami in 2004. He would win another title there, while Bryant would win two more with the Lakers. O’Neal said his heart broke even more when he learned who else was on the chopper. “It’s sort of like a triple stabbing to the heart because after you cry and wonder about that, then I get back on the internet – Rick Fox is on the (helicopter). So now, I’m sick even more,” O’Neal said. “And then the final blow, his lovely daughter was with him on the helicopter.” They eventually patched up their relationship and O'Neal said they texted frequently, though he said he hadn't actually seen Bryant since the final day of his career in 2016. O'Neal said he told Bryant to score 50 points and Bryant instead scored 60. O’Neal said Bryant even checked in with his son Shareef, who underwent heart surgery in December 2018. “Shareef called me, devastated, and said Kobe just texted me to check and see how he was doing. And he used to do that from time to time,” O’Neal said. O’Neal said this year’s NBA Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be a solemn event. “The fact that we’re not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony. The fact that we’re not going to be able to say, ‘Ha, Ha. I got five. You got four.’ The fact that we’re not going to be able to say, ‘If we had stayed together to get 10,’ those are the things we can’t get back,” O’Neal said. O'Neal's comments were his first that were televised since Bryant's death. He had previously only posted on social media and spoken on a podcast. The Associated Press contributed to this story.
  • Last week, the head of a Chinese government expert team said that human-to-human transmission has been confirmed in the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people avoid travel to China. Here are some tips for travelers who may be making their way to or from China or other destinations:  Check the CDC website for updates on the outbreak The CDC has a dedicated page that is kept up to date with travel information to China, impacted transportation in China and status of medical care in the country. Maintain good personal hygiene According to The New York Times, passengers should avoid touching their faces and practice proper coughing etiquette, such as coughing or sneezing into an arm instead of your hands or the environment. The CDC recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used when soap is not available. The Times also reminded travelers that seatbacks and tray tables are wiped down by ground crews, but cleaning them again with a disinfecting wipe is recommended. Lastly, try to keep a safe distance from anyone who appears to be ill. If you are seated next to someone who may be ill, you can ask a flight attendant to reseat you. Please note that they may not be able to accommodate the request. Do I need a mask while traveling? Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in Vanderbilt University’s division of infectious diseases, told CNN that the benefit of masks may be impractical. “The scientific basis showing that people in the community wearing masks actually has any benefit is very thin and questionable,” Shaffner told CNN. Schaffner also told CNN that U.S. travelers who are traveling only within the United States should not be as concerned about the virus. Other noteworthy tips Henry Harteveldt, of Atmosphere Research, told USA Today that travelers should consider keeping air vents open above the seat to improve ventilation but also noted that he aims them away from his body. USA Today also suggested bringing tissues with you to use to avoid touching door handles when you use the bathrooms on flights. Book a window seat. A study published in 2018 concluded that the window seat is more likely to keep a passenger away from people who might be sick because it is furthest from the aisle where more people move through the cabin. What are other countries doing in response to the outbreak? Many countries are checking the temperatures of arriving airline passengers and adopting precautionary quarantine procedures in response to a new virus. India, Nigeria, Japan and the United States are some of the countries where airport screening procedures were in place. Below are some of the public health measures in multiple countries intended to prevent a repeat of the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, which started in China and killed nearly 800 people (Source:The Associated Press, Jan. 21, 2020) MAINLAND CHINA China’s often-secretive Communist government was blamed for making SARS far worse by initially hiding information and blocking the work of the World Health Organization. This time, leader Xi Jinping has called for tough measures and said “party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.” At the airport in Wuhan, the temperatures of departing passengers were checked and outbound tour groups were banned from leaving the city. Virtually everyone in a public role, from traffic police officers to bank tellers, is wearing a protective face mask. JAPAN Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged officials to step up quarantine checks at airports and other entry points, and Japan will require visitors arriving from Wuhan to fill in health forms. HONG KONG The semiautonomous city is one of the most popular destinations for mainland Chinese. It has stepped up surveillance and ordered more cleaning and disinfecting for planes and trains from Wuhan, as well as for train stations and the airport. Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung said authorities are ready for a worst-case scenario and are on extremely high alert. A lack of information and low levels of vigilance were blamed for Hong Kong becoming the second-hardest hit area by SARS after mainland China in the early 2000s. As in much of mainland China, Hong Kong residents favor traditional markets where live poultry and other animals are sold. The government advises people against visiting such markets or touching animals or their droppings. SOUTH KOREA South Korea reported its first case of the virus in mid-January, in a Chinese woman who works at a South Korean company. At Incheon International Airport near Seoul, the only airport in South Korea with direct flights from Wuhan, two special gates are designated for passengers from the city and ear thermometers are used to check their temperatures. Arrival halls are being sprayed with disinfectant twice a week, up from once a week previously, and escalator handrails, elevator buttons and other sensitive surfaces are wiped with disinfectant twice a day. NIGERIA Nigeria’s government says health authorities at points of entry are on alert for cases of coronavirus arriving in Africa’s most populous country. The Nigeria Center for Disease Control asked that travelers from Wuhan report to a medical facility and the center if they feel ill. China is Africa’s top trading partner. South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said anyone with a severe respiratory illness should be tested if they have traveled to Wuhan within two weeks or had close physical contact with a coronavirus patient or treatment at a facility where a confirmed case has been reported. There were more than 200,000 Chinese workers in Africa as of the end of 2017, not including numerous informal migrants such as traders and shopkeepers, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University. INDIA India will expand thermal screening of passengers arriving from China, including Hong Kong, to seven airports from the current three. In-flight announcements before arrival will direct passengers with a fever or cough who have traveled to Wuhan in the previous 14 days to declare themselves to health authorities. Thermal screening will begin in Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Cochin, and continue in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said. SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA Singapore will expand temperature screening at Changi Airport, one of Asia’s busiest travel hubs, for all travelers on flights arriving from China beginning on Wednesday. The health ministry said individuals with pneumonia and a history of travel to Wuhan within 14 days of the onset of symptoms will be isolated in a hospital as a precautionary measure and investigated. Neighboring Malaysia has also beefed up screening at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Deputy health Minister Lee Boon Chye said staff are being trained to handle possible cases. “If a case emerges, then we may have to take more drastic measures, but for now, we hope we can nip it at the entry point,” Lee told reporters. BANGLADESH Bangladesh civil aviation authorities have ordered airport managers to start screening incoming passengers from China. A.H.M. Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of the main Shahjalal International Airport, said doctors at the airport would look for fevers, coughs, breathing difficulties and sore throats. The country’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research will be notified of any passengers with symptoms for further examination, he said. AUSTRALIA Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer, said biosecurity staff and state health officials in New South Wales are meeting flights from Wuhan and are distributing pamphlets printed in English and Chinese to all passengers. The pamphlets describe symptoms of infection and ask people to identify themselves if they are experiencing any. RUSSIA Russia’s Healthcare Ministry described the virus as a biological hazard, with Deputy Minister Sergei Krayevoy saying the virus was a “striking example” of the biological threats Russia faces. The Russian public health service, Rospotrebnadzor, said it had developed a testing kit that would allow labs to detect the new coronavirus quickly. Russia is one of the three most popular tourist destinations for people from China, according to Russian officials. They estimate that about 2 million tourists from China visited Russia in 2018. ITALY The Italian Health Ministry says passengers making direct and indirect flights from Wuhan, China, to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport will be checked for potential signs of the virus. People with suspected infections will be quarantined at an infectious disease hospital in Rome, the ministry says. No cases have been reported so far. Posters at the airport advise travelers to consider delaying trips to the Wuhan area and if they do go there, to avoid touching animals or uncooked animal products. The Associated Press contributed to this story. Associated Press journalists Moussa Moussa in Canberra, Australia, Kim Hyung-jin in Seoul, South Korea, Cara Anna in Johannesburg, South Africa, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Daria Litvinova in Moscow, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report. xxx
  • It is a sad time. I need to have a pity party and go get some of my friends...let's go cry a minute.' That's Carol, one of the many dedicated and loyal customers of Life Grocery, the natural and organic foods and products store in Marietta. Carol's been a customer for 20-plus years. There's also Richard, who's been a customer even longer - since the 1980's. 'This was the original and only health food store where you could get organic groceries. It's very sad.'  On a Monday in the last week of January, the store along Roswell Rd. between the Big Chicken and the 120 Loop was busy. Busier than normal. A good bet that had lots to do with deep discounts at Life Grocery, as the store was closing its doors by the end of January.   'People are coming in, wanting to say goodbye. It's the end of an era,' store general manager Ronnie Hudson tells WSB Radio. It's been emotional for her too. She's been with the co-op business since the mid 90's and admits there will be a void as the doors close for good.  Life Grocery was founded by Life University students when Gerald Ford was president - back in 1976. Hudson says the business was one of the pioneers in the natural, organic food market, 'there weren't options back then...we were the template.' Stores like Life and some other early ones set the stage for what came years later - an explosion in the organic/natural food space, now dominated by major players like Whole Foods, Sprouts, and others. Life Grocery's reasons for closing are many says Hudson. 'The main distributor that we use, Whole Foods is their priority. So sometimes we can't even get our whole orders full.' Not only competition though. Aging equipment has also been an issue, rising costs, and location has played a part Hudson says. Life Grocery sits in an aging strip mall. Whole Foods used to be across the street. But when it left for a better location, Hudson says some of her customers told her, they'd forgotten about Life.  Still, in the store's final hours of existence Monday, longtime customers were stopping in for their last purchases. Hudson was exchanging hugs with many of them. 'The emotions at this point, even from our customers, has been so touching, heartbreaking, heartwarming. It feels good to know that people have appreciated what we have.'