Gridlock Guy: Observations abroad and at home from a recent trip to Iceland

A late April trip to Reykjavik and the surrounding countryside beauty of Iceland meant my wife Momo and I would not only visit Iceland for the first time, but we would also deal with the Airport MARTA stop’s six-week closure. A six-hour layover in Boston would also allow us to flirt with Beantown by train and on foot. So while I stepped out of the traffic job for a few days, the traffic did not vacate me. Hence, here are some traffic insights from this recent vacation.

Bad traffic is a matter of perspective

Traffic gridlock is part of the culture in Atlanta. And anything that slows one’s commute a little more than normal seems much bigger to them than to someone else just hearing of it.

Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, is home to only 139,000-plus people. DeKalb County, by itself, is home to over 700,000, just less than twice than Iceland’s entire population. There are no skyscrapers. In fact, the tallest buildings are hotels that serve the country’s burgeoning tourism industry.

Interstates and huge highways are not necessary in Iceland. The biggest roads were maybe three lanes in each direction.

As we returned from a day-long tour, our guide and driver complained about all of the traffic. We had barely slowed. There were just some moderate queues at the rare traffic signal in town. Momo and I laughed. But the guide was dead serious.

Wouldn’t Atlantans salivate over a bad commute meaning having to barely slow or wait only one extra traffic signal cycle?

Icelanders do not have a bad go in traffic, but they have seen the delays grow with the tourism industry.

Tour company buses in Iceland are money

For those considering jumping on the Icelandic vacation bandwagon, there is no need to rent a car. Booking tours with excursion companies is the best route. Some buses or Sprinter vans pick tourists up in front of their hotels and others stop at very walkable distances from lodging. The bus stops are numbered in Reykjavik and the drivers know where they are. The city is small, so most places in the city center are very walkable.

A bus depot in the heart of the city is a big transfer point, especially for those moving from hotel shuttles to the airport in Keflavik, which is about 45 minutes away by drive. And there is public transit in Iceland’s capital, too, though most places of note are within walking distance.

Riding the bus out to the various natural treasures within two or three hours of Reykjavik takes some of the sting out of the long drives. Buses have wifi and provide plenty of time to relax or sleep, as opposed to driving and navigating. And the drivers also offer all sorts of facts and commentary about the passing sites.

The numerous truck stops or convenience stores offered clean bathrooms and really good food. Some of the meals were a step above American roadside stops.

So even active trip goers like us had plenty of down time on the buses between hikes.

The MARTA Airport Station closure is far from catastrophic

MARTA’s closure for Airport Station renovation-closure certainly made me gulp at first wind of it. But the backup plan works great.

MARTA riders simply exit at the College Park Station and walk right out to waiting buses for rides to Hartsfield-Jackson. We did this on the Saturday morning of our flight out and heeded the agency’s advice, adding a half hour to our trip.

Instead, the transfer to the buses and the short drive to the Atlanta Airport added no more than 10 minutes. We actually rode a charter bus, not a regular MARTA bus, and attendants loaded our suitcases in the bay below, much like a hotel or parking shuttle. The bus bridge drops and picks up Airport passengers and employees at the downstairs entrance to the North Terminal. The process went just as smoothly on the following Sunday afternoon ride home.

Coincidentally, our long Boston layover prompted us to take the MBTA train into town to walk around and grab lunch. But after taking the Logan International bus shuttle to the closest train stop, we actually had to board another bus and take that bus bridge to another station. That first airport station, like Atlanta’s, was also closed for repairs that weekend.

In both cases, the transit and Airport employees were helpful in pointing us where to go and made the bus detours a breeze. (Breeze card pun intended).

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at

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