Humbug Square - Faith-based commuting

Moron Lanes - a stroke of genius from the Georgia brain trust

I saw in the paper the other day that Gov. Sonny Perdue has signed a resolution forming a "task force" that will "try to reduce traffic congestion" in metro Atlanta.

What a great idea!

I had just noticed that traffic was getting really bad, so I was relieved that some of our most visionary leaders, including a golf course developer, are going to "develop standards for selecting transportation projects" for the region.

Right on, dudes! Just in the nick of time! Who knows, without this kind of timely intervention by our transportation brain trust, traffic here might get so bad that we'd rank in the nation's top five most congested cities!

Oh, wait. We're already there.

Well, the important thing is that we've got a "congestion mitigation" task force now, and things will be just fine.

I always get excited about a new task force to study traffic in Atlanta. We're great at studying traffic. We're positively Olympian when it comes to studying traffic. We're No. 1, baby! Woof, woof, woof!

It's just that we don't actually do anything after we study it, except decide to study it more and keep doing the same stuff that got us in trouble in the first place.

We've been studying traffic for a half century, since the drag strip between the Varsity and Georgia Tech began to grow into what is today's Downtown Connector, the I-75/I-85 corridor through town.

A long time ago, ideas actually turned into something real. For example, MARTA was once just a little blip in then-Alderman Sam Massell's head. He envisioned the public bus and train system as a free service - no fare. Now, the fare is going up to $2 and the system is collapsing into insolvency.

During the 1990s, we studied traffic like crazy. Zell Miller was governor then, elevated into office by the Gwinnett County-based road cabal. We planned more and more roads and, by God, we studied traffic. At one point, I seem to recall, even I was on a traffic task force at the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The ARC task force I sat on studied "incident management," which means that when some clown from Acworth has a flat tire or a wreck, you shove his ass off the road so traffic can keep moving. The task force recommended that police cars have heavy-duty bumpers to push cars out of the way.The state patrol and most police forces got them. The Atlanta police wouldn't get them because they thought using the bumpers would hurt those lousy Ford transmissions.

Now, the General Assembly has passed a bill - HB 273 - to do the opposite of incident management. It asks the Department of Transportation to implement Moron Lanes, which will let rush-hour traffic travel in the emergency lanes or shoulders of freeways. Actually, I think the Legislature called them "FlexAuto Lanes."

So, if the clown from Acworth has a flat tire or wreck in a Moron Lane, all the traffic in the lane will stop and then the DOT's HERO truck won't be able to get to the guy because there's no emergency lane. If the clown has a breakdown in another lane, he won't be able to pull into the emergency lane because there won't be one.

Another great idea!

But see, this is where being "reality-based" is such a bummer. I didn't think it through. What I failed to realize is that everybody in the suburbs is now so successful and blessed that they all have brand new cars and sturdy new tires and don't have breakdowns! The Lord is watching over them. This is the same mentality that led to "tort reform," which limits a citizen's right to seek justice when hurt by doctors. The legislators were able to pass that bill only because they thought malpractice couldn't possibly injure them or their families. They're blessed! God wouldn't allow it. Likewise, the righteous don't have flat tires and blown gaskets.

And, when you think about it, that's the angle the new task force really ought to take - faith-based commuting. You pray, then the traffic clears like the Red Sea and, presto, you're at work!

That's not so far-fetched. I saw that a Texas oilman is drilling in Israel based on a Bible verse about Moses blessing a guy by saying "let him dip his foot in oil." I would have thought it wasn't the same kind of oil. Silly me!

After I stopped laughing about the formation of another traffic task force, I called the one guy in town who could share my mirth: Tom Marney, a citizen savant from Lawrenceville.Marney was just an average guy who worked in the mud in the construction industry until 4 p.m. on April 14, 1994, when he was looking at the DOT's plans for widening I-85 for the Sugarloaf development. He had an epiphany. He realized the state had run amok with its plans to build highways beside highways, roads beyond roads, 14-lane freeways, bridges and ramps, forever and ever.

Marney went to war. He haunted meetings of the ARC, the Gwinnett County Commission or any other agency at which officials planned roads. He helped defeat a road sales tax in Gwinnett in 1995. He joined the successful fight against the Northern Arc. He served on two task forces at the ARC.

In 2002, he wrote a monster report - 5,367 words long - that explained how the lack of land-use planning and impact fees has condemned Gwinnett County to "eternally worsening traffic congestion."

But traffic task forces often don't look at land-use planning, because politicians get campaign contributions from developers who benefit from not having land-use planning.

That's why nothing changes in Atlanta traffic. As Marney said in his report, "land speculation and development are subsidized rather than taxed." Even worse, we still have "major incentives for continued exurban development." He cited a Texas study that estimated we would need to build 102 lane-miles of freeways every year just to keep up with growing demand.

The only way we can build our way out of traffic congestion, Marney says, is to build the right kind of developments - not more roads.

I called him the other day.

"Marney," I said. "They're doing it again." We had a good laugh. Marney and I are both burned out about traffic - it's kind of sad, really. He now contributes comments to blogs about America's impending economic train wreck. He dropped by CL for a visit and we chatted about the congestion mitigation task force, for old times' sake.

"They're not studying the right thing," Marney said. He read the story in the paper about the new task force. He looked up and said, "Gradually it hits you. It's not going to change, is it?"

After a decade of activism in Atlanta's transportation world, Marney has this to say: "The biggest thing that's changed is that so little is getting done."

A few minutes after he left, he called on his cell phone. The DOT was running a ramp meter test on the Downtown Connector. Traffic was stopped cold. Marney was trapped.

"Karma fairy, please kick my ass!" he shouted into the phone.

Senior Editor Doug Monroe wrote 1,000 columns about traffic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the 1990s. You can contact what's left of his brain at doug.monroe@creativeloafing.com??