Gridlock Guy: Shortages affecting commutes — patience required

July 23, 2021: Cobb County:  The driver of a Tesla was killed Friday morning, July 23,2021 after he lost control of the vehicle on I-285, slammed into a median and was hit after walking onto the interstate. Two other vehicles were involved in the chain-reaction wreck, but their drivers were not injured, according to Cobb County police. An investigation shut down the northbound lanes for nearly four hours and caused extreme delays through Smyrna and Vinings during the morning commute. Cobb police were called to the scene shortly after 4:30 a.m., department spokeswoman Officer Shenise Barner said in a news release. “According to investigators, a black 2021 Tesla Model 3 was traveling east on I-285 approaching the exit to Cobb Parkway when the driver lost control of the vehicle, causing the Tesla to collide with the median retaining barrier,” she said. “The Tesla was then redirected back into the lanes of travel, where it came to rest sideways across the lanes facing south.” It was not clear what caused the driver, identified by police as 29-year-old Vivek Iyer of Atlanta, to lose control, or if the self-driving feature was turned on. He was out of his vehicle when a Dodge Ram pickup truck hit the side of the Tesla, Barner said. The Ram was then rear-ended by a Toyota Rav4. “The Toyota was redirected to the north, where it then collided with the driver of the Tesla, who was still in the travel lanes,” Barner said. Iyer was pronounced dead at the scene. The crash remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact traffic investigators at 770-499-3987. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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July 23, 2021: Cobb County: The driver of a Tesla was killed Friday morning, July 23,2021 after he lost control of the vehicle on I-285, slammed into a median and was hit after walking onto the interstate. Two other vehicles were involved in the chain-reaction wreck, but their drivers were not injured, according to Cobb County police. An investigation shut down the northbound lanes for nearly four hours and caused extreme delays through Smyrna and Vinings during the morning commute. Cobb police were called to the scene shortly after 4:30 a.m., department spokeswoman Officer Shenise Barner said in a news release. “According to investigators, a black 2021 Tesla Model 3 was traveling east on I-285 approaching the exit to Cobb Parkway when the driver lost control of the vehicle, causing the Tesla to collide with the median retaining barrier,” she said. “The Tesla was then redirected back into the lanes of travel, where it came to rest sideways across the lanes facing south.” It was not clear what caused the driver, identified by police as 29-year-old Vivek Iyer of Atlanta, to lose control, or if the self-driving feature was turned on. He was out of his vehicle when a Dodge Ram pickup truck hit the side of the Tesla, Barner said. The Ram was then rear-ended by a Toyota Rav4. “The Toyota was redirected to the north, where it then collided with the driver of the Tesla, who was still in the travel lanes,” Barner said. Iyer was pronounced dead at the scene. The crash remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact traffic investigators at 770-499-3987. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

We’ve extensively covered the effects that COVID-19 has had on commuting in metro Atlanta, both good and bad. Virus shut downs wiped out many predictable traffic backups, but also opened a void for super-speeders to spectacularly wreck and endanger surrounding drivers.

The return of traffic, mixed with virtual working and schooling, created far less predictable traffic delay patterns. And the lighter load on the roads, combined with fears of contracting the virus, saw MARTA and other mass transit ridership plummet.

Even though teleworking is far more prominent than two years ago, people haven’t stopped driving. In fact, traffic is worse in middays and on weekends than it used to be, as, among other things, people run errands during lunch breaks and squeeze in recreational activities.

Though omicron cases are surging right now, Georgians are not in spring 2020 “Hunker Down” mode. Cars, pedestrians, bikes — the streets are alive. When any of these experience errors, delays amass.

Given the butterfly effect of the labor and supply shortage, commuting now demands even more patience.

As part of my traffic job on 95.5 WSB, we listen to emergency radio scanners and interact with 911 dispatchers around the clock. We hear their frustration, as certain jurisdictions regularly have “calls pending” piling high. We experience the long phone waits to talk to operators, as many do.

First responders are feeling the effect of the labor shortage, both from the virus’ spread and “The Great Resignation.” Add in the egress of police officers and the problem has been tough for departments to overcome.

Take these obstacles into account when making decisions behind the wheel. Even a small mistake can cause big-time havoc and delays. And part of the cause of the jams is the potential delayed response from police or med units. The virus has, at times, also highly impacted the HERO operator staff, meaning there are sometimes fewer neon-yellow trucks helping keep the freeways clear.

Not only should these response shortages influence our proficiency and decision-making behind the wheel or on foot, but they also should affect our expectations. If traffic problems potentially take longer to clear, then our fuses might need lengthening.

Taking transit also requires even more patience these days. While MARTA has got some bold initiatives in place, including unveiling the look of its new 254 rail cars that they will phase in over the next seven years, COVID has made the road rocky. The agency had to scale back the majority of bus routes because of staff shortages and low ridership. MARTA’s vaccine mandate also caused the termination of dozens of bus operators who refused the shot.

The WSB Traffic Team and I have noticed MARTA’s Twitter account lately showing many missed trips and rail delays because of sick passengers on trains. MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher said she hasn’t noticed a large number of those types of problems lately, but those issues do require a thorough response.

“Typically, when there is a sick passenger that delays or cancels a trip it’s because of bodily fluids that need to be cleaned up and the vehicle sanitized,” Fisher told the AJC and 95.5 WSB. “If they become ill, they are assisted and medical services are called, and other passengers are removed from the vehicle. The bus or train is then taken out of service so it can be properly cleaned and sanitized before it’s returned. If an operator becomes ill during a shift, they notify their supervisor and an operator is sent to relieve them so they can receive medical attention. This can cause the delay or cancellation of a trip as well.”

Masks are required on MARTA, but passengers aren’t tested for the virus. Thus, Fisher couldn’t confirm whether these recent sick calls had anything to do with the virus surge or not.

There is also a major shortage in truck drivers and there has been since before the pandemic. Longtime truck driver, industry safety advocate and all around good guy Herschel Evans says that the shortage isn’t affecting driver-quality like some surrounding motorists may suspect.

Drivers do get overtime, but there are strict hours restrictions in place to keep them sharp. And while the average experience level in the industry may be dropping, Evans says that new drivers are getting better training than the old guard and are even more prepared to enter the force.

All of that said, motorists around semi-trailers need to practice far more common sense. Erratic moves around 18-wheelers are often the cause for major truck wrecks. Big rigs just can’t stop on a dime and cutting them off has major consequences.

Patience is a virtue at any time, but it’s worth meditating upon and enacting during the shortages that impact many of life’s facets, including commutes. First responder-shortages increase the clearance time for wrecks. So let’s try hard to cause less of those, eh? Less bus routes and delayed trains require even more planning and wiggle room for MARTA trips. And one bad move near a tractor trailer can spell both calamity and traffic jams.

This message may get old, but everyone in a commuting environment contributes to it. We all need to work together - and patiently - to wade through the latest challenges.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.