Gridlock Guy: Traffic musings after a week in Germany and Turkey

Doug Turnbull (left), his wife Momo (right), and her mom Ulrike Lesser (middle) pose during the season's first snow in Bad Liebenstein, Germany on December 10, 2022. DOUG TURNBULL / WSB TRIPLE TEAM TRAFFIC

Credit: Doug Turnbull

Credit: Doug Turnbull

Doug Turnbull (left), his wife Momo (right), and her mom Ulrike Lesser (middle) pose during the season's first snow in Bad Liebenstein, Germany on December 10, 2022. DOUG TURNBULL / WSB TRIPLE TEAM TRAFFIC

Unplugging from Atlanta traffic for a few days was a welcome respite, though I followed the horrendous commutes the week of December 5th that heavy rain helped cause. My wife, Momo, and I bookended a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, with time to see her family and friends in the German dual village of Barchfeld-Immelborn, two hours outside of Frankfurt.

All the ferrying back and forth between airports in both countries, along with all the time walking miles a day in Istanbul, netted several insights about commuting.

Snow days are not stress days in Germany

The thought of snow in Atlanta brings a twinge of excitement but then a deluge of dread for many who have to commute on days with winter weather threats. But, as we often have discussed here, Atlanta isn’t supposed to be over-prepared for these events. Snow and ice happen so infrequently in Georgia, especially south of the mountains, that maintaining a proper amount of snow plows and other clearing equipment would be impractical.

Momo and I were fortunate to be in Germany for the season’s first snow in her home region. It was gorgeous. And I didn’t have to pack a backpack with three changes of clothes to go spend the night at a radio station, adding to the serene grandeur in the countryside.

In our short drives in the nearby villages we saw snow plows out at all different times of the day. And we encountered only one stretch of untreated roads — a small stretch right before an autobahn entrance ramp. But the snow was light enough and the tire tracks clear enough that we never lost traction.

Crash-fault sometimes is truly 50/50

In midst of our first of four two-hour commutes between Frankfurt and Barchfeld-Immelborn, we saw two cars crash right as we left a gas station. A man waiting to turn left nosed his Audi just a bit into the bigger road. An oncoming woman in a Mercedes didn’t even slow down — granted, the car wasn’t moving very fast — and nailed the Audi’s left-front wheel and fender.

Despite my profession, seeing a crash actually occur is still a rare thing for me. We stopped and waited until police arrived, in case they needed witnesses.

As Momo and I discussed the collision, we agreed both drivers could have prevented the crash. The Audi, who had likely edged ahead to be able to see other cars better, should not have. And the Mercedes should have been paying closer attention, slowed down, and steered clear.

The crash was a glancing blow and the damage likely repairable, but a normal Saturday night went in the trash can because two drivers made small mistakes.

Traffic in Istanbul is wild, but the choices are vast

Our four-night, three-day stay in Istanbul was rich and righteous. We decided we wanted both to soak in the city and get great exercise, so we navigated both the old and new parts of the city on foot, averaging more than seven miles per day.

Istanbul is jam-packed with business, basically. From the hot tourist sites like the Hagia Sofia and the Grand Bazaar, to the hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops, to every kind of store, every ounce of space offers something new to see.

For those who are able-bodied, nearly everything is in walking distance.

But there are numerous other affordable modes of transit: street-level trams, ferries, trains, buses. People without cars can get around both Istanbul and other parts Turkey with a buffet of mass transit options. I used most of those modes in my 2015 Turkey trip.

Because the city is so walkable, we elected not to rent a car. Our hotel shuttle to and from Sabiha Gokcen Airport, on the Asian side of the vast metropolis, encountered traffic jams both in the early morning and at night, each outside of our normal Atlanta rush-hour times.

We noticed how alert drivers needed to be while we walked Istanbul’s sinuous street. People had to constantly give way for the street-top tram. Drivers finding an address on a street crammed with a hundred businesses need both eyes locked in. And while making a sharp turn, there easily could be a shopkeeper with a hand truck of pomegranate boxes crisscrossing with a delivery cyclist and dodging a standing taxi.

The chances for calamity in such a circus are numerous, but that danger also forces drivers to shed distractions and focus on the precious task at hand.

In any bustling city, no amount of mass-transit options will eliminate vehicular traffic delays. Those vessels are necessary so that gridlock doesn’t get worse. The true sweet spot for commuting is multimodal, creating enough safeway for bikes, scooters, pedestrians, automobiles, buses, trams, and trains in midst of the bustle.

Istanbul has all of that.


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.

About the Author