Atlanta's traffic mess: Readers offer 'magic wand' solutions

A lot of folks talk about the weather or high school sports. But we in metro Atlanta have another favorite subject: our world-class traffic mess.

Earlier this week, we asked how you'd fix Atlanta traffic if you could wave a magic wand. Oh, boy, did you want to talk.

We received about 330 emailed responses within a few days – some short and to the point, others lengthy and detailed. Others shared their thoughts on social media. Clearly, a lot of people wish they had a magic wand.

We’re still reading all the responses, but some common themes have emerged. Expanding MARTA, building another interstate bypass and encouraging telework and flexible work schedules are all popular ideas. Widening existing roads, better traffic enforcement and encouraging more dense, urban-style development also have plenty of support. A few folks would simply use their magic wand to make a lot of people and vehicles disappear. The most entertaining solution so far? Ziplines!

Below is a selection of the responses. We’ll publish another batch next week.

Atlanta just needs to bite the bullet and build an underground subway system that extends out to the major suburbs. Expensive? Yes! Would it improve the traffic problem? Yes! - Yvette Quisling, Duluth 

I would like to see a true bypass of Atlanta, whereby all who have no reason to stop in Atlanta, but are merely traveling north to south or vice versa, can proceed on their journey without contributing to the problem. That would leave the local roads for goods and services, people going to and from work, and allow residents to move about more freely. People who WANTED to go to Atlanta would not be affected by someone travelling from Florida to Wisconsin. This true bypass could be a toll road that has VERY limited access, to help prevent growth around it. I have regularly seen the day where I would pay $5 just to get the heck away from Atlanta, especially at rush hour. My trauma of this is so strong, I will sometimes take U.S. 27 which is way out of my way, to alleviate the stress of having to go thru Atlanta on my way to Florida. - Larry Ryan, Adairsville 

Get your butt on a bus and let a professional handle the traffic. We can't build our way out of this.

Seriously, when I worked, I took MARTA every day. I could read, study, do puzzles, or work on crafts. I arrived at work or at home refreshed instead of boiling mad at the traffic.

We need to do everything possible to get people to use public transportation. - Rhonda D. Wright, Brookhaven 

If you really want to solve Atlanta's traffic problems, do away with the emissions check and bring back what they use to do in the 60's and 70's, and that is require auto inspections. The emissions inspection is BS. But when you have cars on the road that do not have working brake lights, turn signals, windshield wipers, headlights or bald tires, then you have serious problems that can cause more traffic issues because of unsafe automobiles. - Larry Benator, Peachtree Corners 

Take two lanes from all of 285, parts of 75, parts of 85 and parts of 400, and convert them to MARTA rail lines with stations at key intersections. Partly fund this change by implementing a congestion tax to drive into the city. Take part of the driving tax and part of the MARTA fare to purchase residential easements and build out a larger pedestrian and bicycling system, following rivers and creeks, where the landscape is shaded and flatter. Create an attractive GA tax refund or credit for alternative commuter costs: bicycles, running shoes, locker rental, bicycle maintenance and accessories, MARTA fare, etc. Speed up the adoption of self-driving cars that communicate with each other, lessening collisions and optimizing traffic patterns. - Christopher Dusack, Marietta 

I would expand MARTA train services to the entire Atlanta MSA. No county will be able to opt out. I would also like to create destination centers for mass transit depot stations. These centers will have a park like feel while providing riders and the community an opportunity to buy snacks or grab a light meal. This will also be a great space for new vendors to introduce community to their business. I will also favor working with companies to adopt more flexible work schedules. I also would work with MARTA to allow a large company to buy MARTA passes in bulk at a discount to buying organization. Once a company purchased they can use it as a benefit and give to employees to encourage ridership or the company can sell at a reduced rate for its employees. Furthermore, I will use my wand to build up underserved communities, offering strong incentives for companies to relocate to underserved areas such as southwest Atlanta. The more large companies we have in the communities we live the less traffic we will have. - Avery McDougle, South Fulton 

There is only one solution to our traffic problems: mass transit! The three counties alone cannot be responsible for a mass transit system needed by the entire region. Making bigger roads that all lead to the same point does nothing but increase the chances of accidents and stresses us all out. Increasing the cost of parking will not encourage people to use MARTA because it simply does not go to enough places and it takes forever to get to the places it does service. If we could trade an hour-long car ride for a 30-minute train ride I have to believe people will do it. However, people outside of Atlanta must understand the importance of the situation. Atlanta is the economic engine that fuels the economy throughout the state. If the traffic situation continues to deteriorate it will not matter how large our airport is or how business friendly we are, our economic growth will cease. Not just in Atlanta, but for the entire state. I hope our lawmakers reach that conclusion before it's too late. - Adam Long, Atlanta 

If I could wave my magic wand and solve Atlanta's traffic problem, I would poof away anybody that has moved to Atlanta in the last 12 months. WE FULL! - Jasmine Tillman, Atlanta 

If I had a magic wand, I'd magically materialize motivated police units to patrol the HOV lanes and just the HOV lanes. If every violator were pulled over and cited, I'm sure the city/state could generate enough revenue to expand MARTA to Savannah. - Danny Hong, Marietta 

I would greatly increase the public transportation infrastructure in metro Atlanta, with trains being the first priority along with buses. This would include mandatory participation of surrounding counties that feed into metro Atlanta such as Gwinnett. - Barbara Giuliano, Suwanee 

If I had a magic wand in ATL, I'd use it to implement "smart" traffic lights at all congested entrance and exit ramps in the area. 90% of all the traffic problems I observe are due to vehicular backups on exit ramps leading straight (or ultimately leading) to a traffic light that isn't "timed" correctly with the flow of traffic, or adjoining intersections. I believe looking to technological solutions such as this would provide a more immediate relief to the morning and afternoon commute, as well as large sporting events. - Ryan Lewis, Decatur 

Atlanta’s traffic mess developed over a long time because of many things. It’ll take a collective, very strong effort in order to change the status quo. Some quick thoughts:

1. Don’t punish people who *must* drive to work (like the suggestion to increase parking costs).

2. Learn from others. Surely there are cities that face similar issues. Study them, and figure out what’s worked and what hasn’t.

3. STOP APPROVING NEW DEVELOPMENT without corresponding improvements to our infrastructure!!! - Alison Jones, Vinings 

My solution is to build a tunnel underneath the connector and to have through-traffic use the tunnel, while cars planning to exit the connector in the downtown areas use the surface connector.

A tunnel?? Why not?! On a recent trip around Austria, I witnessed and drove through countless tunnels all around the country. They were built to avoid roads running up and down mountains and to bypass small towns. If Austria can afford to build dozens of tunnels, why can’t we?

I realize it would be expensive, would disrupt traffic during the building phase, and would take time to complete. But I also believe that the current gridlock is costing our economy millions every day as drivers waste precious time, as people miss flights or other important appointments, and as our citizens’ health suffers from so much stress driving on our roads. I am sure there are many other measurable ill effects.

Something visionary and effective must be done! - Angelika Pohl, Decatur 

Here's what I think that would look like:

1. More MARTA stops. My wife works in Buckhead and catches the MARTA at East Point, gets dropped off in Buckhead, but then catches a shuttle that takes her to work because the MARTA stop is not close enough. If her job didn't provide the shuttle, she probably would be driving. I like the GRTA option where people can park in the metro areas and have the bus go straight downtown. However, there needs to be more MARTA stops available once you get downtown and midtown. If there were more MARTA stops, my wife would probably just catch the bus and get on MARTA once downtown.

2. Expand MARTA to more metro areas or, at least, around the perimeter. I know this would be a huge undertaking (and that the initiative failed a few years ago), but I think that would be a real long-term solution that would provide the best options for people. I think that we'll eventually realize that we need a New York-type subway system. Maybe we could create more MARTA stations, with parking, closer to downtown but just on the outskirts (near the Perimeter) - instead of all the way into the metro areas.

3. Better enforce the HOV lanes. I think we all know that many people cheat on the HOV lanes, which causes it to get backed up whenever there is an accident or congestion. Maybe we could figure out a way to really restrict those lanes to the faithful people who abide by the rules. - Anthony Dean, Morrow 

Government should legislate that outlying counties support MARTA rails to their neighborhoods; buses are only a partial answer for these areas. These suburban areas are a part of the metro area and should be made to fully support MARTA. Atlanta cannot rise to world class standards without having transit that adequately extends to all of the metro area. Atlanta needs a rail system that equals and even rivals New York's subway system. - Madeleine Farrell, Decatur

If I had a magic wand I would build public transportation throughout the entire state. From Atlanta to Augusta, to Athens, to all major universities. The state would have an efficient train system combined with buses and shuttles for smaller connecting roads. In the suburbs every subdivision would have a bike station. People could run close errands on them. - Marie Vidal, Sugar Hill 

Ban ALL vehicles over 8 wheels from using I-285 from 6-10 a.m. and 2-6 p.m. (keeping in mind all the wrecks involving tractor trailers during these hours). Also, do like Washington, D.C., and disallow any more parking lots to open inside 285 and triple the current rates of the present lots, forcing workers to take mass transportation. - Bill Cranford, Marietta 

I would solve the traffic problem by using light rail connecting to the end of all MARTA train lines. Light rails that look like the street car downtown Atlanta. These trains would connect to major locations that people hang out in the different counties. For example, a light rail train could connect to Indian Creek Train Station and connect to Stonecrest Mall. People would flock to use it. A light rail could connect to Stone Mountain Park, Downtown Roswell, etc. - Kadesch Blackshear, Lithonia

I would like to see the outer perimeter completed so that all traffic doesn't have to go through downtown ATL (including all those trucks). I'd also like to see Light rail extend to Gwinnett County (like to Mall of GA). Unfortunately, the deal that was floated this year was a terrible one and didn't focus on light rail. - Kristen Lindenmayer, Duluth

If we had a magic wand, why not build tunnels under the city for I-85, I-75, and I-20 in both directions? They would act as rapid transit lanes for regional travelers and truckers to bypass Atlanta surface streets - vastly reducing congestion. In fact, we already have the technology to do so. The longest underground tunnel is the Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps. It is longer than we would need and cost $9 billion in 2016. If we had 6 of them, it would still cost half of the "MARTA Moonshot" $100 billion. - Tony Hotle, Peachtree Corners 

I'd explore eminent domain to widen several cross-town roads from single lane to multi-lane. I've lived in both Los Angeles and Tampa and noticed how Atlanta does not have any big multi-lane cross-town boulevards comparable to Olympic and Pico (LA) or Dale Mabry Hwy (Tampa). There's currently too few major boulevards to relieve the pressure of traffic coming off the connector, 400 or 20. - Kevin Cohen, Atlanta

1. Have enough lanes for Peach Pass Express Lanes for travel in both directions all day everyday along all interstates in the metro area.

2. Have lanes designated for thru traffic. Cars enter these lanes outside the perimeter with no exits or entrances and deposit them on the opposite side of the Perimeter. (I75 I85 I20 only)

3. Limit number of exists in a mile to 2.

4. Build a light rail system that will actually take people where they want to go. - Mark Butler, Vidalia

To fix Atlanta's growing traffic problem, I would use my magic wand to create a second ring road or "Outer Loop" that is 20 to 35 miles out from the 285 ring road. A significant amount of the current 285 truck traffic is just passing through Atlanta to some other destination. Creating toll lanes to reduce traffic only favors those with the means to pay and does nothing to reduce the wear on the 285 road bed from the heavy truck load that will continue to use it. In addition to greatly reducing the truck traffic on 285, this 'second ring' would allow many privately owned vehicles the opportunity to bypass Atlanta on their way to other destinations further reducing traffic congestion and wear. Because Atlanta is so late in creating an "Outer Loop" there will be some added costs to get the land needed, but these costs could be quickly offset by new development from private businesses along the new roadway. - John Kernan, Dunwoody

The wand should be waved over those who believe there is a solution to the problem and have them realize that there is none. Drive safely, buckle up and keep your eyes on the road. - George Ross, Dahlonega

Ziplines everywhere! We build the world's largest network of ziplines. We start small, with simple routes in midtown and downtown such as Bank of America building, 38th floor to AT&T building, 18th floor. We slowly expand, connecting more office buildings and apartments until BAM! We go straight across the connector to the west side!! Suddenly, businessmen and businesswomen are zooming through the skies with utter grace and efficiency, ties and skirts flapping in the wind. The streets empty as the average ATLien finds his/her transportation needs being wholly and completely satisfied by hooking onto a zipline and ZOOMING into the open air. Being found on the ground, either in a car, bus, or on foot, will automatically label you as a social pariah in the eyes of your airborne neighbors.

We expand into Buckhead, building skyscrapers and launch towers along the way for each MARTA train stop and each highway exit. Then a network of smaller ziplines will naturally grow outward from there. Let's say you work at Georgia Pacific in downtown, but you want to go to the Braves game at 7:05pm aaaaaallllll the way up in Vinings. You're screwed, right? WRONG! Simply hook in to your rooftop zipline, don your ziplining helmet, and take the Northbound Breezeway to the I285 West Aerial Loop and you'll be there in no time.

What's the best part about ziplining? Is it the feeling of flying through the sky? Is it the freeing sensation of zooming over Atlanta gridlock without a care in the world? Or is it the satisfaction of knowing that, with a robust metropolitan zipline system, you can arrive at any destination ITP in minutes with ZERO CARBON FOOTPRINT?

You said magic wand, and a magic wand I shall have. The future is ziplines, and the future is now. - Mike Hutchins, Smyrna