Early darkness commutes have seen more delays in the 6 p.m. hour than normal, with trip times in many areas actually increasing. AJC file photo

Gridlock Guy: Leave earlier to avoid traffic time shift

‘Tis the season for cliches. We haven’t even had a long enough time to stew over pumpkin spice flavorings and now the elongated holiday season is upon us. The run up to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s undoubtedly conjures up some of the year’s worst traffic. This is especially true in the evenings around busy shopping sectors. Malls are close to freeways and offices, freeways are jammed, and more people are working before end-of-year vacations. One other x-factor that poisons the PM drive well is the recent time change.

The one-hour-earlier sunset throws traffic for a loop — and not just on I-285. This first week in early darkness has seen more delays in the 6 p.m. hour than normal, with trip times in many areas actually increasing. Usually the rush hour begins to tame after 6:30. But this late push of delays is now a normal pattern each year when Daylight Saving Time ends. Traffic gets worse as people adjust to driving greater distances in the darkness.

Why is this pattern a phenomenon? Undoubtedly the change in bio rhythms makes people act differently. The change in lighting contrast means that emergency lights look brighter, so people are more reactive and slow down more. Brake lights are also brighter in the dark, so a slowdown ahead could cause motorists to slow down earlier, because they seem them sooner.

That may not be a bad thing.

Something to consider is that almost any kind of change in this bad Atlanta traffic causes more bad Atlanta traffic. Any kind of rain causes more delays and crashes. We saw that multiple times this week. Too much sun in extremely clear skies can have the same effect. Lane shifts in construction zones (looking at you, I-75 in Cobb), cause delays. The change to Daylight Saving Time in the spring, which means AM drive stays darker, longer, and brings out the traffic boogeymen. So, naturally, the change back on the time would cause this crawling bedlam.

There aren’t good alternates when most major roads are moving slowly. So the best policy for avoiding the extra backups is to change your own pattern. Traffic in the 3 p.m. hour seems to have been a bit better since the time change. And the 4 and 5 p.m. hours feel the same as before. Leaving earlier from work or running errands slightly earlier could save you from the gridlock after dark. If you have the option to shop earlier or shift your hours, earlier is better. Or you can wait until nearly 8 o’clock, when most of the delays have subsided.

Since transportation options in Atlanta are limited, the best policy is to change your own. Fall is routinely the worst season on Atlanta’s roads for the reasons stated above. In any traffic cataclysm, an Atlanta driver’s best option is to fake out the others. And if shifting hours earlier or later isn’t an option, then please be patient. Cut people some breaks, don’t block intersections and pay full attention to your surroundings. When we can’t control our surroundings, let’s at least do our best to make others’ surroundings better and increase our odds of getting home in one piece, too.

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Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at doug.turnbull@coxinc.com