Drivers’ mob mentality: Beat the mob

Five minutes after the first snow flakes fell outside her Roswell office, Renee Schlosberg packed up and hit the road for home. She knew traffic would be bad, but, hey, she’s a metro Atlantan. She’s traffic-tough.

“You can’t live around here and not know how to deal with it,” said the 55-year-old market researcher. In the face of disaster, she said, only one rule applies: “You need to leave. Get out. Get out now.”

Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of metro Atlantans were thinking exactly the same way Tuesday. So Schlosberg’s trip from Roswell to Kennesaw robbed her of 12 hours of her life.

A debacle of these proportions usually involves a confluence of factors. In this case, one huge contributor was the snap decision of innumerable drivers to plunge into a rapidly evolving traffic mess.

“They acted automatically, rather than with foresight,”said Michael Rodgers, a Georgia Tech transportation researcher, even as the evidence mounted that it would be a very nasty commute.

Of course, many people had few, if any, options. They had children they needed to pick up from schools that had released them early, or other, similarly pressing demands.

But others might have spent a more pleasant day and night if they had taken the time to consider other options, Rodgers said. They might have thought to check into a hotel with a group of co-workers, for instance.

Instead, he speculated, long, weary experience has probably made metro Atlanta commuters even more resigned to sitting in traffic than other city folk.

“Atlantans are conditioned to accept delays,” he said. “They’re probably willing to stick it out longer than other places.”

Up to a point.

Like Schlosberg, Norcross High School librarian Buffy Hamilton hit the road as fast as possible once the snow began — after about 20 minutes, in her case.

“I figured I’d just get ahead of whatever it was and get home safely,” said Hamilton, 42. In a nutshell, she thought, as she always thinks about her commute: “How can I outsmart the mob?”

Her 11-hour trip home to Canton took her through deeper and deeper levels of commuter hell. She spent two hours traveling just a few miles on State Bridge Road in north Fulton. Then things got worse.

As the hours wore on, urgency turned to patience, which turned to disbelief, anger and, with cars around her sometimes sliding perilously on the ice, plain fear. Someone tried to pass her and rear-ended her car in Alpharetta. The final stretch was measured in inches.

In retrospect, does she think she should have taken more time to assess the situation and weigh her options? Hardly. That would have only made matters worse, she said. The traffic would have solidified, as well as the ice on the roads.

For her, the lesson is clear, she said: “If there’s any chance, I’d leave earlier.”

Her and how many other drivers? Schlosberg, for one.

“It’s part of the game,” Schlosberg said. “You got to beat it.”