Yesterday, I spent two hours sitting in a courtroom alongside more than 60 other Atlanta residents, a segment of them facing charges of sexual solicitation and possession. I was there because I had committed perhaps the gravest sin of all — I had come to a rolling stop while driving on a residential road in Candler Park around midday.
As if this weren’t frustrating enough, I was late to my court appearance because it took me an hour to drive to my home in North Druid Hills from Emory’s campus — normally a 15-minute commute — because two lanes were closed on Clairmont Road as roadwork smartly took place near the intersection during rush hour.
Collectively, these events not only made me realize how poorly organized the roads and traffic court are in Atlanta, but they led me to wonder why there aren’t other options and why our public transportation is so sorely lacking compared to other metropolitan areas.
A map of Manhattan shows a grid of organized, intersecting roads that are easily numbered and named. A map of downtown Atlanta, on the other hand, looks like a puzzle haphazardly assembled by a grumpy 5-year-old, with sporadic sections of grids thrown together at random angles.
And the streets are difficult to navigate — try driving down West Peachtree. One would pass 5th Street, 6th Street, 7th Street, Abercrombie Place and 8th Street. Apparently, the 5-year-old who put together the map of Atlanta wasn’t much for the “which one of these is not like the others” game either.
Together, all these points make Atlanta a confusing place to drive. Rush hours — all nine of them, daily — are infamously awful, roads are continually being repaved or expanded because they desperately need it, and God knows no Atlantan can drive when it’s snowing or raining.
And it’s not hard to get pulled over in Atlanta, especially now that the city has received another 139 police officers as of September, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.
The police in Atlanta have fallen into such patterns that stereotypes and jokes abound — the end of the month is nicknamed “heat week” for supposedly being when the police are most vigilant about pulling drivers over, and Decatur cops are uniformly disliked. More dire causes aside, one reason for that is not surprising — I’m sure we’re all happy that our tax dollars are paying for the task force to park on the side of a road keeping vigil over a stop sign when the city has a rate of 139 violent crimes per 10,000 people.
And if you do get pulled over, you’ll have to go sit in a crowded court room, waiting up to two hours before you speak to the judge in a full-scale legal proceeding — because apparently, in the eyes of the Municipal Court, running a stop sign on Ponce is just as offensive as trying to pick up a prostitute there.
Traffic court needs brutal reorganization in Atlanta — all cases should be handled in recorder’s court, on an individual basis. As a full-time student with a part-time job, I didn’t have the time to sit on a bench for over two hours listening to other appeals before I could simply state my name to the judge, hand in my plea and walk out again.
It’s not just a problem of Atlanta roads or Atlanta police or Atlanta traffic court though. It’s also a problem with public transportation. In such a large, spread-out city with over 6 million people, it doesn’t make sense that the extent of our public transportation is essentially two lines that don’t take you anywhere — having lived in Atlanta for 6 years, I’ve taken the MARTA train at least 200 times, and yet I’ve only ever used seven stops. And anyone who knows MARTA can tell stories about waiting 40 minutes for a transfer or a bus breaking down (or crazies screaming at an old lady, as popularized and immortalized by YouTube).
Even though we are in the middle of a recession, the city still needs to search for options — expanding public transportation can only be a plus in the future. An efficient system for public transportation would cut the traffic problem in Atlanta in half, and it would help promote the city as a bigger tourist destination. But until then, I suppose we’ll just have to go with the flow of the traffic — as if we had any other choice.
Asst. Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College sophomore from Atlanta.