• A Few Transportation Observations.

    In the coming months, I'll tackle the issue of Birmingham's "civic anemia," but with other current state and national news coming in, it's been a bit hard to focus on one single issue.

    Meanwhile, I've made a few observations about a couple of major southern cities I've had the pleasure of living in, plus one semi-major city. It's the roadway network and how southern cities tend to be laid out. It's also about how such networks affect traffic flow and how they encourage or deter gridlock.

    Atlanta is a poster child of Southeastern civic planning, in regards to how the roads are laid out. Outside of the immediate city core, it all goes straight to hell quickly -- the road grid disappears in favor of meandering roads that lead to places unintended and parts unknown. The road network frustrated me to no end the first couple of weeks after my arrival.

    In comparison, Birmingham is logically well-thought out, with a northeast-to-southwest grid network that defines the downtown area and most of the neighborhoods around it. The grid ceases to be once you leave the city proper.

    Huntsville, Alabama also qualifies as a city with something resembling a semi-sane grid network. It also helps that everything is laid out in a fairly understandable east-west layout -- the major thoroughfares are fairly straight with very little meandering, and they tend to border and confine the otherwise winding suburban neighborhood streets.

    Another thing I've noticed about all three cities is the traffic light system setup, from the perspective of the average motorist. Most parts of Huntsville and Atlanta have "smart" traffic light systems, with loop detectors that gauge the number of vehicles at a standstill and how long they've been there, making it possible for traffic lights to give a line of vehicles at a turning lane light the go ahead if there's little to no oncoming traffic. Birmingham, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have "smart" lights -- the current traffic light system in most areas rely on timers, possibly interrupting the flow of traffic during peak hours. A lot of these traffic lights don't even have dedicated lights for the turning lanes.

    Without the loop detectors, you're at the mercy of the light's timers. And if the lights are timed wrong, that usually results in traffic jams galore during high volume hours. This is something that U.S. Route 280 commuters in metro Birmingham always complain about, among other things. Given the sheer buildup of retail businesses along that corridor, gridlock becomes a facet of life during those peak hours. U.S. Route 72 from the outskirts of Huntsville to Limestone County has that same problem, further aggravated by the transition of the highway at the Madison city limit from a wide 6-lane thoroughfare with a central turning lane to a 4-lane divided highway. And there are relatively few east-west options that aren't similarly crowded or time-consuming to take.

    Atlanta suffers from that same east-west problem inside the perimeter -- all east-west options I've taken so far are surface streets that go through residential areas at slow speeds or meandering roads that actually take you northeast of your destination. Avoiding the traffic that inevitably builds up on the Interstates is an exercise in patience and perseverance.

    If you want to know more about these streets, Freeway Jim's YouTube videos are a great way of getting acquainted with the byways and highways of these southern cities.