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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

What are they thinking?

You see photos like this one in New Orleans all the time when places are evacuating ahead of hurricanes--bumper-to-bumper traffic hardly moving away from the storm, practically empty lanes heading in. Why haven't the cops turned most of the inbound lanes to outbound? Traffic regularly gets switched to the opposite side of freeways for construction; why they can't do that in an emergency baffles me. They could even turn the entire freeway into a one-way, requiring any inbound traffic, with a good reason, to use minor highways and surface streets. People leaving could get on the freeway using the exit ramps.

Also, they should be regulating the traffic for maximum throughput, which I think occurs at around 35 miles per hour (at higher speeds, the between-car spacing has to grow quickly for safety, actually reducing the total throughput). Having the cars crawling along at 5 mph means fewer cars will be able to get out in the time remaining, not to mention using large amounts of gasoline at a time when it is likely to be scarce (in this case, I mean just in the short term, during and after the storm), and probably causing a number of the cars in the traffic to run out of gas, making the congestion even worse. They could have done something using license plate numbers or something--numbers ending in 1 could enter the freeway between 1 and 2 pm, and so on. Or better, base it on number of occupants, with those having the highest number allowed on first. This would encourage the SUV drivers to pick up as many people as they could before hitting the road. In ten hours, everyone driving out could probably have evacuated at a reasonable speed. Instead, people are spending ten hours in traffic jams.

Maybe I'm missing something, but it sure seems like the disaster preparedness people should have thought this out a long time ago.