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The Four-Way Stop, Merging onto GA-400 and Courtesy in Traffic

Something that has always puzzled me about Atlanta traffic is how we are courteous when we shouldn’t be and rude when we should be courteous. Here is how I see this paradox manifest itself.

The Four Way Stop

“It is your turn to drive to lunch,” I say to my co-worker as we leave our cubicles and head toward the parking lot. “Nope. There are four way stops on the way to that restaurant. You’re driving.”

Yeah, I have co-workers who are deliberate in avoiding four way stops. I can sorta understand this. The four way stop is perhaps the worst traffic control device ever. The idea is simple; first to the intersection is the first to go through. Ties go to the person on the right. The problem with four way stops is that people are too damn nice! Often I find that the first person will kindly wave another driver through, out of turn. This creates confusion because that driver is following the rules and is waiting. There is a hesitation. Eventually the friendly driver starts to timidly enter the intersection at the same time the other driver races into it. They both stop and say four letter words to themselves. Meanwhile traffic is backing up behind them.

Merging onto GA-400

Contrast this to merging onto the highway during a busy time. There is no room for courtesy here. If traffic is moving at all, people will speed up to close gaps so you can’t merge. Other times a merge lane is hopelessly crowded such that traffic is backing up onto surface streets.

In traffic there is a time for courtesy and there is a time for being expeditious. Know when to do each! Four way stops are simple. Keep alert for other drivers, knowing when they stop. Look out for hidden Milton PD as well (they love to prowl four way stops). If none are present and you’re first, then Cali stop and take off! Also keep in mind that two drivers can be in the intersection at the same time if they are not crossing paths. Don’t hesitate, be confident and clear your car through these fast! Save your kind deeds for the merging madness.

Best Place to Live for an Atlanta IT Professional

I recently received the following e-mail from a reader…

One of the things my husband and I like about the Alpharetta area is the sheer number of jobs in the IT field, which we both work in, along with the reasonable cost of living.

Quick question .. we can only get up in that area on the weekends – a few years back my husband was there for a trip. He mentioned the traffic during the week was horrible. I know overall the traffic in the ATL can be a bit much — if you live in Alpharetta and commute to where most of the hi tech firms are – is it really that bad? We have lived in the DC area so we can handle traffic, but would rather not return to hour plus commutes.

Just wanted to pass along that I enjoy reading your blog so thanks!

Tricia

Thanks for the kind words, Tricia! Your e-mail fondly takes me back in time, long ago…

Cue the harp music and blurry mental images

…it was the late 1990′s, the heady days of the IT boom. If you could spell JAVA, you got a job. Crafty IT folk would land contract jobs for big bucks. It was common to start a new IT contract then get a better offer a few days later after running into someone at lunch. Those who stayed with a company got to play the stock option lottery for free. If you were lucky, your company (with no business plan and still in the red) would go public or get acquired. Hello liquidity event!

Cue the needle scratching on the record sound effect

Two recessions later, things are a little different. There are a hundred thousand Indian guys willing to do your job for ten rupees a day.

Oh wait, you wanted to talk about traffic and IT work. Sorry. Metro Atlanta has several geographic pockets of IT jobs. They are roughly located in…

  • Alpharetta (North Fulton)
  • Norcross (Duluth, Peachtree Corners)
  • Perimeter (Sandy Springs, Dunwoody)
  • Southeast Cobb County (Vinnings, Galleria area)
  • ITP (inside the perimeter, Buckhead, Midtown Atlanta)

I’m probably forgetting some, and that also doesn’t mean you can’t find a job somewhere else. I know IT people in Cherokee county, Gwinnett, etc. But as a general rule, these are where you’ll find the concentrations of IT jobs.

If you’re anticipating switching IT jobs every few years then I wouldn’t move to Alpharetta. As much as I like living here, I just don’t think it is ideal for commuting. Your best bet location-wise is the perimeter area, Dunwoody or Sandy Springs. You’re close to GA-400 and I-285, which can move you in any direction. You can go up 400 for Alpharetta or south for stuff in town. Scoot over to Peachtree Industrial if you want to head northeast into the Norcross area, or go west on the perimeter to the Cobb locations.

Don’t get me wrong, your commute is still likely to suck no matter which way you go. I just think that living at the perimeter will reduce your chances of having a truly horrendous commute somewhere. If you tried to commute from Alpharetta to Midtown or Vinnings everyday, you’d want to keep sharp objects out of your cubicle.

Also keep in mind that the surface roads at the perimeter are a mess. It will likely take you more than half your commute to get from home to the highway. But on the flip side, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs are decent places to live with good schools, places to eat, more nightlife options, etc.

I’m also like you in that Alpharetta attracted me because of the sheer number of IT jobs. If you look at my monthly job market posts, nearly every company on this list employs hundreds or thousands of IT people in Alpharetta. If you can land something fairly stable in Alpharetta then by all means settle down here! Take what I said above and ignore it all!

I kinda hope Bob Strader comments on this post. He’s a local realtor and blogger. I always appreciate what he has to say, especially for a topic like this.

Best of luck in your job hunt and move! Thanks again for the email.

If you have questions about Alpharetta or my blog, e-mail me at lee@rootsinalphareta.com or find me on twitter at http://twitter.com/rootsalpharetta

Beating Atlanta Traffic

I wish I had a silver bullet I could share, or some unheard of trick to beating traffic. I don’t. So the subject of this post is a little of a misnomer I guess. Maybe these are just general observations I’ve made after living here for a dozen years.

GA-400

I used to commute down 400 in a previous life/job. I believe the traffic situation here is a lot better than it used to be. That’s probably not a comfort to those fighting it these days. The widening effort of a few years ago has helped, but I think it just moved the bottleneck from Haynes Bridge north to McFarland.  In cases of major backup, GA-9 can be an alternative for limited distances.

Traffic Reports on the Radio

Practically worthless. Unless there is a traffic catastrophe, you’re better off tuning out Captain Herb et al. I’d suggest checking the Georgia Navigator website before you hit the interstates. Leave the radio off or put on something soothing to calm your road-raged nerves.

MARTA

More worthless than the traffic reports. Suburbanites know how much of a time killer MARTA truly is. And on top of that, we would never go sans auto for the entire day!

The most ridiculous part of MARTA is these park and ride lots. What a waste of real estate. So I’m supposed to get in my car, fight traffic to the Windward lot, get out and wait, hop a bus to North Springs, wait, then get on a train which will only take me most of the way to work? I don’t think so. MARTA ain’t smarta, its just plain stupid.

Surface Streets

Do not underestimate the amount of traffic you’ll face once leaving GA-400. I find this particularly true in Forsyth County where the number of four lane roads is very small. Forsyth is probably fifteen years behind north Fulton on road building and widening efforts.

Surface streets always broke up the monotony for me. It was like a game trying to find the quickest path from home to GA-400. My tip here is to look for “No Thru Trucks” signs. These signs should really say “hidden two lane road that leads somewhere else”.

Schools

Everyone knows traffic lets up in the summertime once school gets out. That first Monday of the summer break is beautiful. It is like Moses parting the GA-400 traffic. Speed limit drives in the morning! Hallelujah!

Watch the schools on the surface streets. You don’t want to be driving through active school zones. This is especially true on rainy days when every SUV in the county is waiting to turn left into the one school on your commute. If necessary, adjust your commute times to avoid schools.

East/West Commutes

I’m amazed at how many people commute east/west across the northern burbs. I work with a lot of people who live in Gwinnett or Cherokee and commute to Alpharetta. My best advice here is to watch the river! There are a limited number of places to cross the Chattahoochee River, many of which are still two lane roads. The “No Thru Trucks” trick ain’t gonna help you here! My advice… cross the river as far to the south as you can.

Best Way to Win is Not to Play

Beating Atlanta’s traffic is a myth. The best you can really hope for is to break up the monotony. My advice it to simply reduce or eliminate your commute all together. Easier said than done? Not really. I mentioned in a previous post that we choose where we live and we choose where we work. Don’t choose to have those far apart! If you think you’ve found the ideal location for work, then move closer. I live five miles from my Windward office and I love it! On the other hand, my father-in-law has worked for the same company in Lawrenceville for twenty years. He has commuted from Conyers, on surface roads, that entire time. This takes a tremendous toll after a while and I don’t know why we continue with it.

If you think you’ll be switching jobs every few years but will remain in Atlanta, you should live in Dunwoody or Sandy Springs. I believe this is the ideal spot for commuting. You’re within easy reach of downtown, midtown, Cobb, Gwinnett or North Fulton.

If you’re gonna move based on commute, do your homework! My wife and I once considered a neighborhood on McGinnis Ferry road. On the weekend we were house hunting, it seemed like a great location. Then I thought about 5:00 traffic. Turning left out of this neighborhood was impossible at rush hour. Before you get any house under contract, go visit the neighborhood during the morning commute!

Move Your Commute Times

Most companies that are even mildly progressive with their employee relations will let you adjust work hours. If you cannot move your job or home, this is your best alternative. Hitting GA-400 before sunrise, and again at 3:00 or so will all but insure you a speed limit drive. If this gets to be too much, then fall back to a more normal 8-to-5 commute once school lets out. Combine this with a semi-regular work-from-home regiment for maximum traffic busting!

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