Using the Internet to See the Traffic Mess in Atlanta in Real Time

Posted on January 31, 2014


Need to know what to pack, what route to take, or traffic conditions?  The information is probably at your fingertips.

Hubby’s Mom lives in Atlanta, which was pummeled by a rare snowstorm Tuesday night.  Over the phone, she told him how traffic was paralyzed everywhere in the city.   Just a few years ago, that phone call and maybe a news story or two with a couple of photos or a 10-second video clip would have been about all the news we would have had about the situation.  Not these days!

First, most news outlets, right down to the local level, are on the Internet today.  Want to know what’s going on in your hometown a thousand miles away?  The local paper probably has an online version.  Atlanta, being a major city, has plenty of press.

For weather just about anywhere, there’s the Weather Channel online.  Hometown?  Germany?  Russia?  They probably have the information.  Try it out!

Second, we can pull up traffic camera feeds on our computer monitors, and see real-time images of the roads. includes feeds from cameras in 36 states and counting.

And then, we can also pull up Google Maps, click “traffic,” and see how traffic is flowing:  green is normal, yellow indicates some slowdown, and red is a significant slowdown.  Red-and-black stripes are the worst – a virtual standstill.  Google accomplishes this real-time traffic display by compiling GPS data from drivers’ cell phones.  Google also inserts traffic symbols which, when clicked, provide information on conditions like construction, congestion, or accidents (I am a huge fan of radio traffic reports and CB radios, but Google Maps is something we always, always check before getting on the roads here in the DC area).

Well!  Much as we like hearing from Hubby’s Mom, we didn’t need her phone call or the next day’s press to tell us what a mess Atlanta was on Tuesday night.  Google Maps showed us that Atlanta was the reddest, blackest, most messed-up spot in the US:


That image tracks well with the swath of bad weather shown on CNN’s weather radar image, pulled from CNN’s online site:


Here’s a closer look at the city’s traffic flow just after midnight, on Wednesday morning:


And a look at the online traffic cameras showed us that hordes of commuters who had left work early Tuesday were still stuck in traffic past midnight:


Twelve hours later, on Wednesday around lunchtime, the roads were still a complete mess:


There’s plenty being said now about what could have gone better, who to blame or whether a big city like Atlanta should invest in more snow-removal equipment for this rare kind of event.  That doesn’t help people  in real-time.  When weather’s coming and when it’s causing gridlock, individuals might like to know that these Internet tools are available for their use and planning.