Thursday, April 23, 2015

Theories about roadside cars in Atlanta

On a typical day on Atlanta-area highways, there seems to be an exceptionally high number of cars parked on the side of the road. Many of these appear to be abandoned, while others are attended by their drivers. I see a few possible explanations.
  1. The observation is an illusion. I have recently become a regular driver after never owning a car, so perhaps dangerously-situated roadside cars are entirely typical.

  2. More driving. The next-simplest explanation, perhaps Atlanta's high overall quantity of car usage means more breakdowns, even if the probability of having a roadside emergency (per driver, or per mile, etc.) is similar to other cities.

  3. Many marginal cars. For residents who live or work outside of the urban core, driving in Atlanta is mostly necessary. Add to this the region's high rate of unemployment and poverty--increasingly concentrated in the transit-starved suburbs--and you'd expect to see a high rate of households who operate cars that exist on the edge of functionality (i.e. keeping them in service longer and servicing them less). More intensive use of marginal cars may explain the high incidence of roadside parked cars.

  4. More abandonments. A related possibility might be that Atlanta has a similar number of roadside breakdowns, but the economic composition of Atlanta drivers means a higher proportion of these cars get abandoned. Compared to other cities more drivers may not be able to afford repairs, have access to towing and roadside-assistance services, or are operating without insurance/licenses etc.

  5. Reduced public services. Another possibility is that cars abandoned on the highway are removed less quickly compared to other cities.

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