Psst. It’s OK to get back out on the road, South Florida. Biden’s gone.
Vice President Joe Biden graced South Florida with a two-day vice-presidential visit that concluded on Thursday, bringing with him not inconsiderable national attention as he tried to shore up local Jewish support for President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran even as he mulls running for the top spot himself.
Oh, and traffic tie-ups.
The vice president of the United States comes to town for two days and all some people can talk about is the mess his motorcade caused in some places. You certainly know who you are. You were stuck untold minutes in rush-hour gridlock on the Golden Glades Interchange on Thursday morning, and you howled about it on Twitter. Because, you know, gridlock never happens under any other circumstances on the Golden Glades Interchange.
“Turnpike shutdown in Broward!” NBC6 traffic reporter Kelly Blanco tweeted as the motorcade made its way through Hollywood and onto Davie, where Biden met with Jewish leaders. “Biden’s motorcade has shut down I-95 NB at the Golden Glades!” she warned just minutes before.
You’d think South Floridians had never before run across the well-known nuisances associated with the presidential, or vice-presidential in this case, motorcade. But actually it’s become commonplace. Every president in recent memory has visited the region, and most more than once, too — for campaign appearances, speeches, fundraisers or even a peek at the gators in Everglades National Park, as President Obama did earlier this year.
Obama choppered into the park on Ospreys, which was good for traffic. But the motorcade, which travels around on giant cargo planes, was waiting for him and shuttled him around the park. He left on Ospreys again, and the Potemkin motorcade rode out of the park, tying up traffic as if he were in it. People in Homestead were stuck on the side of the road but were waving and taking photos, blissfully unaware the president was long gone.
So some people do still get giddy when the presidential motorcade rolls by. If you’re unlucky enough to get stuck in motorcade-related traffic on your way to work, though — for security reasons, routes are not announced in advance — it can be inconvenient, frustrating, even maddening.
Or maybe life-defining.
In April, President Obama’s motorcade brought traffic on Interstate 65 in Louisville, Ky., to a total standstill. A woman in labor, stuck while on the way to the hospital, gave birth in the back seat of her car.
Experts say there are lots of good reasons for the motorcades, centered around presidential security, which was dramatically enhanced after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination while he rode in an open limo in Dallas.
The Secret Service, which is charged with safeguarding the president, won’t talk about it. But it’s well known that typical presidential motorcades are comprised of 20 vehicles, including one or two decoy presidential limos, another carrying his doctor, an ambulance, press vans, one communications vehicle and another with jamming capabilities, a vehicle carrying the president’s security detail and another carrying a counter-assault team.
The motorcade needs to travel fast, stay together and take evasive action if necessary, all of which makes closing roads a necessity. The Marine One chopper is sometimes used as an alternative, but a secure landing spot is not always available.
Maintaining tight security is especially important in these times of heightened concerns over terrorism and constant death threats against Obama, who reportedly faces more than any previous president — as many as 30 a day.
“It always causes consternation,” said Ronald Kessler, author of several bestsellers about the Secret Service, FBI and CIA, including the recent The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents, about the motorcades and their effect on traffic. “They do like to put on a show, it’s true. But I think it’s worth it. We don’t want to take any chances.”
Local police say they follow the Secret Service’s directives and try to minimize the inconvenience for motorists.
“We can't control when they fly in, when they fly out and where they are going,” said Mark Wysocky, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol in Broward County. “We get the information and we assist in the motorcade and traffic control. We do realize it's an inconvenience, but at the same time we have to have a secure area to travel in. We try to do it as expeditiously as possible, with the least impact.”
For the record, Biden’s motorcade on Thursday morning made it from his Brickell Avenue hotel to Davie in 34 minutes. At rush hour.
As for Biden, who left Miami around noon, he became Atlanta’s traffic problem Thursday night. His visit, coinciding with Georgia Tech and Falcons football games, was expected to wreak havoc on city highways.