Game day gridlock? Traffic engineers say 'not if I can help it'

June 12, 2014 Sumeet Kishnani

Good traffic planning helps remove any obstacles that come between fans and their enjoyment of the game


It’s the morning of the big event, and you make sure you’re prepared:

  • Coolers full of food and beverages? Check.
  • The pre-game playlist to amp everyone up? Check.
  • Lucky jersey or team flag? Check.
  • Expertly applied face paint? Check.

Just before you depart, you make a quick plea to the Traffic Gods to get you to the stadium quickly so you have plenty of time for tailgating. But the Traffic Gods have nothing to do with your arrival. Unless by "Traffic God" you mean traffic engineers who specialize in stadium and arena transportation solutions.

In my job as a traffic engineer for stadiums and sports complexes, I have been fortunate to help many sports teams improve the travel experience for their fans – usually by making it easier for fans to come to the game. Fans have a lot of options for their entertainment experience nowadays – from mobile devices to large-screen TVs at home or in a sports bar. It takes a lot of dedication to spend hours, sometimes days, traveling to a different city to enjoy a few hours of watching a team in person. Our goal is to make sure fans don’t have to worry about how they will get to and from the game. We remove the confusion and frustration, and make fans more informed through an operations plan.

It takes a lot of effort and coordination to plan special events, typically starting one to two years before the event. Multiple meetings are held with key stakeholders, such as elected officials, local business owners, transit and transportation agencies, shuttle bus providers, parking operators, public safety and venue security officials, counter-terrorism personnel, and, of course, team operations personnel. Since everyone wants the same result, developing an operations plan that everyone is happy with can come easily. And with everyone contributing, they walk away with a sense of ownership in the plan.

There are numerous logistical challenges associated with each special event, from housing the visiting fans, to educating them about the best ways to get to and from the big game. But there are lots of steps traffic engineers take to help improve the event operations experience. Counter-flow lanes that make use of cones can provide an extra lane for traffic entering or exiting a sports complex site. Local DOTs can put strategic messages on overhead message panels or put up temporary signs to help fans make decisions at critical junctions. Making sure there is adequate parking management staff at congested areas can help answer questions or prevent safety issues. And of course making sure your transit system is equipped and ready to handle the volume of fans encouraged to use it. Educating fans so that they are familiar with the site also prevents problems, whether it’s through directions, maps, or even smart phone apps that guide them through every step of the journey.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the fan experience. The fans bring enthusiasm to the stadium, and the teams and players want that enthusiasm to be as strong at the start of a game as it was when the fans woke up in the morning. Good traffic planning helps remove any obstacles that come between fans and their enjoyment of the game, so they can focus on the reason they are there – to help support their team on the field.

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