Transportation and Major Events

December 4, 2017

By: Graeme Masterton and Sumeet Kishnani, Stantec Consulting

Disclaimer: Stantec Consulting is not involved in the current planning for Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. They have planned and operated events at other stadiums and several Olympic Games.

What’s the difference between a major event and a regular season game? It’s all about who is attending. Regular season or playoff games have a rhythm to them from a transportation perspective. Whether it’s hopping on the light-rail transit (LRT) from St. Paul to see a Twins game or using a favorite parking lot week after week near U.S. Bank Stadium, there’s a routine that fans have become accustomed to. Most of the fans in the seats are local, and they know how to get to the stadium by car, bus, or train.

When a major event rolls into town, the attendees include a larger mix of out-of-town guests who are not as familiar with the city. These special events are typically held over multiple days and include fan experience events near the stadium and across the city. The fan experiences draw ticketholders and non-ticketholders who want to be in the city to experience the atmosphere and excitement. Ultimately, there is a mix of people that aren’t used to traveling around the city and are in vacation mode – taking in the sights rather than going to work. 

Locals can expect a change in travel patterns leading up to and on the day of the event. Typically, events are hosted around town for a variety of groups - VIPs, selected fans, or locals - to showcase the city and create an exciting atmosphere leading up to the main event. The London Olympics, for example, had multiple local events in each borough along with ‘test’ events such as the BBC Radio One music festival and the University Games. The events did two things: (1) helped extend the single event into multiple days to increase enjoyment and economic impact; and (2) tested key processes prior to the main event to ensure coach routes worked, parking and pass use were perfected, etc. Access to these events is often by public transit, private coaches, or VIP cars rather than personal vehicles because of the street restrictions, lack of parking or simply the ease of using alternate modes. 

On the day of the main event, transportation to the site has an added challenge –increased security can lead to changes in vehicular and pedestrian access patterns. In London, the nearest transit stations (bus and rail in Hackney) adjacent to the secure perimeter were closed, and fans walked a longer than normal distance to Olympic Stadium. This allowed a wider security perimeter, but also metered out the crowd so queuing at the nearest train station was less than it would have been had the station next to the stadium been open. 

Parking onsite was different than at a home soccer game for West Ham United (Olympic Stadium) due to additional security parking, coaches, enhanced transit service, VIP services, key ticket holders, etc. It ultimately meant much less parking availability than normal during the Olympic event. Those who could park required specific permits and had to possess a ticket to an event at the stadium. Taxi or shared ride vehicle use was higher and required a higher profile drop-off and pick-up area because of the volume. Essentially, ticket holders understood parking would be harder to find and used taxis or shared ride services instead. 

Wayfinding to get people to the events required more personnel and information than a regular game. Information sharing for major events often starts with handouts to hotel guests the week prior to make them aware of transit options and the best places to park for various events during the week. Increased wayfinding also includes more signage on the highways approaching the stadium and downtown streets, major access points to parking facilities and the stadium itself, and more personnel on the ground to help fans find their destination. The ingress is typically much longer than normal as people want to arrive and be enveloped in the atmosphere. 

Transportation professionals account for all of these factors when developing operations plans that detail everything from the placement of staff, signs, and cones, to the timing of traffic lights and the coordination of operations’ stakeholders on event day. We use a combination of good engineering principles, simulation models, operational experience at major events, and mapping tools to develop and disseminate the best ingress and egress options for fans.

While a major event may only last a day, the fan experiences and other activities may last a week. The week preceding the main event is a marathon where the transportation challenges change daily depending on the weather and events – whether official or not. The goal is to make the transportation experience simple and not to detract from the other events or the game itself. One benefit is that there is sufficient time to fully develop an operations plan involving multiple agencies. The nuances and insights that come from this process can change the way local transportation agencies operate for other major events and regular sports games in the future.  

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