Athletic Minds: Engineering a Better Game Day Experience

What makes game day great? A win, of course. But what else?

We might think of the food. Tailgating. How good our seats are. Half-time activities. The weather. While these elements tally up to embody your game day experience, they aren’t everything—only part of it.

The missing component? Getting to the game and back.

Whether you travel via car, bus, light rail or bicycle, you shoulder your way into the city alongside tens of thousands of fans.

How easily you find parking, how intuitive you travel from the parking to the stadium, how smoothly traffic flows—all these travel components play a pivotal role in your experience.

Here’s how traffic engineers enhance your game day, by reducing gridiron gridlock and managing your trip to and from the big game.

Stadium plan image

It all starts with a plan

Just like your team has a game day plan, traffic engineers develop a traffic management plan (TMP) designed to get you there and back as safely and efficiently as possible.

When developing a TMP, traffic engineers hypothesize, analyze and decipher an immense amount of travel information: where you’re coming from, where you’re parking, how you’re getting there, and when you’re getting there.

Getting all these moving variables into alignment is no simple task.

How do they do it?
The traffic engineering playbook

Traffic engineers use every play in their book to understand how people get to the game. They use information from traffic counts (physically counting the travelers along a road) as well as less intuitive sources, like season tickets.

According to SEH traffic engineer Tom Sohrweide, who was project manager for traffic management plan for TCF Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., zip codes gleaned from season tickets can provide a good foundation for a traffic management plan because they help understand where people are coming from.

Once the data is gathered and compiled, traffic engineers determine the modal split, which breaks down the total traffic numbers by travel mode of transportation: how many fans are biking, bussing, driving, walking or taking light rail.

Using this information, they route travelers into the stadium using a variety of different methods. Tactics include timing the traffic signals, providing wayfinding signage, rerouting traffic, closing exits and staffing traffic control agents.

The mix of tactics, of course, rely on many different circumstances that can change depending on when the event takes place. Because of this, a degree of flexibility must be designed into the TMP.

Flexibility is key

Not created solely for a game day event, like a football game, a TMP is actually designed to organize the flow of traffic around an event center.

But event centers, like football stadiums, often host a variety of different events, each occurring at different times of day or different days of the week.

Naturally, one traffic plan does not fit all circumstances.

A mix of event scenarios need to be included in the TMP, each using different traffic management strategies. One for each variation of date and time: weekend during day/night, weekday during day/night.

One stadium, one sport, two teams

Take, for instance, the traffic management plan for TCF Bank Stadium, located on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn. The TMP for the stadium must accommodate traffic not only Minnesota Gopher football games, but also other big events, such as a concert from rock group U2.

When the Metrodome collapsed in 2010, TCF Bank Stadium became the temporary home for the Minnesota Vikings football team, too. How does a professional team, playing at a collegiate stadium, affect traffic?

While both the Gophers and the Vikings draw football fans into the 52,525-seat stadium, their fans—particularly, where their fans come from and how they get there—are different, which makes a big impact on the day’s travel.

For Gopher games (and collegiate games in general), there’s less vehicle traffic. This is because a large percentage of attendees are college students who walk or bike in from the surrounding residential areas where they live. Managing pedestrian safety—always a top priority—becomes more intricate.

For college games at TCF Bank Stadium, the opponent’s fans are a big player in traffic management. If the Gophers are playing a conference game against a nearby Big Ten team with a traveling fan base, there are going to be more people in the city who are unfamiliar with it. Clear wayfinding signage that helps funnel out-of-towners toward the stadium is important.

Conversely, on Vikings game day, there’s typically more vehicle traffic because fans are drawn from a larger geographic area—many coming from all over the state of Minnesota.

Managing traffic for a Vikings game then, means playing more to the needs of drivers by adjusting traffic signals and rerouting traffic, while taking particular care that traffic is properly managed over the extended day.

As you can see, designing a flexible traffic management plan takes an athletic mind. A nimble mind not afraid to tackle tough questions.

“It’s an imperfect science,” says longtime SEH traffic engineer Roger Plum. “A mix of engineering and intuition.”

So next time you’re headed to the game, consider all the engineering that went into getting you there and back again—as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

Contact Tom Sohrweide

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