A few months ago, I explored the many benefits of transportation management centers (TMCs) when it comes to successfully managing general traffic incidents and congestion. Today I’d like to dig a little deeper into the ways that TMCs can help manage traffic around planned special events (PSEs). A PSE is a public activity with a scheduled time, location and duration that may impact the normal operation of the surface transportation system due to increased travel demand and/or reduced capacity attributed to event staging. PSEs can range from local events at neighborhood parks to events on an international scale, like the Olympic Games. But even small events can generate Olympic-sized traffic problems if they’re not managed effectively.
There are five phases involved in PSE traffic management, and TMCs have an important role to play in all five. Let’s take a look at each of them:
Regional Planning and Coordination Phase:
The most long-range planning phase is regional planning and coordination. This advance planning for PSEs is the time when TMC representatives and other entities discuss the traffic needs and goals associated with the event at a regional level and how TMCs can contribute to smooth traffic flow. These meetings can also be the impetus for long-term partnerships and robust regional collaboration, coordination, cooperation and communication, as they often bring together entities that haven’t collaborated in the past. Additionally, regional groups are starting to use Capability Maturity Frameworks (CMFs) more often as a planning tool. These frameworks provide an early, structured approach to assessing the region’s ability to successfully manage traffic for PSEs, and developing strategies for process improvements to achieve optimum performance and results.
Event Operations Planning Phase:
The event operations planning phase is dedicated to event-specific planning. For purposes of traffic management, an event can be categorized as either a discrete/permanent event at a permanent venue (such as a football game or concert), a continuous event (like a festival or convention), a street-use event (such as a parade or rally), a regional/multi-venue event (such as a traveling circus), or a rural event (like a county fair). Each type of event has unique characteristics and poses unique challenges. TMCs may have pre-determined plans available to manage traffic for these special events based on their location, time, duration, and demand. If TMCs know which roadways will be affected, they might already have response plans in place that offer information on primary ingress and egress routes, alternate routes, parking sites, and, contingencies to address incidents that may occur. Sometimes, though, an event may require that a planning team start from scratch.
The implementation phase is when specific PSE traffic management strategies are developed and tested, then TMC and other personnel are trained on how to execute the strategies. With any PSE traffic-management operations, staff from the TMC can join first responders, venue operators, and other groups involved to practice response to various scenarios with table-top or dry-run exercises. Certain PSEs may involve dignitaries and motorcades with security protocols that are often not able to be shared with TMC operators very far in advance of the event, which can complicate implementation. Contingencies should be developed that will allow the TMC to provide the necessary services when the information becomes available.
Day-of-Event Activities Phase:
It’s show time! The big day has arrived, and it’s time to put all the advance planning to the test. TMCs may “staff up” in preparation for large special events so there are enough operators on hand to monitor traffic conditions, and respond to incidents, and field calls. It is even more critical to clear non-recurring incidents such as stalls, crashes or debris in the roadway as quickly as possible during heavy special-event traffic. It’s also important to keep in mind that these events tend to draw people who may not be familiar with the area, so traffic information services such as Dynamic Message Sign (DMS) messages, 511 phone assistance, website updates, helpful apps and social media posts are essential. Even if a TMC is not normally operational on the day or time of a PSE, it may operate under expanded hours. A community accustomed to real-time traffic information and motorist assistance during weekday commutes will expect the same service during their trip to and from a major event taking place at night or over a weekend.
Post-Event Activities Phase:
Hindsight is indeed 20/20, and reviewing the good, the bad, and the ugly of PSE traffic management is very helpful in doing things better next time. At the post-event de-brief, TMC representatives can assist regional partners in substantiating lessons learned by providing visuals from video or images captured by CCTV surveillance cameras; traffic data collected from roadside ITS devices; information on the type, location, severity of incidents managed; and the number and nature of traffic information help requests. TMCs can also provide the tools to compare plan specifications and resource allocations to actual day-of-event operations, in an effort to improve planning efforts and more effectively allocate resources for the next event.
Traffic snafus can ruin any special event. A poorly managed traffic jam could make someone miss the opening song at a concert, or dim someone’s post-victory glow following a football game. These types of incidents are bad for business on any day, and in the worst cases, inadequate PSE traffic management could blacklist a region from hosting future events. Getting a TMC involved in managing traffic for PSEs – from the planning phase to after-action assessment – achieves benefits across the board, and helps to be sure that any event is the success it was intended to be.