Planned special events occur daily across thousands of communities in the United States, ranging from the relatively small (e.g., an annual parade in a small town) to the very large (e.g., the Super Bowl and the Olympics). One of the most significant impacts of planned special events on the host community is an increased demand on transportation services and congestion on the highway network.
Experience from communities that host planned special events shows that Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) reduce congestion, increase travel time reliability and provide event and traveler information to the public. Studying the practices of these experienced communities reveals best practices and lessons learned for communities who have less experience using ITS and/or managing transportation for planned special events. To share knowledge and lessons learned in this area, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) conducted a cross-cutting study of six communities in five states that use ITS in planned special events. The FHWA report entitled “Intelligent Transportation Systems for Planned Special Events: A Cross-Cutting Study” summarizes the practices and technologies used by these communities to manage special events of varying sizes. The Lesson Learned below summarizes the findings.
Montgomery County in Maryland, with a population of just over 1 million, hosts major planned special events every year, such as the U.S. Open Golf Tournament and the Kemper Open, that draw crowds over 100,000. It also hosts smaller events throughout the year including an Agricultural Fair and multiple Fourth of July celebrations in different areas of the county. The county has a long history of using ITS technologies to support the management of these planned special events.
Montgomery County's traffic management center (TMC) employs a range of ITS technologies that enable transportation managers to monitor traffic conditions in real-time, adjust signal timing at intersections and along corridors to changes in traffic demand, communicate to the public in regards to traffic and road conditions, and direct event attendees as needed (e.g., to parking sites). These practices support mobility, safety and efficiency goals of the transportation network during planned special events, and include the following:
- Consider co-locating the TMC with a public safety center. One of the key factors in the ability of Montgomery County to manage planned special events is that its TMC is co-located with a public safety center with representatives from police, fire and 9-1-1, strengthening the ability to coordinate and manage operations between these agencies.
- Deploy portable dynamic message signs on arterial and local roads. The county deploys portable signs in advance of an event at key locations. The signs can be programmed ahead of time to guide motorists to the event, direct travelers to available parking and provide information on street closings.
- Install traffic surveillance cameras. The county has 185 cameras in place that provide a video stream of traffic conditions to the public via cable television and the Internet. (Cameras that are not in the event area can show how the event is impacting the neighboring areas.)
- Computerize the traffic signal system. As traffic volume changes, the TMC adjusts the timing of signals at intersections and along corridors to increase traffic flow.
- Implement vehicle detection systems. The TMC uses input from vehicle detection systems in the event area to determine the level of congestion. This information, acquired in real-time, is used to determine when and how to adjust signal timing.
- Collaborate with other TMCs to integrate regional traffic conditions data. The county TMC is part of a regional system—Regional Integrated Transportation Information System (RITIS)—which collects, consolidates and disseminates data from TMCs in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area including Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. RITIS provides information such as traffic speed on roadway links and reports of crashes or other incidents that could impact planned special events and the broader area.
- Utilize the services of the statewide traffic management initiatives. The Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) in Maryland is a statewide program designed to improve highway operations in real-time through the use of ITS technologies. CHART is a joint effort of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Maryland State Police (MSP), and managed by the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA). It provides real-time information concerning travel conditions and coordinates traffic management activities across jurisdictions. Data provided by CHART supports the ability of the Montgomery County TMC to manage traffic during planned special events.
- Consider incorporating aerial surveillance to support incident management during special events. Montgomery County’s aerial surveillance aircraft provides a “big picture” in real-time of the event area to TMC operators and incident responders. Access to an aerial perspective has improved the ability of the TMC to make informed decisions quickly concerning emerging conditions on the ground. The county also uses the plane is to assist with parking management on the day of the event by flying over parking facilities at regular intervals to help determine when to direct traffic to satellite parking areas.
The FHWA report describes the ITS technologies and practices used by Montgomery County, Maryland in the management of planned special events. Using ITS technologies improves Montgomery County's ability to manage planned special events and advance safety, efficiency and mobility goals.