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.
Dutchess County in New York, home to approximately 300,000 residents, faces an influx every year of more than 500,000 people who, over the course of six days, attend the annual agricultural fair. The influx of visitors and vehicles burdens the county’s transportation network, which consists of rural roads, two-lane state routes and several intersections. Although the county is a rural one, the traffic level is high. For example, the two-lane state road that leads to the fairground has two signalized intersections that operate near capacity on nonevent days. In the past, the county had severe traffic congestion that not only stalled entry and egress to the fairgrounds, but also spilled over to nearby jurisdictions, blocking access to a local hospital, backing up traffic on a bridge over the Hudson River and hampering the travel of commercial vehicles passing through the county to other destinations.
To improve the efficiency of transportation operations on the day of the event, the New York State Police (NYSP), which is responsible for traffic management on state roads, in coordination with the New York State Department of Transportation, developed a traffic plan that utilized ITS. Listed below are lessons learned and best practices using ITS to aid in the management of a planned special event in a rural area:
- Apply portable ITS equipment to improve traffic flow at the entrance and exit points of a planned event. The congestion associated with the planned special event in Dutchess County originated primarily at two intersections, one at the entrance and one at the exit point to the fairgrounds. The NYSP deployed portable ITS equipment, including closed circuit television (CCTV), remote signal control, and mobile command centers, at the entrance and exit points in the fairgrounds. Operators in the command centers monitored traffic at the two intersections during the event days and adjusted the signal phases according to the varying traffic demands in order to increase traffic flow.
- Deploy microwave detectors at signalized intersections for pedestrian detection and for allowing pedestrian crossing. The NYSP traffic plan for the event calls for optimizing traffic flow at the major intersections near the fairgrounds by maximizing a green phase. However, these intersections are also used by pedestrians. Thus, to avoid the risk that pedestrians would lose patience waiting for a signal change and cross against the signal, planners installed microwave detectors for detecting pedestrians and updating the signal to permit pedestrian traffic.
- Use CCTV and signal control software at signalized intersections for monitoring congestion and adjusting signal phases. To alleviate the substantial backups at the major intersection north of the fairgrounds, traffic planners installed a CCTV and a mobile command center at the fairgrounds with signal control software. Operators at the mobile command center visually monitored traffic at the intersection via the CCTV and adjusted the signal timing with the signal control software. Much of the delay seen in previous years has been eliminated because this system allows the operators to adjust the signal according to the varying traffic demands as well as the presence of pedestrians.
- Divert commercial vehicles headed through the event area to alternate routes. Commercial vehicles use the state roads that lead to the fairgrounds as they pass through to their final destinations. The presence of these vehicles on event days exacerbated the already high congestion levels. To keep commercial vehicles from being inadvertently caught up in event day traffic, the NYSP used traveler information resources to inform commercial motorists of the event and direct them to take alternate routes. Specifically, days ahead of the event, NYSP informed local and regional media of event access information and diversion route-information. In addition, NYSP installed 10 solar-powered portable dynamic message signs that were 1) pre-programmed with event and alternate route information, and 2) adjustable via cellular phone, enabling operators to update the displayed messages if needed and according to time and day. Because of the limited number of roads available for diversion in the area, NYSP placed portable message signs as far as 20 miles away to direct drivers to alternate routes.
The FHWA report describes how a traffic plan and the use of portable ITS equipment improved traffic flow at a planned special event in a rural county in upstate New York and advanced transportation safety, efficiency and mobility goals.