Keep the public informed with current accurate information to promote knowledgeable travel decisions.
Boston, Massachusetts’s experience with transportation planning for special events.
Made Public Date


United States

Transportation Management and Security During the 2004 Democratic National Convention


The purpose of this study was to determine how transportation planning for special events is best conducted when mobility considerations are subordinated to security priorities. The subject of this study was the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC), held at the FleetCenter, a multipurpose sports facility located in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, from July 26 through July 29, 2004. This event was designated a National Special Security Event by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. This designation established the U.S. Secret Service as the lead agency because security measures would take precedence over other actions, such as providing mobility to delegates and residents. The role of transportation agencies was to implement procedures that would accommodate the security measures developed for the convention. Lessons learned from this experience include: selecting major event sites with security as the primary consideration; planning sufficient time for facilitating and accommodating interagency relationship-building; keeping the public informed with current accurate information so they are able to make knowledgeable travel decisions; taking advantage of special events opportunities, which inspire the improvement of existing and new technologies; and establishing a clear leader and command structure when working on a major, interagency project.

Lessons Learned

A key component of the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC) plan was to inform the public of the significant transportation diversions and restrictions associated with the necessary road closures as quickly as possible. Public officials mounted a widespread communications effort using a combination of the media and their own efforts to give the public as much information as possible so that Boston-area residents could make informed travel decisions.

The pre-planning modeling of the event had made it clear that the only way the security constraints were going to work was if 50 percent of the driving public could be persuaded to commute by other means. Officials encouraged the use of public transit, commuting to other office locations, shifting commuting times, and telecommuting.

  • Convince the traveling public to change their normal travel patterns by keeping them well informed. In the case of the DNC, two sets of information were essential. First, the public needed information to convince themselves of the necessity to change travel patterns to avoid gridlock and public safety problems. Second, in order to revise their travel plans accordingly, the public needed information about the changes in transportation services, including road closures, diversions, and transit-service changes; and suspended, new, or expanded alternative services.
  • The various agencies used existing ITS technology installed over the past two decades to better inform the public. This included: permanent and temporary variable message signs, highway advisory radio, static sign boards, and expansion of services from SmarTraveler, which provides real-time traffic information to the Boston traveling public.
  • Inform the public of closures, diversions and restrictions as quickly as possible. The operations plan designated 40 miles of roadway to be closed or restricted during the p.m. peak period, with restrictions extending approximately 10 miles north and south of downtown Boston on I-93 and to the west on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Memorial Drive, and Storrow Drive. Although the majority of restrictions were centered around the FleetCenter, the impact of the closures extended much farther. To a large extent this was intentional. Planners wanted to locate the closure or detour points at places that diverted traffic onto roads that were familiar to most drivers, and had sufficient capacity to handle the additional traffic.
  • Closing the North Station area to public transit required the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and private transit carriers to adjust their services. Five commuter rail lines were stopped north of Boston and two subway lines were "expressed" through the area without stopping. Amtrak suspended service on its Downeaster train from Portland, Maine.

This lesson points out that the public communications efforts that transportation officials made in the weeks and months prior to the DNC were effective and paid off. MassHighway traffic data showed that total traffic volumes declined significantly while the DNC was convened. Moreover, those commuters who did drive into Boston changed their travel patterns, going to work and coming home much earlier than usual to avoid the anticipated traffic jams as I-93 closures took effect.

Transportation Management and Security During the 2004 Democratic National Convention

Transportation Management and Security During the 2004 Democratic National Convention
Publication Sort Date
Allan DeBlasio et al
Prepared by Volpe for the USDOT

(Our website has many links to other organizations. While we offer these electronic linkages for your convenience in accessing transportation-related information, please be aware that when you exit our website, the privacy and accessibility policies stated on our website may not be the same as that on other websites.)

Application Areas

Focus Areas Taxonomy: