Gridlock Guy: Braves traffic plan revisited - hard to be good when crowd amount is great

Credit: WSBTV Videos

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Thousands crowd the Battery ahead of Game 5

Credit: WSBTV Videos

After the Braves’ jubilant World Series win over two weeks ago, I decided to grade the team’s traffic plan after five seasons at Truist Park. Considering the placement of the stadium — in the northwest corner of the bustling I-75 and I-285 cloverleaf in Cobb County — what really could have been a traffic disaster over this half-decade simply has not been.

However, one blind spot that I need to account for is the wheel-beating gridlock that many experienced while leaving the property after these recent October playoff games. After reading the recent celebration piece, readers such as Gary, Matt, Brian, Lamar, Michael, and David emailed me with varying levels of anger with those in charge of the traffic plan for the mass-egress from Truist Park and The Battery. They had gotten stuck longer than they expected.

Having sat in the same big backups after Game 1 of the NLCS and Game 3 of the World Series myself — and, frankly, resigned to those kinds of jams — I decided to see what Cobb County and the Braves have learned and could implement after the biggest crowds in that stadium’s short history.

But also having idled in similar lines leaving recent concerts at State Farm Arena and Cellaris Amphitheatre at Lakewood, I had to ask: Is there something that traffic plans around major events fundamentally lack?

“Ultimately you’re facing a capacity issue and the roads aren’t made to handle that many at once,” Georgia Tech Professor Michael Hunter told the AJC and 95.5 WSB.

“It’s 10 gallons of honey in a five-gallon jug. It’s inevitable,” Hunter, a transportation systems engineer, illustrated.

Make it 50 gallons during the World Series.

Traffic planners cannot just build their way out of these bottlenecks, Hunter explained. “How much would it cost to build a road around a facility to handle that many people at once?” It doesn’t make sense, given most venues only host several or a few dozen events per year. The average Braves game doesn’t cause the same gridlock as a marquee one does.

The restaurant and entertainment-filled Battery has been a centerpiece of the Truist Park traffic plan’s overall success story. Fans could come early to games and events and stay late, staggering the mass people movements.

But that same open-air, mixed-use party district also attracted thousands, in addition to the capacity crowd inside Truist. The Cobb County fire marshal reportedly had to stop people from entering the slam-full Battery ahead of the potential World Series-clinching Game 5. Frankly, more people showed up than expected, since they didn’t need tickets. Frenzied fans just wanted to be near the action.

The surge of folks created both a parking shortage and also hordes trying to zigzag their way to their parking spots or rideshares post-game.

Special events, Hunter said, offer unique traffic challenges. “A lot more people are unfamiliar with an area. Repeat customers have a better path.” Uncertain travelers create more delays.

Cobb County spokesperson Ross Cavitt was at some of the games and says the traffic plan for what the county predicted worked. But the sheer volume of extra people made enforcing the plan for everyone nearly impossible.

“I saw pedestrians crossing roads and using sides of roads that they usually don’t use,” Cavitt said. Hunter also explained that Cobb PD cannot simply deploy the entire force to every deck; they still have to patrol the rest of the county.

Cavitt, our former, longtime Channel 2 Action News cohort, also heard some of the same horror stories that several people emailed to me: two-hour waits exiting the parking decks nearest to Truist Park. Cavitt explained that the Braves manage the deck operations and the shuttle buses. Cobb PD Sergeant Wayne Delk echoed the same sentiment and said the police department handled the big crowds properly.

Braves officials did not respond to any of my traffic inquiries by the writing deadline.

I received multiple complaints about a lack of frequent shuttles from Truist Park to the offsite parking at Lockheed-Martin. Others said they had no choice but to park at the pricier lots closest to the stadium, because they had family members with disabilities. The decks closest to Truist Park had, by far, the worst exit delays.

And, of course, several complaints came in about the lack of mass transit getting to the Braves’ home field. Cobb voters have shot down MARTA multiple times over the decades. In the past, MARTA ran lines of shuttle buses between the Five Points Station and Turner Field.

Hunter said that developments like The Battery are what many venues envision, because of the extra revenue, for what entertainment districts do to stagger traffic flow, and how they give the property life in between big events. Turner Field and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium both lacked that allure.

Turner Field also had 5,300 less sanctioned parking spots and 9,000 more in seating capacity than Truist Park, the team told the AJC in 2017. But Turner Field’s lots were all relatively close to it and there were also many private, satellite lots not included in that total. Parking at Truist Park is quite tricky and simply requires planning — and paying — more.The team should look to bolster the amount of shuttles (and maybe even some shuttle-only lanes) to the most distant lots.

Solving for the extra crush of playoff fans at Truist Park is also trickier, Hunter said, because planning far ahead for elimination series is just not possible. Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the City of Atlanta had over a year to plan to host the Super Bowl and managed that traffic very well. Cavitt said that Cobb County definitely learned some lessons and can make some improvements for next time.

Another chance is exactly what Braves fans want. The easiest way to solve the World Series-playoff frenzy-fan flock problem is for the Braves to lose games. The MLB champs had the second-highest home attendance in the 2021 regular season. Congestion, Hunter said, is not always a bad thing. “It means people have some place to go - like to work - or to a World Series game.”

Looking ahead, the Braves and Cobb County should consider several improvements. They could better direct both traffic out of decks and wayward pedestrians, provide more shuttles to far off parking lots and tweak the signal-timing to flush traffic out of the Cumberland area more quickly.

But every single engineer, officer or spokesperson with whom I have spoken has had the same response: Moving a bunch of people at once through a small corridor simply takes time. They just have to manage that delay, just as commuters need to manage their expectations.

So Hunter told drivers to take this mindset: “50,000 of my friends and I are at this game. Just enjoy it. We’re in the World Series.”

Go Braves.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.