Braves to push back start time for games at new stadium

The Atlanta Braves announced Wednesday that next season’s weekday games will begin at 7:30 p.m. to try to accommodate rush hour traffic in the Cumberland area.

Traffic has been a concern among residents and fans since the Braves’ move to SunTrust Park in Cobb County was announced in 2013.

The first Braves game in the new stadium will be a March 31 exhibiton game against the New York Yankees.

» Atlanta Braves Schedule 2017: Dates, start times, TV channel

“We recognize that traffic in the Atlanta area is an issue and certainly has been a key frustration at Turner Field before and after ballgames,” Mike Plant, the team’s president of development, said in a statement.

Weekday games at Turner Field currently start at 7:10 p.m., but have started later in years past.

At press conference Wednesday, Plant said the return to the later start time was inspired by a traffic study showing that peak rush hour congestion tapered off by 30 percent between 7 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. That study was carried out by a Kimley-Horn and Associates, an engineering firm.

Vinings resident Ron Sifen, a member and past president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition, has been critical of some aspects of the Braves deal and Cobb County’s approach to transportation generally.

Sifen said he was “thrilled” to hear about the new start time for games.

“I think it will make a huge difference,” Sifen said. “It will allow rush hour traffic to clear before the Braves traffic comes in and adds volume.”

Sifen added, however, that he is still concerned about possible backups, especially on Interstate 285 westbound from Sandy Springs.

There has been some controversy surrounding parking around the new Braves stadium.

Last month, Sandy Springs residents and City Council balked at a plan to put up signs directing some traffic to the Northside Drive exit. Sifen pointed out that most drivers use GPS, which would likely direct them to the quickest route, regardless of signs.

Sifen also called for increasing public transportation options to games.

In addition to a later start time, the Braves are touting SunTrust Park’s parking-to-seating ratio and a mobile app to help guide visitors to their parking space and seats. Fans, Plant said, are encouraged to come early and stay late, availing themselves of the entertainment and dining options in the Braves’ mixed-use development, The Battery.

While there was no new information about the Braves traffic plan apart from the later start time, Plant pointed to more than $2 billion in road and pedestrian infrastructure projects already underway in the area.

These projects include the billion-dollar managed lanes system, which is 30 miles of reversible toll lanes on Interstate 75 and Interstate 575, as well as a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 285. The former is not slated to open until 2018, and the latter faces a legal challenge from the Galleria Common Area Associates.

Rob Ross, a Kimley-Horn engineer, said that the Cumberland area as a commercial district is actually better suited to handle game-day traffic than Turner Field, which is in a residential area.

“There’s been a lot of criticism about moving from downtown to the suburbs. When you look at it through our lens, from a transportation lens, it’s actually the reverse,” Ross said. “The Turner Field situation is really more of a suburban style stadium and the style of the stadium and development here is an urban style.”

The Braves will unveil the second and third phases of their traffic plan later this year and early next.

The Story So Far

  • Earlier: Cobb residents, Braves fans and commuters have expressed concern about traffic and parking in the area around SunTrust Park. The Braves said they will roll out their plans to address those concerns in three stages.
  • The latest: The first stage of the parking plan was unveiled, as well as a later starting time for games.
  • What’s next: The rest of the plan will be announced by early 2017.

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