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Bigger Stadium and Bigger Crowds Mean Bigger Transportation Needs

From Parking Magazine

By Debbie Hoffman, Texas A&M University Transportation Services, and Tim Lomax, Texas A&M Transportation Institute

Published: December 2015

Texas A&M University is recognized for a rich and spirited history that extends from the football field and overflows to the tailgating crowd. Known for creating solutions that few institutions have the depth and breadth to achieve, the university’s efforts extend beyond the classrooms and research labs all the way to the gridiron.

Nestled in the heart of College Station, Texas,the university, which is steeped in tradition and excellence, has earned its reputation as a leader in the “gameday” experience. Receiving accolades by Sports Illustrated in 2011 as the top collegefootball gameday environment, Texas A&M garnered additional recognition earlier this year for innovation and communication initiatives — establishing the university as a leader in the technology and communications industries.

Gamedays are Major Days at Texas A&M

In 2014, Chancellor John Sharp of the Texas A&M University System set a goal to develop the best overall transportation plan and the best gameday experience for fans attending football games. “In 2015, we will have one of the finest traffic management systems in college sports,” Sharp said. This same year, the largest crowd to ever attend any football game in Texas stressed the newly upgraded Kyle Field Transportation Plan, and tested the university’s ability to respond to this rapid growth.

Less Traffic Congestion Despite More Fans

As a result of Texas A&M University’s well-coordinated gameday program, which included the added benefits of coordinated planning and stakeholder involvement, the university successfully managed the changes in growth and alleviated most of the challenges posed by an ever-growing football crowd. Remarkably, although stadium capacity increased from 82,600 to 106,300, the university saw an improved fan experience and less traffic congestion than in previous seasons. Although the initial plan was not without flaws, there were many notable successes and a robust collection of data that could be used to build a more efficient plan moving forward.

What was accomplished:

  • A record number of fans, bus riders and parked cars were managed with less traffic congestion
  • Improved coordination between on-campus and community traffic and law enforcement agencies Pedestrian paths separated from vehicle routes improved safety and increased efficiency
  • Reduced traffic congestion from three or four hours in 2013 to only two hours post-game with an increase in crowd size
  • Utilized contraflow traffic lanes and improved signal timing on city streets, which reduced traffic congestion
  • Developed an award winning smartphone app (Destination Aggieland) and website (gameday.12thman.com/) for comprehensive gameday information
  • Pre-game ‘rush hour’ improved with pre-sale parking permits, consolidated parking areas and entry points, traffic condition information disseminated via Destination Aggieland app and Twitter plus enhanced shuttle bus options
  • Created a nimble workforce that evolved the plan from game-to-game and in real-time Improved town-and-gown relationships with increased information about entertainment, hotel, transportation and restaurant options.

Traffic Plan Still Had Room for Improvements

Despite notable wins within the initial traffic plan there were some aspects that did not work as well as expected. Some of the implemented pedestrian route changes designed to separate fans from vehicular traffic were not widely adopted. In these cases, initial barriers put in place in some areas to limit pedestrian movement were reconfigured mid-season to allow for more flexibility. In addition, some “mostly bus lanes” that were created for more efficient traffic flow were deemed unnecessary by the end of the season.

Lastly, it was identified that some city street signal coordination could still be improved. The 2014 plan saw signals being operated manually and without realtime communication between the officers at each location. This posed additional challenges in the timely coordination from beginning to end of a travel route.

After significant review of the outcomes of the 2014 season, adaptations to the initial plan were implemented for 2015:

  • Texas A&M University and cities invested in connected and coordinated signal timing software which improved traffic flow once vehicles move off campus. The software allows adjustments to programming in realtime as campus parking areas empty out and traffic patterns change
  • The Destination Aggieland app was developed into a yearround campus event app and has more than 38,000 users/downloads. The app now allows push messaging so fans can be updated in real-time about parking availability and traffic congestion
  • The university instituted two new park-and-ride routes from off-campus locations to replace one ‘too successful’ route from a regional mall where the contract was not renewed because the gameday crowd displaced too many mall patrons
  • Some modifications in signage, push messaging and marketing were implemented to recover some lost ground on getting fans to use a preferred pre-game route and entry point into one major pay-upon-arrival parking area.

Small Changes, Big Results

Applying only a few modifications during the 2015 season delivered consistency for fans and employees administering the system and provided momentum for the improvements made in the 2014 season. Much of the marketing and communication campaigns, including slogans from 2014, were modified minimally or reused to capitalize on the familiarity and reinforce the plan.

New messaging focused on areas where changes were made, such as the new park and ride locations and improvements to the app.

In 2015, since much of the operational plan was not new, focus could be on refinements. Game-to-game revisions still occurred, but were minimal and minor. The plan achieved the overall goal of moving fans away from campus after the game in no more time than when the stadium had 20,000 fewer seats.

Accidents and other incidents still delayed traffic but additional resources assisted with overall traffic flow. City police positioned a tow truck on the primary exit route and stationed officers near all major corridors, especially where city streets intersected campus. Overall, coordination and collaboration between on-campus departments and city agencies was at an all-time high and showed signs of continuing improvement.

The time, money and energy invested by all agencies and departments on- and off-campus between the 2014 and 2015 season was significant. It was a worthwhile investment geared toward enhancing the fan experience from the time they left home to the time they got to the stadium.

Travel and parking is a big part of the gameday experience. A 2014 secret shopper signified the importance of the gameday parking and traffic experience when he wrote in his executive review, “The ability to exit rather easily left a favorable last impression on me—it was more impressive given the size of the crowd. Between officers and vehicles working together to be able to return to Austin during a high stress time quicker than what it took to arrive (when there were few vehicles on the streets) had nice value—this ensured the very last part of my game was a positive experience.”

If we can improve gameday fans’ first and last impression then it doesn’t matter if you have a Heisman Trophy winner every year—just every once in a while.

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