Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When Moving Huge Crowds, a Few Thousand Cars Makes a Big Difference

By Jason Martin

My second trip out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this summer was quite different from the first. I was back at the track on Sunday, July 27, for the NASCAR Allstate 400, and getting in and out was not nearly the traffic nightmare that I and many others encountered for the Indianapolis 500 back on Memorial Day weekend.

I left my house on the north side of town, about a 10-mile drive, at the same time for both races – four hours in advance of the race start. In May, the trip in was a brutal crawl once I passed the White River on 30th Street and approached Cold Spring Road. We were bumper to bumper for more than an hour, and this is one of the more secretive passages into the track.

Fast-forward to the NASCAR race, attended by another enormous crowd of about 225,000 people, but significantly less than the 300,000-plus that showed up for the 500. For the NASCAR race, I zipped along 30th Street all the way to the light at Georgetown Road by the edge of the track in less than 20 minutes total. I had to wait on police to shuttle pedestrians, and had to merge in front of a tractor trailer, but turning left there was little problem.

Getting out of the track was also less harried this time around. Media parking is inside the lot, and for the Indy 500, it was more than an hour trip home after waiting more than an hour for the race to end. For the NASCAR race, I waited only a half-hour, and it took only 20 minutes to get home.

I use this comparison as a means of demonstrating the effect that public transportation might have on traffic congestion at these races. Seventy-five thousand less people attended, but it made a world of difference in congestion. About 50,000 people take the public shuttles to the Indy 500. Without those shuttles, how much more of a headache would it? With more shuttles, how much easier?

It’s very likely that the shuttles will return next year after IndyGo follows the proper Federal Transit Administration procedures, but this is an example where the government might consider amending its rules to suit certain population centers. The Indianapolis area needs all the public transportation help it can get – it’s the 13th-most populated city in America and I can’t imagine there’s a worse one in the top 20 for moving the public.

A new airport opening in the fall comes with plans to add light rail connecting the terminal and downtown. For a city that thrives on conventions, that’s essential.

Here’s hoping that in regards to public transportation and the track, the city keeps its current service or even increases it instead of taking a drastic step back.

Jason Martin is the author of “A Slow-Go to the Speedway,” published in the Summer 2008 issue of InTransition.

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