Take me out to the ball game, with transportation analytics


Living in the Washington, D.C. area I expect the morning news shows to spend a lot of time reporting on traffic.  Crashes on the beltway, downed power lines delaying train service…that’s a normal day.  D.C. is the most congested city, according to the Texas Transportation Institute’s annual report.).  Commuting to and from the city is frustrating for sure, but those of us living here have acquired coping skills to survive.

On Oct. 10, the traffic report on the morning news was a little different. And that’s because the Washington Nationals were playing in the National League playoffs for the first time in nearly 80 years! The first game was at home, on a Wednesday (statistically proven to be the worst day of the week for traffic) at 1pm, meaning that the game would end just as the evening rush hour began.

State DOTs, regional planning organizations, county governments and city governments have created plans to deal with traffic incidents like crashes and weather-related events like blizzards or heavy rain.  It’s important that these plans exist so that traffic operations managers can execute and keep traffic moving as smoothly as possible.  Ideal plans draw on data about typical traffic volume and speed, location of first responders and length of time to arrive and clear the scene.

When transportation agencies are faced with planning for a special event like the baseball playoffs, they have the luxury of time. Since the event is planned, they know the date, time, and size of the crowd.  Transportation agencies can work together to plan for the increase in road users, coordinate resources and implement a plan.

In this case, the Washington D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) and other agencies worked together to get the word out early about what people could expect and in some cases made adjustments to accommodate increased traffic.  For example, Metro announced plans to add train cars to the green line for the fans before and after the game.  They also warned fans to give themselves extra time since transfer points like L’Enfant Plaza and Gallery Place were likely to be extra busy.

The morning news kicked off each half hour by reminding commuters that the drive home was going to be terrible.  An entire segment warned of road closures around the stadium but promised police resources would be on the scene to direct traffic and keep things moving.

At the end of one news story, the reporter wrapped up by saying, “and if all this doesn’t scare you, tickets are still available.”  It is a little scary.  Speaking from personal experience, special events and weather related delays around here can really push you over the edge.  I remember sitting still in traffic for two hours on July 4.  I know I need to take some of the blame on that one since I could’ve made much better choices like taking Metro, or not going at all.  Still that’s two hours I’m never getting back.

Drawing on historical data to report on how the region has handled previous incidents and events can help planners take a little bit of the guess work out of the equation. Transportation analytics, in the form of predictive analytics, forecasting and trends analysis can give planners the ability to anticipate what is going to happen and develop proactive plans accordingly.

The same holds true for special events like once-in-a-lifetime playoff games.  And while it’s true that the people of Washington D.C. had not had an opportunity to see such a game since Studebaker’s were on the road, we have had our fair share of special events.  Tapping into historical data and applying analytics to transportation gives insight into the likely number of fans moving through the Metro system, and the number of additional cars on the road and where they are headed.  Accurate forecasting would help transit agencies know how many additional trains or buses they need to add to accommodate the influx, and inform other planners how the system will be affected if the game lets out early, or late.

And while the Nats weren’t able to get by the Cardinals DDOT and Metro were big winners. By communicating with road users and fans early on and making necessary adjustments to transit service and traffic flows, the agencies helped ensure that what could’ve been a scary commute was not so bad.


About Author

Melissa Savage

Sr Industry Consultant, State and Local Government

Melissa Savage is a subject matter expert with SAS Institute, Inc. focusing on transportation issues facing state and local governments. Prior to her position with SAS Institute, Inc. Ms. Savage was a Program Director at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in the Energy, Environment & Transportation program. During her 13 years with NCSL, Ms. Savage authored several publications on transportation issues, testified before state legislative committees and represented NCSL and the interests of state legislatures before national transportation organizations and working groups on a variety of topics. Before working at NCSL, Melissa worked in the Office of Legislative Legal Services at the Colorado General Assembly. She received her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado and her bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University.

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