The Braves stadium traffic dreaded for years as a potential “nightmare” turned out to be a dream over the team’s first week of home games, starting with the April 14 opener.
While officials say it’s still too early to have solid data or completely relax, SunTrust Park’s light traffic has surprised many and paved the way for boosts to the local hotel business.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, who repeatedly predicted initial traffic would be a “disaster,” had a different perspective at the April 18 City Council meeting.
“It’s not over yet, but so far, it’s been a non-event as far as traffic impacts on Sandy Springs,” he said.
Reed Haggard, the president of Sandy Springs’ Riverside Homeowners Association, hosted a forum last fall that drew more than 250 residents expressing traffic fears.
“Braves traffic hasn’t been much of an issue,” Haggard said last week. “No doubt, ‘regular’ traffic is on the rise,” he added.
That “regular” traffic includes increased congestion on the “top end” Perimeter as repairs continue on the collapsed section of I-85 in Atlanta. Yet Opening Day traffic was below average at the interchange of I-285 and Northside Drive on the Cobb County line, where Sandy Springs officials feared the worst impacts.
“The traffic this evening is lighter than usual,” said Sandy Springs Police Officer Leon Millholland, standing next to his car in the interchange with little to do only 90 minutes before game time. “We were expecting more congestion than is here.”
Dave Rossman is the general manager of the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria hotel, located smack dab in the middle of the interchange.
“Traffic’s not been that bad,” Rossman said. “Traffic seems to be moving very well.”
Also going pretty well is the hotel business. When first reached for traffic comment, Rossman couldn’t talk – he was riding a hotel shuttle bus full of guests heading to a Braves game.
Why has traffic worked so well? It’s hard to say yet, with a few factors in play. The Braves and local governments put considerable effort into various traffic strategies and tactics, from stadium entrance placement to new signage. Traffic back-up fears may have scared away people who would otherwise have driven through the area, or the fears might have been overblown to begin with.
Michael Hunter, a traffic engineering professor at Georgia Tech, said he has not formally studied the stadium’s traffic plan, but his professional instinct is that the Braves got it right.
“I would say it is not luck, but a function of well thought-out planning,” Hunter said of the stadium’s traffic. He pointed to the stadium’s multiple entrances, dispersed parking lots, and adjacent commercial complex as good strategies for spreading out traffic across several hours and different roadways.
The Braves were happy to take credit for good planning. Team spokesperson Beth Marshall also pointed to the later game times, advance parking sales and use of the Waze navigation app, along with coordination with government agencies.
“This combination of planning, education, execution and the cooperation of our fans and those in the surrounding area made our opening home stand a success,” she said.
Sandy Springs has some hard data on the way, as it is conducting before-and-after traffic counts at 39 intersections and roads. City Councilmember Andy Bauman, who requested the traffic counts, said the initial data reports should be available in the next few weeks.
Many locals are getting a first-hand experience, too. Mayor Paul said he had already attended three Braves games. It took him about 15 minutes to arrive, and returning home took about “two-and-a-half songs on the radio” while he passed police officers standing around “like the Maytag repairman.”
Rossman, the hotel manager, has also visited SunTrust Park. He and his son ran into the stadium’s one significant traffic issue – a confusing line-up of Uber drivers that led to delays. “If that’s the worst problem, it’s pretty good,” Rossman said.
Overshadowed by traffic talk is the opportunities some local businesses see in the stadium’s attraction of tourists to the area. Rossman said he’s already had some guests clearly staying for the baseball games, with some wearing gear advertising the Braves or the opposing team. The hotel is now dedicating one of its existing shuttle buses to game-day trips.
Rossman expects even better business from the stadium’s forthcoming slate of major concerts, which likely will draw regional visitors.
“There’s no season ticket holders for Billy Joel,” he said of the headliner for SunTrust’s first concert, slated for April 28.
–Phil Mosier contributed