Fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers can’t be too pleased with what they saw on the diamond this year. But beyond the centerfield wall — in Dodger Stadium’s vast parking lot — there was a lot to like.  By all accounts, traffic moved more steadily than at any point in Dodger Stadium’s 45-year history.

When Dodgers owner Frank McCourt bought the franchise from News Corp. (NWS) prior to the 2004 season, he met a fan base that was loyal but increasingly frustrated by the fan experience at the venerable park.

The No. 1 gripe? Traffic in and out of the stadium, which was governed by the near absence of a system. Cars entered the stadium, then aimlessly circled the stadium’s loop before pulling into one of Dodger Stadium’s 20,000 spaces. Leaving was even more hellacious — an impossibly slow procession of break lights inching toward freeway entrance ramps.

The Dodgers aren’t alone in looking outside the organization for help. Increasingly, professional sports franchises are employing private transportation consultants to help them draw up plans to alleviate traffic on game days.

McCourt, for example, set out last winter to tackle Dodger Stadium’s intractable transportation issues. McCourt, whose family has been in the infrastructure business for over a hundred years, saw the project as imperative toward achieving baseball’s holy grail — drawing four million fans per season to the ballpark.

McCourt brought in Dick Kaku an engineer from Fehr & Peers, a transportation consulting firm. Kaku has worked on projects in Los Angeles ranging from Staples Center to Disneyland. Kaku maintains that the problem with the old system was the human element.

“It was a system that was disorganized in that people were allowed to do whatever they wanted.” He offers a stern solution: “Make the driver’s role as easy as possible. Don’t allow him to make any decisions.”

Richard Andersen, general manager of Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, swears by his transportation consultant, Walter Heintzelman. Faced with a new downtown ballpark in a car-oriented region, Andersen brought in the independent consulting engineer to help draw up the Padres’ plan.

“We knew we weren’t experts. There’s a science to it and he’s a scientist.” Heintzelman, a 21-year veteran of the profession, had worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a host of other professional sports teams and facilities. He has collaborated with Parsons Brinckerhoff, another leader in the field whose next challenge is the Dallas Cowboys new facility in Arlington, Texas.

With Heintzelman’s help, the Padres have applied a comprehensive transportation plan. Thus far, Andersen is very pleased with their ingress and regress numbers – the amount of time it takes for fans to get in and out of the stadium’s orbit.

Other franchises are following suit, bringing in their own consultants. The Washington Nationals open their new stadium next season. They’ve called upon Gorove/Slade Associates Inc., which had success with the MCI Center in central Washington, and Rummel, Klepper & Kahl Engineers of Baltimore, which won awards for its work for Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Recommendations from Kaku included a plan for Controlled Zone Parking, essentially dividing the massive lot into four quadrants. Once cars enter the stadium and the drivers pay their $15, they are then directed to a designated spot. Fans moan about McCourt’s raising the gate price from $10 to $15. But according to Howard Sunkin, senior vice president of public affairs, “the five [extra] dollars is long gone.”

Though the Dodgers won’t disclose a specific number, “million of dollars in resources” have been invested into the doubling of transportation personnel, the coordination between the team and multiple transportation agencies and the gem of the operation — a flashy new transportation center housed on the stadium’s club level.

The command center is an impressively cool setup, a small room with two walls displaying large camera monitors, data graphs and digital wall clocks that track the progress at each of the stadium’s gates.

Since the implementation of the new system, clearing the lot has been reduced to an average of 36 minutes, down from 58 minutes in 2006, according to Dodger officials. Even if the team is putting its thumb on the scale, the improvement is uncanny in a city bereft of traffic solutions.

There are still mild complaints: Since cars must exit the gate they entered, some drivers bristle at being funneled onto the 5-South toward Santa Ana when they live in Sherman Oaks, in the opposite direction.

Overall, though, the new system is a triumph of expertise over paralysis.

AUTHOR: Kevin Arnovitz
DATED: 17th October 2007