High-Tech Parking for Dallas Cowboys’ StadiumCountry music legends Reba McEntire and George Strait – not parking snarls – took center stage at the opening concert of the new Cowboys Stadium on June 6, 2009, in Arlington, TX. Thanks to what is believed to be the most sophisticated travel and parking system in professional sports, some 18,000 vehicles made their way smoothly to the stadium’s 20 lots, and post-concert traffic congestion lasted little more than an hour.
The stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys football team, is a structure of superlatives. With a capacity of more than 100,000 people, it is the largest professional football stadium in the U.S. It features the world’s largest high-definition video screen, largest glass retractable doors (at each end zone), and largest steel arches, along with a massive retractable roof.
“With such an advanced stadium – and one that would attract extremely large crowds, with a majority of people arriving by car – the owners were committed to developing a leading-edge parking and traffic management system,” said Bob Brooks, National Design Manager for Parson Brinckerhoff’s sports and special events unit.
The Cowboys’ real estate development arm engaged PB in December 2006 to streamline all aspects of stadium parking and traffic routing. Brooks served as Project Manager; Kristen Torrance was Project Traffic Engineer. Project Administrator Brenda Hicks and Engineering Intern Ben Holsapple also had major roles.
A key was being able to pre-sell parking spaces. After extensive coordination with Ticketmaster and development of complex interconnected databases, led by PB’s Marie Gunnerson, football and concert fans have the option to pre-purchase a space in the parking lot of their choice when they order event tickets. This eliminates the need for time-consuming cash transactions on-site and makes event traffic more predictable.
Before an event, patrons visit www.dallascowboys
maps.com and enter their ZIP code and designated parking lot. The system displays the recommended route to that lot, as well as a return route.
“Unlike online mapping sites such as Google or MapQuest, this system provides the best route – as opposed to the most direct route – and guides motorists all the way to their parking lot,” Brooks explained. Instead of directing all traffic to the Interstate 30 exit closest to the stadium – a recipe for gridlock – the system has been modeled to strategically distribute traffic (through specified directions) across 14 exits and the full network of arterial roadways and local streets.
The database contains maps from more than 400 ZIP codes within an 50-mile radius of the stadium to any of the 20 parking lots. Maps are updated to account for construction and other potential delays. To make the routing schemes even more efficient, PB’s Jonathan Reid developed a traffic signal timing model. During event traffic, area signal timing can be altered to accommodate higher traffic flows on designated routes.
To complement the computer systems, Parson Brinckerhoff developed an operations manual for lot operators. “Every aspect of stadium access must be efficient.” Brooks said. “For example, rather than having motorists circulate in the lots to select a space, we use ‘speed parking,’ where event staff directs a steady flow of vehicles to park systematically.”
Further, PB conducted a building circulation study to evaluate the flow of pedestrians from the parking lots into and throughout the stadium. While the stadium was being constructed, PB recommended widening certain walkways and maximizing circulation space in plaza areas to avoid bottlenecks.
Brooks was on hand for the stadium opening’s McEntire-Strait concert, monitoring traffic flow from a golf cart as fans arrived. “It was an amazingly smooth process,” he said, “especially being the first event at a new stadium with a new parking system.
“Exit polls indicated that more than 72% of people attending used the dallascowboysmaps.com website.” The local CBS affiliate found that “many fans reported being surprised at how easy it was to park.”
PB continued to enhance and publicize the parking system as the season went on. “The Cowboys management has succeeded in developing a stadium that provides an exceptional experience from the ride there through the ride home,” Brooks said.
From Parson Brinckerhoff’s in-house bulletin, 2009.