Guest Post by Bryant Ficek, PE, PTOE, Vice President at Spack Consulting
Halloween is that fun time of costumes, haunted houses, trick-or-treating, and sneaking that favorite chocolate bar from your kid’s candy stash (I’m not the only one am I?). Lots of places open in October with haunted attractions ranging from pumpkin patches and corn mazes to castles, roller coasters, and escape rooms. As you might expect, these events pose potential night-time traffic issues in places that don’t usually see many cars.
While visitors to these events are looking for a good scare, getting there shouldn’t be a nightmare. The traffic engineer’s challenge becomes how to make night-time driving at these seasonal events a little less scary, and keep the patrons of these events safe. Creating well thought out traffic management plans can accomplish these goals.
That was the objective of Rochester Horror: Fright at the Farm attraction which recently moved to a new location off a major highway. The Minnesota Department of Transportation requested a traffic management plan (and driveway counts that will Spack Consulting will take over Halloween) as part of the permitting process.
Spack Consulting was asked to finished the Traffic Management Plan, which identified the goals of the study as to move traffic safely and efficiently, minimizing conflicts among cars, and people as well as minimizing conflicts between event traffic and existing traffic on the public road. This involved examining both the internal and external traffic operations. Based on our review, here are our seven generalized recommendations:
- Well-Defined Access Driveway. Traffic needs to move safely and efficiently off the public road and to the site’s parking areas. To avoid back-ups on the highway and conflicts with attendees walking around the site, we recommended channelizers on the access driveway to separate directions of travel, fencing for distance on each side of the driveway to keep pedestrians from the driveway, and parking attendants to assist motorists to the parking area. This site also uses tour guides, which were then recommended to double as crosswalk guards at the end of the tour when people would head back to their cars.
- Clearly-Marked Parking Spot Indications. Many sites, this one included, use a gravel or grass lot that doesn’t have permanent markings to guide drivers into the correct spot. Similar to snowy conditions in the northern states, that make parking lines invisible, drivers are often unable to maintain even rows of parking. The result in inefficient use of parking with the drive aisle widths often getting reduced between parked cars. We recommended providing parking indications, such as flags, cones, or other visible items, to clearly mark the parking spots and giving drivers a marker to properly align their cars.
- Street/Pedestrian Lighting. The dark adds to the suspense and scare-factor, we get it. However, the entrances and exits, particularly where any tours or attractions start and end should be well lit to improve the safety for everyone. The parking areas should also have a lighted pathway if possible to guide people to the front door. Getting a sprained ankle or some worse incident on the walk from the car will definitely decrease the enjoyment of the attraction. Our plan identified key locations for lighting at this attraction.
- Personal Safety Equipment. Employees and volunteers that help direct traffic and pedestrians around the site need to be seen. We recommended a minimum of wearing reflective safety vests and carrying flashlights. A host of other visibility-enhancements are available for any parking attendants, security, or other personnel that will be working in the busy traffic areas. Not only will that help these people be seen, it also provides a factor of authority for attendees to follow.
- Safe Intersection Movements. Some sites are in rural areas or a sleepy suburb location where traffic is lower for the other 11 months of the year. The Fright at the Farm access intersection on the highway works well as a side-street stop controlled intersection for the normal farm traffic. With this attraction, the traffic increases significantly and creates new potential risks at the intersection. We recommended using temporary barrels and signs to create a 3/4-access intersection, eliminating left turns from the site. This greatly improves the safety of the intersection and drivers are able to make a U-turn just down the road at the next intersection, which is not too much of an inconvenience.
- Roadway Signs. Besides a sign noting the site attraction and entrance, warning signs were needed to alert highway users of the potential congestion (slow-downs on the highway for newly turning traffic). We recommended a series of “Event Congestion Ahead” warning signs in addition to a changeable message sign located just over a mile upstream from the site’s driveways. This gave plenty of warning to all drivers of the new condition. Also important, make sure the signs are covered on days when the attraction is not open.
- Website Information. Providing as much up-front information to people as possible is always good to do. Traffic flow in particular moves better with less frustration if drivers have expectations for themselves and others. We recommended putting parking information on their website as well as noting that lefts from the driveway are not allowed and a map showing where U-turns could be made.
Happy Halloween from everyone here at Spack Enterprises!
P.S. With zombies seemingly everywhere too, there’s plenty of places to find your scare (here’s a pretty good list of places in the US).