After a failed parking plan or transportation system, depending on which side you’re on, at the Kentucky Speedway’s big NASCAR race over the weekend, it’s easy to see how the problems plaguing the speedway are really the same as those in every auto-dominated, sprawling planning model. It shouldn’t be difficult to see why a model allowing access only by a single interstate and two roads couldn’t handle cramming 100,000 people travelling by car into a single parking lot. Instead, delays of up to 5 or 6 hours to travel mere miles causing some visitors to miss the race came as completely unexpected to state and racetrack officials.
In days following the race, racetrack officials complained that the roads and interstates couldn’t handle the traffic onslaught of private vehicles, and track chairman Bruton Smith called on the governor to invest taxpayer money in expanding Interstate 71 to handle traffic to his private venue. State officials at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet defended the current highway capacity, instead blaming the speedway’s parking plan that couldn’t admit cars fast enough.
So how is it that twice a year on the same weekend Louisville’s Churchill Downs can handle crowds dramatically larger than what we saw last weekend without causing fans to miss the race? The answer is in transportation options.
Three easy examples. In the Downs’ urban setting, there’s a street grid that disperses traffic efficiently rather than piling it up on a single road like an interstate highway. Because it’s in an urban setting and not isolated, there are more options for parking, allowing those who choose to park farther away and walk. There are a variety of transit options to get to the track, some with priority over private cars.
There’s no quick fix to the problem of traffic at the speedway and I’m not about to propose one, but it does offer a clear example of why this limited type of transportation system isn’t efficient for handling large amounts of traffic in short spans. It’s quite similar to the traffic experienced each day in Louisville’s interstate rush hour, where drivers stuck with only one choice–the highway–must sit in traffic (and be the traffic) that the highway originally promised to reduce. It’s built into the system.
(I’m honestly not too invested in the debate about how to improve the situation at the speedway, but in an election year, there’s already some dangerous rhetoric out there. If you’re following it, the Herald-Leader probably has the best coverage.)