If you are going to attend the upcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, you probably have one very important question: How long will I sit in traffic waiting to get into the Kentucky Horse Park?
If don't plan to attend, you might have a different question: Is traffic around Lexington going to be worse during the Games?
WEG traffic planners and Lexington police say you probably won't wait long or be inconvenienced much.
The plan is to direct drivers to the Horse Park and other Lexington spots with a series of signs specifically for WEG, avoid traffic choke points with the help of Lexington police, and get people into the Kentucky Horse Park in a brisk manner with the help of volunteers and temporary workers. (Parking at the Horse Park will be $20, cash only.)
Out-of-town visitors will be directed to the Iron Works Pike exit off Interstate 75, then to the Horse Park; in-town spectators will be routed to the Newtown Pike exit off New Circle Road and then to Iron Works Pike.
Downtown Lexington will be busy during the Games as well, with Cheapside Park, Triangle Park and Courthouse Plaza featuring free entertainment every day as part of Spotlight Lexington. The main stage at Courthouse Plaza will host ceremonies for the athletes, a live broadcast from the competition and nightly concerts.
Jim Downs — a traffic expert from Gameday Management Group, an Orlando, Fla., company that has managed traffic for the last 10 Super Bowls — is the traffic czar for WEG. To control traffic at the horse park, he said, he relies on an idea called "lane power," or the number of cars he can move down a strip of road over a given time. The lane-power equation will determine how WEG traffic will flow during the run of the Games from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10.
About 300,0000 tickets have been sold so far to WEG events, out of a goal of 500,000. A ticket must be held for each event a person attends. WEG officials estimate that if the ticket goal is reached, between 250,000 and 300,000 people will attend the Games over 16 days. Unless you arrive by a hotel shuttle or LexTran bus, everybody has to drive to the park and leave their car in a parking space.
WEG expects an average daily attendance of 18,750, with about 2.5 people per car, or about 7,500 cars each day.
With parking for 11,000 cars at Spy Coast Farm next to the Horse Park, there should be plenty of parking. Extra parking at the park's headquarters down the road might be available in case of overflow; in a pinch, Coldstream Research Park may be used for parking and spectators shuttled to the Horse Park. (This was the original idea for parking until a nearby farm became available. Now, it has come back around in a "just in case" scenario.)
Some days will be bigger than others during the run of the Games. Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, for example, is expected to be particularly busy because of key events in dressage, eventing and reining.
Arrive an hour ahead
No matter which day or event they're going to, WEG traffic planners advise spectators to arrive about an hour before the event. That will allow time to walk a quarter-mile to a half-mile — the furthest distance, Downs said — from the parking lot to the park's entrance, get to the event and settle in. There will be shuttles from the parking lot for the disabled.
Said Downs: "Will there be heavier than normal traffic? Yes. Will you be able to come rip-roaring in five minutes before your event? No."
Downs said he thinks that 1,000 vehicles an hour can be moved on the four-lane section of Iron Works Pike near the park.
The plan by WEG officials and Lexington police to avoid having traffic stall and spectators fume at the Iron Works Pike entrance to the Horse Park is to keep the traffic moving and get people into parking spots as quickly as possible. That's the reason for cash only for parking. It's quicker than credit cards. And they'll tell spectators about the advantages of hotel shuttles and LexTran buses, which can move far more people than cars.
New traffic light
There will be between 12 and 20 Lexington police officers directing WEG traffic on Iron Works Pike. There's also a plan for a temporary traffic light, already installed but not yet switched on, at Iron Works Pike coming off the ramp of southbound I-75. When not needed, the temporary light will be set to flash.
Lexington police said they have plans for moving cars, buses and shuttles under all contingencies — routine circumstances, crowding for the finals of a competitive event and even a weather calamity, such as a sudden soaking downpour with wind and lightning.
One thing working in favor of WEG: Unlike a University of Kentucky home football game, where 70,000 people need to get to the same place at the same time, WEG's events are spread out over 16 days at various times.
Michael Blanton, Lexington police commander in charge of WEG traffic, and David Boggs, the deputy chief of police who is acting as public-safety liaison for WEG, are convinced that the traffic can be handled without gridlock.
"The traffic impact to Lexington as a whole is going to be minimal," Blanton said.
For folks going downtown to participate in events, parking will be available in downtown parking structures, at the Lexington Center and at 1,800 metered on-street spaces.
Boggs said planning is being done now for parking and traffic flow for days when there are large concerts and events.
A peak on Oct. 9
There's one day when the forces of Lexington event traffic will coalesce. On Oct. 9, there will be racing at Keene land, a UK home football game against Auburn at Commonwealth Stadium (time to be announced) and WEG driving, jumping and vaulting events.
But traffic mavens don't expect a problem, because each event is in a different area of the city.
Blanton said he hopes to make it through all those events and WEG with minimal police overtime. Lexington police have had substantial experience with traffic at the horse park during the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event each spring, he said.
Rolex draws about 80,000 over a four-day run, with a one-day high of 40,000 to 50,000. WEG officials have said that one-day attendance for some events might run slightly higher than that for Rolex.
Adding the adjacent parking spaces at Spy Coast Farm is a help, Blanton said, because it compacts the traffic area.
Downs' advice to the WEG-bound is, again: "Come early. It's important that people understand that yes, there will be some traffic, but it's nothing the city hasn't dealt with before."
Inconveniences will be minimal, but "there will always be a hiccup," Downs said.