Chicago’s United Center – rebounding traffic

We are switching sports again for our 3rd article on event traffic. This time we’re looking at the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls. The United Center is the largest NBA arena, with a capacity of 20,917. The NHL hockey team, Chicago Blackhawks, share the arena, and there are approximately 4,000 available parking spaces but they vary in type and use. This variety of parking is one of our key areas of discussion.

The United Center is also a multi-use location. It not only needs to change between NBA and NHL sports – itself a fascinating process to explore – but also has music and other entertainment taking place. We are leaving out the complex logistics required for these frequent and time-pressured venue alterations, but will explore event logistics in a future post.

Area of interest 1: Premium Parking

Premium parking and rewarding good driving by offering access to better parking has been discussed a lot within the Eloy team and with venues. Premium parking has value although we should note that fans will have a differing outlook on what they want from parking.

United Centre Chicago
The United Center in Chicago is home to sports teams and hosts multiple events throughout the year

Some people will always seek free or cheap parking and be willing to walk or use other transport methods to get to venues. Park & Ride options fit in well with this and can be appropriate for many sports venues. This, in effect, can shift the traffic to other places and reduce the intensity near to the stadium. However, multi-modal travel doesn’t work for many people: families might not want the hassle if they have young kids, people won’t want to stand in the rain waiting for a bus ride, and it might not reduce journey times overall compared to getting into your car in a parking space near to the stadium.

Premium parking also offers additional revenue streams. However, some of the potential ways to improve traffic with algorithmic parking bay allocation or ensuring those coming from the west park on the west of a venue can be severely impacted if cars are having to traverse around the stadium to get to their premium parking spots. In many ways, this can be explained with the airplane filling dilemma: we can fill and empty airplanes more quickly using algorithms but often the airlines want to sell premium seating or queuing. This prevents any of the potential benefits from being realised but adds revenue to the airline. There needs to be a trade-off between offering a better fan experience and a venue’s bottom line.

Uber Chicago
Ride-sharing can contribute to traffic congestion

Luckily, there is a lot of scope around how premium parking can be integrated into car park filling algorithms - for example end-of-row reservations that are nearest to the stadium and influencing the in-car traffic signals to slightly speed up premium car parking paths.

Area of interest 2: ride sharing

We hinted at ride sharing with Park & Ride, but the United Center also has an Uber drop-off area. This helps support many fans travelling from the city centre who don’t want to drive. As this is a “taxi” service, there is no need to park but the vehicles themselves will contribute to arriving and departing traffic. Further, those vehicles will produce two-way traffic as the drivers return to the city centre after drop-off looking for their next fare.

In terms of traffic reduction, the ideal process is to ensure each Uber is filled with as many fans as possible. There is an incentive for fans to do this naturally as it saves them money. However, this is a negative experience for taxi drivers as it reduces demand. This is an interesting and complex situation that we will see more of in the future. For example, will Robotaxis (self-driving or autonomous vehicles) increase traffic as they travel around empty looking for their next fare?

Area of interest 3: Superstar SatNav

When Eloy first released our SatNav almost 3 years ago, we had as a simple feature the option to adjust the SatNav voice. We noticed the difference between American and English accents and considered a more compelling voice.

It turns out that you can switch in different voices quite easily - think of all the different languages that SatNav needs to cater for. So, with the correct voice file, one could change this experience. Our first thought was a Sean Connery / James Bond voice but promptly dropped the idea because we couldn’t get the correct voice file and the copyright situation was not viable.

However, sports superstars are known to provide voice-overs and even acting parts. Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls legend, is one of several basketball players to taken parts in movies, including Space Jam. Further, creating the required audio files (think about all the street names that are required) is substantially easier today using artificial intelligence.

Michael Jordan
Would you take more notice of Michael Jordan giving you SatNav instructions?

The key questions to explore next: will sports teams or sports stars be willing to submit their voice for SatNav to their own stadium. Will fans find this exciting (our initial research shows younger fans like this idea). Would it improve uptake or compliance to wider traffic coordination technology - you might ignore the normal SatNav voice but who would ignore Michael Jordan telling you not to block the box when parking?

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