Super speedy way to empty a car park: Talladega

This is the second of our series looking at sports venues in which we’re going to focus on Talladega Superspeedway, home to one of the NASCAR races.

Motorsport is very different from American football (NFL) or indeed any other football (soccer, rugby league or union, or Aussie rules) matches because many motorsport events last several days: for example, there may be qualifying rounds to determine grid position before the final race day. There are often several race events going on at the same time too, such as races between cars of different horsepower.

For those with no exposure to motorsport, think of the athletics at an Olympic Games where there are a lot of qualifying rounds and different sports like javelin and hurdles taking place consecutively.

Talladega Speedway

Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama

The result: motorsport is a multi-day experience with some fans attending the entire event (for 3 or 4 days) and some just travelling for the main race.

The venue we’re going to look at in this article is the Talladega Superspeedway, which hosts the YellaWood 500 on 1st October 2023. The Talladega Superspeedway is adjacent to Talladega airport in Alabama and sits about 15 miles to the north of the city of Talladega. Peak capacity is over 100,000 split across the main grandstand (max 80,000) and infield (you can even camp inside the racetrack!)

Area of interest 1: Lop-sided arrival and departures

With the structure of the race event and qualifying days, fans arrive over a long period in the run-up to the main race day. This means the density of traffic is lower which can give us more time to ensure decisions are made to help ease the traffic problems that occur on the main race day and when fans are departing.

With a lop-sided traffic profile, it makes sense to do some planning. One very good option is to encourage all drivers to park their vehicles so they can leave facing forwards. Although this may mean entry parking slows as queues form as each car reverses into a space, it creates a benefit on exit because vehicles can move forwards out of their space which is faster and substantially safer for pedestrians.

Car Park

Encouraging drivers to park forward-facing eases pressure on departure

When arrival traffic pressure is high, drivers are unlikely to be encouraged to park in this way, which means that although the current problem is solved, there is no consideration for outbound traffic in a few days’ time. Furthermore, if cars depart facing forwards there are potentially better safety outcomes. About 30% of vehicle insurance claims are due to incidents in car parks, so reversing in high density traffic isn’t the wisest option.

Area of interest 2: Travel from further away

Several factors were considered when selecting the site for the Talladega Superspeedway. It was important that it did not take business away from other tracks, and it needed to be large enough for high speeds to be achieved. Talladega is one of NASCAR’s three drafting tracks where cars tuck in behind each other to form airtight platoons and avoid drag from the air. The site chosen was previously an airbase which is why it isn’t particularly close to a population centre like NFL venues.

Talladega city itself has a population of just 16,000 and Birmingham, Alabama is almost 50 miles away. And with 70% percent of fans travelling from outside the state that means they are making long drives or flying.

Those with long drives don’t want the homebound journey to start with a 30, 60, or 90-minute queue to leaving the parking areas. With cars traveling to destinations further away, the congestion can persist for long periods on the interstates.

Speed Limit Sign

Lower speed limits can improve traffic flow

Eloy has previously considered how in-car communications can provide a recommended speed for vehicles to travel which may be lower than the speed limit.

The objective with this is to maximise the throughput of a road when there is a high density of cars. When roads are busy, travelling at faster speeds such as the set speed limit, might not be the optimal way for them to travel, and it may be better to lower the speed limit. We see this on roads with variable speed limits.

Area of interest 3: Larger vehicles such as RVs and caravans

Not all camping happens in tents. In fact, many people either rent or own a caravan or RV so that they can have cost-effective accommodation for holidays and sports events. RVs are long, measuring anything between 6 and 14 metres which is almost 3 times the length of some of even the largest SUVs such as the Chevrolet Suburban and much longer than smaller sedan cars which come in at about 4 m.

This means manoeuvring them is harder and slower (see Areas of Interest 1) but they will also travel at lower speeds on the roads with different braking and accelerating patterns.


It’s essential to take different size vehicles into account

Within our AI modelling, we’re ensuring that we don’t just consider a one-size fits all approach to vehicles. In a similar way, inbound logistics vehicles have different sizes and shapes so optimising for various vehicle types is complex but a necessity.

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