Plan ahead for downtown traffic, parking

December 31, 2011

The parking lot on South Street about two blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium will be off-limits to the public for more than a week leading up to the Feb. 5 Super Bowl.

Owner Norle Investments Inc. has rented the space to cable sports network ESPN, displacing about 50 monthly parkers.

The 212 spaces in the lot between Meridian and Pennsylvania streets aren’t much compared with the 150,000 out-of-town visitors expected to converge on the city, but Norle’s decision to lease the lot during Super Bowl festivities begs larger questions.

Will there be enough available parking to accommodate the flood of arriving vehicles and—perhaps more important—will downtown commuters still have access to their usual spaces?

The answer is “yes,” according to executives at Denison Parking, the city’s largest parking operator.

“There’s been a semi-panic about that,” said Mark Pratt, Denison’s president and chief operating officer. “The Super Bowl is a special, probably one-time event. Our existing parking patrons will be with us way longer than that.”

Denison has contacted clients and assured them it won’t be selling spaces reserved for monthly parkers, at least not during normal business hours.

Even so, Super Bowl organizers have asked large downtown employers to consider allowing workers to clock in from home or stagger their hours to minimize congestion, and city bus company IndyGo is offering free rides on its non-airport routes Feb. 2-5 for the same reason.

Further complicating the situation: Several downtown streets will be closed—some as early as Jan. 19—to accommodate the festivities.

The Indianapolis Host Committee rolled out its “Know Before You Go” traffic-planning initiative in December, urging drivers to do their homework before getting behind the wheel.

Officials have laid out two alternative routes to help motorists avoid the worst of it (see map here), and residents and visitors alike are encouraged to use one of three park-and-ride sites rather than drive into the heart of downtown.

Shuttles will pick up riders at the old long-term airport parking at 2155 S. High School Road, a parking garage at 327 N. Illinois St., and a garage and surface lot at 101 N. New Jersey St. The drop-off zone is on West Washington Street just north of the Indiana Convention Center, home to the interactive NFL Experience beginning Jan. 27. With reservations—which are recommended—the rides cost $2 per person.

About a third of out-of-town guests are staying in downtown hotels, according to Indianapolis Host Committee estimates, with the rest within the metropolitan area. Many of the fans staying elsewhere are with groups that will take a bus to the game, reducing traffic, said Mel Raines, the committee’s vice president of event operations and government relations.

But an untold number of fans could simply want to be part of the Super Bowl experience, cheering on their favorite team from a nearby watering hole. And that may make a big difference, depending upon which teams make the championship game.

If it is teams that travel well, such as the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers, the number of visitors could surpass expectations, particularly since the cities are within driving distance.

Denison averages about 5,000 vacant spaces during the week. Including the entire downtown, the number of empty spaces likely rises to 10,000, Pratt said.

“There’s a little more coordination going on than people might think,” Pratt said. “I don’t see any disaster looming.”

Still, IUPUI is preparing for the deluge of visitors by canceling weekend classes. Administrators also are encouraging instructors to provide online assignments the Friday before and Monday after the game, so students and professors can avoid traveling downtown.

“If 100 percent of our employees tried to get downtown, we’d be contributing to the traffic problem,” said Amy Conrad Warner, IUPUI’s vice chancellor for external affairs. “So supervisors have the opportunity to adjust start and end times, and to telecommute.”

Meanwhile, Norle Investments’ decision to lease its parking lot to ESPN is a no-brainer for Steve Foster, the company’s parking supervisor, who declined to divulge financial details of the agreement.

“If we were going to make more money parking cars, we’d be parking cars,” he said. “Let’s put it that way.”•


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