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What will it look like when 18,000 people leave the new arena at once

With arena's opening just weeks away, the city and the Oilers assures us parking won't be a problem, but Metro's columnist is not so sure.

The arena's big opening is just a few weeks away.

Metro File

The arena's big opening is just a few weeks away.

We’re now a month from opening day at Rogers Place. Concerts are planned, fans are excited, and nearby rent is being jacked up to make room for progress. But what about parking?

We hear that it is totally fine. There’s lots of parking! With 18,000 off-street parking stalls within a 10-15 minute walk of the arena. That’s the message Edmontonians are hearing from the City of Edmonton and the Oilers Entertainment Group.

At the same time the Oilers are talking about an 800 spot gravel lot--you know, just to be sure. That alone is enough to make downtown residents and business owners concerned. No one wants to become a parking lot for Rogers Place.

On July 13, the Oilers Entertainment Group held an information session for downtown residents and businesses where Stu Ballantyne, the company’s vice-president of operations, laid out plans how to get into the Ice District.

Calling the accessibility by transit, “very robust” Ballantyne rattled off the multiple stops and access points before moving on to the mushy middle--the parking.

“The traffic plan is based on right-hand turns. We felt that if we had people arriving and exiting on right hand turns we’d have less issues with traffic congestion.

If this solution sounds like it came from a Sigma Six workshop on lean business practices--it did! UPS engineers studied their fleet of 96,000 trucks and discovered that left turns are not efficient. The UPS's routing software shaved 20.4 million miles off their routes last year. It’s an innovative and data-driven solution.

A question that is left unanswered is how to avoid congestion in an underground parking lot for 2500 people, spilling into a main traffic route.

The OEG and the City hope to offload some of that frustration by using technology. The parking plan includes an app, Parking Panda, that is in use with major cities Baltimore and Washington DC. The app allows users to pre-purchase event parking.

This is supposed to reduce the amount of people cruising around looking for parking places. A quick perusal of reviews for the app show very mixed reviews. Many customers were frustrated by unmanned parking lots, a lack of wayfinding, and issues with scanning QR codes. Others loved the ease-of-use.

Still there seems to be a few things missing, and the “we have a plan” route may be setting people up for unrealistic expectations.

Arguably transit to Rexall Place is robust. The LRT drops you right in front of the building yet, there is still a veritable sea of parking lots and traffic congestion.

It may be more realistic to just let people know they are going to be stuck in traffic for 45 minutes. This is the city of the 12-minute Kingsway stoplight--surely we are used to gridlock by now.

And realistically, it’s impossible to stop event-goers from parking in places that they aren’t supposed to. The Fringe Festival or Folk Fest showcase this reality well.   

So yes, there’s a plan, but there’s still plenty of questions about how this intersection of technology, underground parking and (hopefully) temporary gravel lots are going to change the landscape of Downtown.

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