Traffic around SunTrust Park not as bad as expected when Braves play

3:47 p.m Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 Local

Sandy Springs officials, wary of jammed streets from Braves fans flocking to SunTrust Park since the stadium move was announced, were pleasantly surprised to learn that traffic wasn’t as bad as they feared.

In fact, at some key intersections, there was even a decrease in traffic on game days — perhaps because some drivers avoided areas they thought might back up.

Before SunTrust Park opened earlier this year, Braves fans had been encouraged to exit the highway in Sandy Springs to get to the baseball stadium. Sandy Springs leaders were not pleased. Residents, concerned that traffic would be consistently routed onto neighborhood roads, shouted down public officials at a meeting to discuss traffic plans.

After a year of SunTrust Park, some people who drive in the area are still frustrated by traffic there, saying they do see an increase. But a traffic study conducted by the city shows in some cases, traffic was worse in March, before the season started, than it was on game day.

The study showed that at least three areas — Heards Ferry Road and Riverside Drive, Northside Drive and Interstate North Parkway/New Northside Drive and a southbound stretch of Northside Drive — had fewer cars on the May game days that were studied than they did before the baseball season started.

Vismay Patel, who works at The Juice Box liquor store near one of the intersections that was studied, said he tries to stay at work late to avoid the crowds. Patel said traffic near Powers Ferry Road and New Northside Drive is “a little worse” when the Braves are in town.

“Even if you’re not paying attention, you’ll know when there’s a game,” he said.

In Cobb County, transportation director Jim Wilgus said the county has gotten some complaints from the managers of nearby office parks and about ridesharing pickup and drop-off. But most of the feedback has been positive, and Wilgus said since there have been “minimal impacts” to traffic, there were no plans to review the data.

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Meanwhile, in Sandy Springs, the traffic study looked at six main intersections and 33 segments of road between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., comparing traffic in March, before the season started, to game days in May.

They also looked at game days in April, but didn’t use the data in their comparison because the numbers came during the period when parts of I-85 and Ga. 400 were closed because of the I-85 bridge collapse. No game days were studied after mid-May. The study was released last month.

“We noticed a lot of decreases,” said France Campbell, the city’s traffic and transportation manager. “Where there were increases, they were not necessarily going toward the stadium.”

Campbell said it’s possible that the city will collect more data next season, to see whether traffic patterns change.

He said the impact might not have been as bad as expected because residents were prepared to make changes to their commutes, and the city had created a traffic management plan in anticipation of potential issues.

Those improvements included upgraded traffic signals, the installation of cameras and more staffing at a traffic management center.

Attendance at Braves games has averaged close to 31,000 people this season. The stadium holds 41,149 people, so a team that’s contending for a playoff berth could certainly draw more traffic, too.

Campbell said if that’s the case, the city will look at more options to mitigate the impact of drivers going to games. But this year, Sandy Springs “scaled back our monitoring” early in the season because traffic wasn’t a big issue.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” Campbell said. “I’m glad there’s nothing more exciting to report.”

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Some drivers agree with the Sandy Springs study, including Jeff Dutra, who lives in Marietta but works down the road from the stadium. On Friday, near Powers Ferry Road and New Northside Drive, he said he’s seen “no difference from” SunTrust Park. Lisa Biddulph, who lives in Sandy Springs and has season tickets to the Braves, said traffic hasn’t been a problem.

“It’s been great,” she said. “There’s not any more than usual.”

But Kris Johnson, an Atlanta resident who works near the stadium and stopped to shop in Sandy Springs, said traffic is “a nightmare.”

“When you log on to the traffic sites, it looks like you’re driving into doom,” he said. “It’s kind of rough.”

Employees at the nearby Chevron, Goodwill and Publix stores agreed: traffic is a little heavier now, and it takes a little more time to get around. And with more pedestrians around, walking from sometimes-far-flung lots, drivers have to be more careful and more aware.

Cande Cruz, who works at the Chevron on New Northside Drive, said there are a lot more cars on game days. It’s good for sales, but not for getting around.

“When there’s a game, it’s really crazy everywhere outside,” he said.

City leaders say limiting the number of spaces will ease congestion on the roads.
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