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Planned Special Event

A planned special event (PSE) is a public activity with a scheduled time, location and duration that may impact the normal operation of the surface transportation system due to increased travel demand and/or reduced capacity attributed to event staging.

A planned special event represents the only type of event that can generate an increase in traffic demand and cause a temporary reduction in roadway capacity because of event staging. For example, a parade or bicycle race may require street closures extending over a significant distance, and other events may warrant isolated road closures to accommodate pedestrian flow.

Differences of Planned and Unplanned Special Events

The term planned special event is used to describe these activities because of their known locations, scheduled times of occurrence, and associated operating characteristics. Emergencies, such as a severe weather event or other major catastrophe, represent special events that can induce extreme traffic demand under an evacuation condition. However, these events occur at random and with little or no advance warning, thus contrasting characteristics of planned special events.

Examples of Planned Special Events

Types of Planned Special Events

Planned special events include sporting events, concerts, festivals, and conventions occurring at permanent multi-use venues (e.g., arenas, stadiums, racetracks, fairgrounds, amphitheaters, convention centers). They also include less frequent public events such as parades, fireworks displays, bicycle races, sporting games, motorcycle rallies, seasonal festivals, and milestone celebrations at temporary venues. Temporary venues include parks, streets, and other open spaces with limited roadway and parking capacity and may not have a defined spectator capacity.

Goals and Benefits

Need for Special Attention

If 520 peak commuter periods occur each year – less holidays, then consider the impact on transportation system operations when a locale hosts 1000+ (San Diego), 2000+ (Los Angeles), 4000+ (Philadelphia), and even 5000+ (New York City) planned special events annually. The effect of PSEs is multi-dimensional: by time, by space, and by magnitude of effect. Time effects include event time, event duration, and event time of occurrence. Space effects include event location. Magnitude effects include expected attendance and event market area. Other PSE characteristics, such as audience accommodation, influence time and magnitude effects, and event type influence time, space, and magnitude effects.

The following lesson learned, as reported by the Hollywood for a one-night concert event at Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA, exemplifies the need for proactive traffic and travel management for planned special events: "Venue staffers said that the concert was 'oversold', and indeed it drew more than 40,000 people…in becoming a stadium-level show, but not a festival with people showing up at different times, there was apparently no effort to accommodate a massive arrival all at once. Traffic on the I-15 was backed up 10-12 miles south of the venue with the crossing freeway 215 apparently no better. Many decided to park sporadically near the freeway exits and simply walk miles rather than sit in the snail's pace of the bumper-to-bumper snarl."

Every agency wants to prevent the occurrence of such a problem so that everyone will remember the successful travel management of the planned special event. These situations emphasize the need for a planned special events feasibility study and traffic management plans, which present policies, guidelines, procedures, strategies, and resource applications that assure the successful management of travel for planned special events.

As a result, the overall benefits that can be realized through managing travel for planned special events include 1) reduce delay, 2) reduce traffic demand, and 3) improve safety. Thus, the good news that all decision makers want to hear is represented by the following lesson learned as reported by the Wisconsin DOT for the opening of Miller Park in Milwaukee: "Despite the triple whammy of rush hour, an opening day crowd of 42,000 and a presidential motorcade, officials reported few problems along freeway routes leading to Miller Park Friday."

Stakeholder Challenges and Goals

Table 1-1 indicates the purposes of managing travel for planned special events.

Table 1-1: Reasons to Manage Travel for Planned Special Events
  • Need to manage intense travel demand
  • Need to mitigate potential capacity constraints
  • Need to influence attractiveness of alternative travel choices
  • Need to accommodate potential for heavy pedestrian flow and transit vehicles
  • Need to manage increased demand for emergency services and associated travel demand
  • Need to facilitate ongoing commercial enterprises and associated commercial deliveries

The purposes listed in Table 1-1 should be viewed as challenges that can be met by realizing the established goals. Table 1-2 lists the challenges and goals of managing travel for planned special events. Techniques to achieve predictability include: (1) perform a multi-modal travel forecast, (2) define the area and transportation system components impacted, (3) conduct analyses of parking demand and traffic demand, and (4) identify and correct roadway capacity deficiencies. Techniques for maximizing efficiency include using all available resources and excess transportation (road and transit) capacity.

Table 1-2: Stakeholder Challenges and Goals
Challenges Goals
  • Need to manage intense travel demand
  • Need to mitigate potential capacity constraints
  • Need to influence attractiveness of alternative travel choices
  • Need to accommodate potential for heavy pedestrian flow and transit vehicles
  • Achieve predictability
  • Ensure safety
  • Maximize efficiency
  • Minimize regional traffic effects from events
  • Meet public and event patron expectations

Stakeholder and System Operations Benefits

The proactive and coordinated management of travel for planned special events yields numerous benefits to transportation stakeholders and transportation system operations:

  • Meet other staffing requirements;
  • Provide expanded and efficient control;
  • Upgrade transportation system infrastructure;
  • Improve management of future events; and
  • Transfer strategies to day-to-day operations.
  • Leverage support for new resources or initiatives

Another key stakeholder benefit involves forming partnerships and building trust among stakeholders representing different disciplines and jurisdictions. This applies not only to coordination for future planned special events but highway incident management and day-to-day operations as well.

Economic and Tourism Benefits

Planned special events present economic and tourism benefits to the community. For instance, as a mechanism for rejuvenating and profiling downtown areas, many cities have established special events committees and use planned special events such as marathons, street fairs, festivals, car rallies, outdoor music concerts or any other temporary gathering of merchants, craftspeople, and/or artists for the public's interest. Planned special events generate income through tax revenue and may also spur development. Also, showcasing a successful special event could lead to increased future tourism for the community

Many major cities have Planned Special Events offices as part of the city government. Cities such as Boston, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles have websites that provide information on planned special events. Figure 1-1 shows information from the website on the "Mayor's Office of Special Events."

Screen shot of the City of Chicago Website providing traffic impacting events
Figure 1-1: City of Chicago Website

Special events provide an opportunity to showcase your city/area for future tourism opportunities and if you rise to the challenge this could lead to future financial benefits. For example, due to the overwhelmingly positive response from businesses and golf fans to the PGA (Professional Golfers' Association's) 86th Championship at Whistling Straits Golf Course in Wisconsin, the Sheboygan County course will likely host several more major golf tournaments in the future. In fact, Whistling Straits will host the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, 2010 PGA Championship, 2015 PGA Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup.

Many communities have recognized the economic and tourism advantages of staging or attracting future planned special events to help revitalize the downtown area. The planned special event brings more people into a community to watch the planned special event and at the same time stimulates sales in stores and restaurants. Furthermore, many communities desire to improve business within their area as well as to work for the improvement of the general economic and cultural welfare of the region.

The Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce on eastern Long Island, New York has taken a proactive role in the scheduling of planned special events to attract more people into the downtown Village of Westhampton Beach so that the stores, businesses, delicatessens and restaurants can also gain from the influx of potential customers that are attracted by the planned special event. The Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce prepares a calendar of special events and works with groups such as the Rotary, churches and the Westhampton Performing Arts Center to co-sponsor antique shows, flea markets, and concerts in the downtown area. Accordingly, merchants extend their hours of business operations to coincide with the times of the planned special events.

Examples of Achieved Benefits

Planned special events can provide a substantial financial income to the community in which they occur. In fact, the economic impact of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) and the 2006 Super Bowl combined was anticipated to generate nearly $1 billion to Southeast Michigan. Table 1-3 presents a breakdown of some major events and their typical annualized economic impact.

Table 1-3: Sample Annualized Economic Impact
Events Annualized Economic Impact
Summer Olympics $700 million
NAIAS* $580 million
Daytona 500* $554 million
Super Bowl XXXVII $367 million
Indianapolis 500* $336.6 million
New York International Auto Show* $187 million
Ryder Cup $114 million
Oscars* $63 million
Kentucky Derby* $53 million
Major League Baseball All-Star Game $52.5 million
World Series* $40 million

*Estimated annual economic impact. Source:

Information on the regional economic impact of constructing the new Arizona Cardinals Stadium in Glendale, AZ (Phoenix Metro Area) revealed:

  • Construction phase added 3,500 jobs and $400 million in economic benefits to area.
  • Arizona State General Fund received $20 million over construction period.
  • The NFL (National Football League) Arizona Cardinals contribute $150 million to the economy each year.
  • The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl contributes $140 million each year. The new BCS (Bowl Championship Series) formula which adds a second game every four years will have an additional positive impact.
  • Super Bowl XXX in Tempe in 1996 was seen by 900 million people around the globe.
  • Super Bowl XLII in 2008 will add $400 million to the economy.

A review of the U.S. Census Bureau, 2002 Service Annual Survey, Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation Services, revealed the magnitude of the nationwide benefits:

  • The estimated revenue for 2002 was $137 billion for arts, entertainment and recreation services.
  • The performing arts and spectator sports sector had an estimated revenue of $50 billion.
  • The museums, historical sites and similar institutions sector had an estimated revenue of $7.7 billion.
  • The amusement, gambling and recreation industries sector had an estimated revenue of $79 billion.

Purpose of Executive Summary

Need For This Document

This Managing Travel for Planned Special Events Handbook: Executive Summary is written to communicate new and proven institutional and high-level operational techniques and strategies for achieving a coordinated, proactive approach to managing travel for all planned special events in a region in addition to facilitating successful and cost-effective management of specific planned special events.

This technical reference provides a working knowledge of the techniques and strategies that practitioners may use to successfully: (1) plan for and operate a particular planned special event or (2) manage all planned special events in a region. In turn, individual managers and decision makers gain an understanding of the collective tasks to develop and implement solutions for managing travel during a planned special event. Transportation operations vary during a planned special event and identifying issues and advance planning activities to use can lead to the successful travel management for a planned special event.

Target Audience

The associated target audience of this document is decision makers such as elected and appointed officials, and other senior level professionals whose agencies, departments, or organizations are involved in the planning, design, implementation and management of travel for planned special events. These organizations include transportation, planning, transit, law enforcement, and event organizers. Typically, the target users possess the following backgrounds: (1) little or no knowledge of the concept, importance, and challenges of managing travel for planned special events and (2) working knowledge of the issues and challenges in managing travel for planned special events and seeking institutional-level solutions toward effecting an expanded, efficient, and cost-effective approach to proactive travel management for planned special events.

FHWA Program Documents

Other Useful Documents

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) established a program devoted to managing travel for planned special events. Table 1-4 lists the other documents available.

Table 1-4: FHWA Documents
  • Handbook, Managing Travel for Planned Special Events
  • Practical Checklists
  • Outreach Material
    • Brochure; Publication No. FHWA-OP-04-033, EDL Doc. #13903
    • Fact sheet; Publication No. FHWA-OP-04-034, EDL Doc. #13904
    • Technical presentation – available on the TMC (transportation management center) Pooled-Fund Study website
  • Available at

Managing Travel for Planned Special Events Handbook

The Managing Travel for Planned Special Events Handbook was written to assist responsible agencies in managing the ever-increasing number of planned special events impacting transportation system operations in rural, urban, and metropolitan areas. It leads practitioners step-by-step through all phases of managing travel for planned special events, and it serves to:

  • Bridge the gap between the state-of-the-practice and state-of-the-art;
  • Provide a framework for establishing an integrated and stakeholder coordinated practice;
  • Recommend proven and innovative techniques; and
  • Profile successful practices.

The 448-page handbook consists of 15 chapters, the final five of which detail and contrast advance planning and operations activities for each of the five defined categories of planned special events. The handbook discusses aspects of planned special events including 1) characteristics and categories of planned special events, 2) regional and local coordination, 3) event operations planning, 4) implementation activities, 5) day-of-event activities, and 6) post-event activities.

The handbook appendix contains multiple examples of venue maps, traffic control plans, sample permits, interagency agreements, website screen shots, and event information brochures. Throughout the handbook, there exist examples of interagency coordination, successful event management ideas, resource applications, and best practices. It is available on the TMC Pooled-Fund Study web site at and the ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) Electronic Document Library (EDL) at as publication no. FHWA-OP-04-010 or EDL Doc. #13883.

Practical Checklists

This product supplements the PSE Handbook and consists of practical checklists (i.e., action plans) that practitioners may customize and apply in managing all planned special events in a region in order to consistently identify and address event-specific travel demand and transportation operations impacts that influence each step in the process of advance planning, operations, and evaluation for a specific category and size of planned special event. An evaluation plan for categorizing and sizing an incident in addition to practical checklists for each travel management phase may be applied to successive planned special events, similar to written criteria, guidelines, and procedures for managing other types of planned and unplanned events, and modified as necessary based on results of post-event evaluation activities. This product also includes example tabletop exercises tailored to advertise, promote, pilot test, and customize the practical checklists for use by agencies and regional groups.

Courses to Assist Practitioners

National Highway Institute Course No. 133099 – Managing Travel for Planned Special Events represents a new course with planned special events as its central focus. The course will advertise the Managing Travel for Planned Special Events handbook and guide participants on how to use it and apply key concepts contained in the handbook. The second-day of the course aims to guide practitioners through all the phases of managing travel for planned special events for a specific event category. In turn, course instruction and group exercises can meet participant needs in planning and managing a similar, future event for a specific locale.

Organization of Executive Summary

Document Organization

This first chapter is designed to:

  • Define a planned special event;
  • Provide examples of planned special events;
  • Present stakeholder challenges and goals;
  • Identify numerous benefits of successfully managing travel for planned special events;
  • Emphasize the need for this Executive Summary; and
  • Advise useful, companion documents and courses prepared under the FHWA program of Managing Travel for Planned Special Events.

The remainder of this Executive Summary document is devoted to:

  • Chapter Two, Event Characteristics, examines categories, phases, practitioner perspective, and operations planning schedule.
  • Chapter Three, Event Impacts and Stakeholders, looks at major event impact factors, stakeholders' functions and coordination, and travel choice considerations.
  • Chapter Four, Regional Planning and Coordination, covers policies, agreements and planned special event permitting.
  • Chapter Five, Planning, Implementing, Operating and Evaluating, examines the key activities of event operations planning, implementation, day-of-event and the post-event.
  • Chapter Six, Decision Maker's Vision, reviews the key actions that decision makers should take to meet the challenges to successfully manage travel for a planned special event.

Within each section of Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 a heading is included to discuss the decision maker's role relative to the topic discussed. A table follows listing the major actions that should be considered in the decision maker's role in meeting the challenges of that topic. These tables are highlighted with a yellow background throughout this document for ease of reference. Table 1-5 illustrates the decision maker's role relative to material presented in Chapter 1, Introduction.

Table 1-5: Decision Maker's Role Relative to Chapter One Material
  • Understand what a planned special event is.
  • Realize the major impacts on the transportation system that planned special events can cause.
  • Make sure that your staff realizes the need for a PSE Feasibility Study and traffic management plans, which present policy guidelines, procedures, strategies, and resource applications that assure the successful management of travel for PSE's.
  • Recognize the economic and tourism benefits to the community.
  • Foster your staff's use of the FHWA Handbook "Managing Travel for Planned Special Events" and the "Practical Checklists".
  • Encourage your key employees to attend and participate in the NHI Course "Managing Travel for Planned Special Events".

The decision maker should always be aware of his/her responsibility to the community and the region where the planned special event is held. Within appropriate sections of Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5; a table presents actions that the decision maker should be aware of relating to what a planned special event means to the community so that they influence each of the decision maker's roles. These tables are highlighted with a light blue background throughout this document for ease of reference.

Table 1-6 illustrates the decision maker's responsibility to the community relative to material presented in Chapter 1, Introduction.

Table 1-6: Decision Maker's Responsibility to Community
  • Assure that the normal activities of businesses and the day-to-day lives of the residents of the region continue while meeting the expectations of the event patrons.
  • Recognize that potential, major traffic impacts can be identified and mitigated by proper planning and implementation activities that will result in a successful traffic management plan with benefits to the community and region.
  • Select mitigation measures to convert potential negative impacts to positive impacts that are realized by the community.
  • Manage travel for a planned special event so that economic and tourism benefits to the community are realized.
  • Recognize that "showcasing" a successful planned special event could lead to increased future tourism for the community.
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