Luke Bryan concert traffic snafu makes a case for city oversight

Traffic backed up for eight miles on Tates Creek Road as 20,000 fans made their way to the Luke Bryan Farm Tour. The Luke Bryan Farm Tour came to Talon Winery on Tates Creek Road in Lexington, Kentucky, on Oct. 6, 2015. It was originally scheduled for Oct. 1, but was postponed due to rain. Herald-Leader photo by Rich Copley| rcopley@herald-leader.com.

Traffic backed up for eight miles on Tates Creek Road as 20,000 fans made their way to the Luke Bryan Farm Tour. The Luke Bryan Farm Tour came to Talon Winery on Tates Creek Road in Lexington, Kentucky, on Oct. 6, 2015. It was originally scheduled for Oct. 1, but was postponed due to rain. Herald-Leader photo by Rich Copley| rcopley@herald-leader.com.

It’s probably safe to say Tuesday night’s traffic fiasco surrounding the Luke Bryan Farm Tour at Talon Winery and Vineyards was not the way Lexington officials wanted to start a month of major events in our fair city.

Traffic backed up for eight miles on Tates Creek Road, Lexington Police told the Herald-Leader. Fans waited in that quagmire for three to five hours, many reaching the concert site as Bryan was already several songs into his set — despite tweeted promises to hold off until everyone was in.

I was right there with them, heading to the show to take photos for the paper. I departed downtown Lexington at 4 p.m. and arrived at the Talon gate just after 9. And the backup happened in reverse too, as the last fans did not depart Talon until 4:10 the next morning.

Like many, I was wondering why the wait was so long; why traffic sat at a standstill for long stretches of time. Was there an accident ahead? Was loading people into the event site harder than police and organizers expected? The latter came to mind recalling the 2004 Ichthus Festival, when traffic to the Wilmore festival site on Harrodsburg Road backed up to Southland Christian Church because, after several days of rain, vehicles were pulling into the grassy site and sinking into the mud.

In a way, it would have been more excusable if one of those situations or another was in play. But no, as Lexington Police told the paper, it was simply the volume of traffic being funneled down a two-lane country road into an event site with one entrance.

By my observation, they were pulling people in as fast as they could, and even stopped collecting the $10 parking fee to keep things moving. It was just too much traffic, police said.

Now, any reasonable person expects traffic when heading to events attended by tens of thousands of people. In 24 years of arts and entertainment journalism, I have sat in more than my fair share (especially after Tuesday) of event-related traffic. Most backups have been in the 30 minute to an hour range.

Short of an unexpected event such as an accident or severe weather, that should be about as long as event traffic requires of attendees. Four- and five-hour, mile-long backups indicate a failure to plan and/or adequately assess the situation.

Reporting Tuesday’s concert in advance, we were told by Talon Winery that Bryan’s people had been presenting the Farm Tour for years and had a solid plan. And Lexington Police said there was a plan in place for moving the traffic. (In a way, it is a shame that Talon’s reputation is taking such a hit because of this; because it is a lovely venue I have enjoyed going to for other events.)

One thing that surprised even me in the follow-up reporting was that the Tuesday concert did not require city approval. A lot of people, myself included, had been under a presumption that if you presented an event expected to attract that many people, a permit of some sort was needed; someone would take a look at the situation and assess the practicality and safety of that plan.

But apparently no, that rule only applies to events downtown. But Thursday, council voted unanimously to explore regulating traffic for large events countywide, as they should.
Yes, most farms and venues such as Talon Winery are on private property, and the owners have a right to do what they want on them. But the public has to be taken into consideration, too. It’s one of those, your rights end at the tip of my nose scenarios.

Far more than Bryan fans were affected by Tuesday’s traffic. Residents and businesses up and down Tates Creek Road were affected, some folks waiting hours to complete commutes home that usually took minutes. This is a case where it seems a few expert eyes may have been able to look at the plan for this event and said, “This isn’t a good idea.”

We have some other events coming up this month that will draw large crowds: Thursday evening’s University of Kentucky Football game against Auburn at Commonwealth Stadium, in the mix of daily school and commuter traffic, and the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 30 and 31.

I am really not expecting another Bryan-like fiasco for several reasons:

■ These are venues used to handling large crowds, whereas Talon Winery hadn’t hosted an event that large.
■ There are far more points of access and parking options at these venues than Talon, which has one way to get there. Basically, they have the infrastructure to handle the crowds.
■ Locals are used to these venues and having to maneuver around them.
We should expect that, with a reasonable wait, fans will be able to get in and out of these events without inordinate waits in traffic.

My real concern with the football game is traffic during the day, as UK students who normally park in tailgating areas around Commonwealth Stadium are being forced to park at satellite lots and shuttle in. That’s a crummy thing to do to your tuition-paying students.

The broader concern is what can be done with events where large crowds are being drawn to venues not accustomed to handling that kind of load, which is becoming more common.

A more active and vibrant city is a wonderful thing. Lots of events that draw big crowds is great. Without the traffic jam, the Luke Bryan Farm Tour could have been fantastic; I was really looking forward to getting out there in time to enjoy some of the food and festivities before the show, as were many people stuck with me.

There just needs to be a better logistical plan than hoping for the best.

 

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