Monday, August 4, 2008

Renaissance Festival traffic and parking update

August in Anne Arundel County means the arrival of an Annapolis-area tradition: the annual Maryland Renaissance Festival. The Renn Fest, as it is known locally, runs from August through October. The venue is a faux medieval village built on 125 acres of rolling woodland along Crownsville Road between Route 178 (Generals Highway) to the north and Route 450 (Defense Highway) to the south (map).

Maryland's Renn Fest is one of the more popular renaissance fairs in America. It has grown tremendously from its humble beginnings in 1977 and now averages 280,000 visitors in a season. As a result, this 16th-century festival generates some serious 21st-century traffic. Locals know to avoid area roads when they can, but residents who live close to the festival often cannot avoid major traffic headaches.

The festival organizers are sensitive to local traffic concerns. Over the years they have sought to address these concerns by expanding their parking and hiring more police officers to direct traffic and keep cars moving. Unfortunately, as the festival has grown, traffic congestion has continued to grow with it.

Trying a new approach

Earlier this year, I met with the festival's General Manager Jules Smith and Site Manager Adam Smith, along with Councilmen Jamie Benoit and Ed Reilly, Delegate James King, and Police Captain Bill Krampf. The goal of the meeting was to find a way to improve traffic flow on roads around the festival. After discussing the issue we reached a consensus that the main issue was not so much traffic management as it was parking management.

The traffic choke point occurs when cars turn off of Crownsville Road to enter the festival grounds. There are two festival entrances off Crownsville Road, each of which allows only one vehicle at a time to enter the property on a gravel road. This arrangement slows down traffic on Crownsville Road which in turn backs up cars for miles in both directions.

After the meeting, festival management consulted with a traffic engineering firm, reviewed the county's traffic data, and examined different options for improving traffic. I am pleased to share the following information from a recent letter from Jules Smith:

"After meeting with the traffic engineers and our own staff as well as the police most familiar with the festival and traffic we will be addressing the issue identified as the primary cause of delay, the left hand turn into the event. By shifting additional police traffic management to the northern entrance and intersection and hiring additional parking staff to increase the movement and speed of cars entering the driveway and parking them in multiple rows at the same time the traffic will be taken from Crownsville Road more quickly resulting in greater continued road movement."
The new arrangement will take effect with the start of the festival in just a few weeks. Jules and his team will monitor its operation and modify it if necessary to make sure it is working well.

I appreciate the Renn Fest's responsiveness to its neighbors' concerns and am hopeful that this new parking arrangement, while not eliminating the traffic problem, will be a significant improvement.