This is the topic on which to write in this white, blue, and red euphoria after the Atlanta Braves’ improbable World Series title. This championship seemed but a far vapor in the doldrums of summer, as the home team had a wounded and underperforming cast. But then planning, acquisitions, execution, and passion became the smooth stones in young David’s sling that landed in the forehead of the rest of baseball. Somehow, some way - that happened!
To many commuters and even even traffic wonks like this writer, the idea of the Braves shuttling its operation from a known quantity at Turner Field (now Center Parc Stadium, the home of Georgia State University football) to the Cumberland area seemed ridiculous. The notion of attracting another 40,000 people to the already-choked I-75/I-285 region sounded apocalyptic.
Turner Field and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium before it sat just to the southeast of the I-75/85 and I-20 interchange for almost 50 years. Game days, especially marquee weekend matchups, would tomahawk (pun intended) Downtown Connector traffic. But that was an enemy this city knew and could prepare for. Many that didn’t want to get stuck in that mess could just avoid Downtown Atlanta.
But exerting that same pressure on the growing and bustling Cobb Cloverleaf? From a traffic standpoint, that sounded about as absurd as the Braves being buyers at the end-of-July trade deadline this year. That traffic plan then? This broken team now?
Braves and Cobb DOT officials met multiple times with the media in 2016 and 2017 ahead of the then-named SunTrust Park’s inaugural season. They insisted that the network of roads and parking lots would function better than Turner Field’s would. They compared the Cobb County setup to a bicycle hub and spokes versus Turner Field’s focal point at the end of a funnel.
The nucleus of Braves baseball on Hank Aaron Drive for decades did not efficiently interact with that traffic funnel. Traffic would clog up on Capitol Avenue (which APD switched to one-way before and after games), coming down from Piedmont. Vehicles would shimmy into the various lots neatly lining it. Most parking was just north of the stadium, which is from where most fans traveled. And traffic would stack like Varsity onion rings on I-75/85/southbound, ramping to both MLK Junior Drive and the Fulton Street exit, respectively just before and just after the busy I-20 ramps.
Since there was very little in the way of entertainment around The Ted, people would generally arrive just before game time and then bolt as soon as the fat lady had sung. Some folks would tailgate, but there were no places to just hang out nearby. So traffic was miserable, but that was a misery that Atlantans knew.
At the time of Truist Park’s 2017 opening in Cobb, I-75′s Peach Pass Express Lanes were still under construction, so the region was both jammed and didn’t have the added capacity of the new lanes, which opened in the fall of 2018. The genesis of the Transform 285/400 was months away. The corridor was crazy-crowded. And people were up in arms that the Braves were ditching the City of Atlanta address and a stadium barely old enough to drink in favor of a new, shiny model in the suburbs. MARTA had a shuttle to Turner Field and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. But Cobb County repeatedly had rejected MARTA over the years. This surely would be a disaster, right?
Anticipating a traffic clash, Cobb, the Braves, and MLB worked together to push weeknight games from the normal 7:05 start time to 7:30. This made a huge difference, as those arriving just in time for first pitch would mix very little with the normal rush hour push. The delayed starts worked so well that the team eventually made them slightly earlier in the last couple of years.
The county and the team also knew that incorporating a 360-degree array of entry and exit points from the property would diffuse the ingress and egress. Instead of just one or two roads feeling the brunt of the stadium stampede, there were “pressure release valves” in all directions. This design, with parking borrowed from offices a bit further away and lots purpose-built right next to the stadium, could handle the big game days and, thus, not smother most other commuters on the busy freeways nearby.
But the x-factor in this strategy is the reason that Liberty Media wanted to move: The Battery. Both Liberty and the previous Braves owners never could get a mixed-use development off the ground with the City of Atlanta. There are many factors to consider in that discussion, but the main point is that Cobb County, right or wrong, opened the door for the Braves and the team ended up building one of the most sought after hangout spots in Metro Atlanta. Fans wanting to eat and drink before games had a place to go. Others that didn’t have tickets but wanted to be a part of the buzz now could. And they all could spend hours arriving and leaving in a staggered manner.
These spaced-out arrivals and departures are what made the Braves’ playoff games a hosting-success at Truist Park. Sure, traffic crawled on the streets on the property. Yes, Cobb Parkway was stacked just before first pitch. But these jams were nothing like what we anticipated them being four years ago and were a far cry from what they would have been at Turner Field. Fans trickled into the Battery on Halloween weekend over eight-hour periods that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. By 8 p.m. on those nights, the joint was slam-packed, but traffic rarely was.
Could the Braves and Cobb County deploy more officers to uncork the parking decks post-game? Yes. Is the parking situation difficult and expensive for those that cannot walk long distances? Absolutely. But did Cobb County and Liberty Media’s traffic vision for Truist Park succeed? Very few can argue that it hasn’t.
Now the Braves can count their ultimate achievement after a stadium and roster rebuild: a World Series trophy. The revenue from the huge crowds in the stadium and The Battery for the games and watch parties softens the blow from the lost 2020 COVID season and the revoked 2021 MLB All-Star Game. The next step is simple: pay Freddie Freeman.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.
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