Last year, the Sacramento Kings agreed to start basketball games a half-hour later than usual during their first season at the downtown arena to give commuter traffic more time to depart downtown before Kings fans poured in.
That worked out well. Traffic congestion before games at Golden 1 Center was generally minimal and limited to a few blocks around the arena.
This year, the Kings have decided to move standard game times earlier to 7 p.m. Season ticket holders reportedly like that better than last year’s 7:30 p.m. start times. It allows them to get home a half-hour earlier, which is helpful on weeknights for those who work the next day.
But will the earlier hour mean more congestion? Regular season opening night is Wednesday, Oct. 18.
Brian Boxer, a traffic analyst and community planner, says there may be a touch more traffic, but nothing notable.
“I think it should work fine,” Boxer said. There will be some overlap of outgoing commute traffic with incoming traffic, but, he said, “I wouldn’t think it would be a significant amount.”
Boxer, with the Environmental Science Associates consulting company, co-wrote the original analysis four years ago that predicted the new downtown arena at 5th and K streets would not cause major congestion on game nights.
At the time, his report seemed hard for some to believe. A few critics said they were sure downtown would become gridlocked.
But Boxer’s computer modeling showed that the downtown street grid allowed drivers numerous ways in and out of downtown, and that many would head to garages blocks from the arena, instead of all converging on the arena.
Most notably though, Sacramento’s downtown workforce was able to get out of downtown before Kings fans showed up. The commute exit in Sacramento starts as early as 4 p.m. and almost all office workers are out of downtown by 6 p.m.
That worked fine last year, given that most Kings fans show up up a half hour before the game starts. With the earlier start time this year, that means the bulk of fans will arrive around 6:30 p.m.
Some Kings fans do arrive earlier to stop at restaurants and bars before the game, overlapping with commuters. But, notably in downtown, drivers enter downtown from freeways on different streets than drivers heading out.
Sacramento Police Lt. Justin Eklund said the city will implement the same traffic management plan as last year. That means blocking traffic on some lanes and some streets before and after the game, including L Street at the arena’s southeast corner.
Sacramento Regional Transit officials said fans who use light rail will notice no difference. The last trains will leave the arena area 45 minutes after games let out.
City parking officials are continuing to encourage drivers to read about parking rules downtown at sacpark.org. That website also offers drivers discounts if they reserve a spot ahead of time in city-owned garages downtown. The website also allows drivers to reserve spots in privately owned garages near the arena.