Back-Seat Driver

Sacramento’s ‘man on the spot’ preps for downtown arena opening

A new survey found fliers rank Sacramento International Airport slightly above average compared with other mid-sized airports.
A new survey found fliers rank Sacramento International Airport slightly above average compared with other mid-sized airports.

How fast can a city empty a parking garage full of cars?

That was the “test” question Thursday night. City parking chief Matt Eierman and his crew used the big New Year’s Eve fireworks party in Old Sacramento as practice for techniques they plan to use when the downtown arena opens nine short months from now.

Eierman, perhaps the man most on the spot when the arena opens, said his team spent the night working on the fly to uncork bottlenecks in the Old Sac garage and on the streets outside.

“This is not really apples to apples,” he said, “but we had a chance to learn and improve our plan.”

One big lesson: The jams start inside the garages themselves, with drivers jostling to form a line to get to the exits. Eierman posted crews in the garage to act as traffic guides.

A bottleneck showed up at one intersection that is expected to be troublesome on arena nights: Third and J streets. The initial traffic plan wasn’t working as well as hoped. So Eierman’s crews adjusted lights and traffic flows. Eierman reported that got traffic running more smoothly for the second of the night’s two shows.

Eierman said the city may buy changeable message boards to install on city vehicles, moving them quickly from one spot to the next, notifying drivers when a garage is full and where to find the closest available garage. The city also plans to allow people to reserve garage spots online before events, and will have permanent signs at garage entrances telling drivers how many spots are available.

Eierman will be looking for more test opportunities. It’s one thing to have a detailed traffic-management plan on paper, he said, “but we need to be responsive to what is really happening” in real time.

He isn’t making any bold boasts, but he sounds confident. “We are going to have a positive effect on event-day traffic.”

Sac airport is ... OK?

Sacramento International Airport is either just so-so or it’s a pretty darn pleasant experience, depending on how you look at national airport customer ratings from J.D. Power, a travel consultancy. Users rated airports based on overall facilities, accessibility, security check, baggage claim, check-in and shopping.

Fliers said they like midsized airports, such as Sacramento, better than the big airports. That is likely because of things such as shorter walking distances, smaller crowds, and less confusion about where you’re supposed to go and how to get there.

Rated against midsized airports, Sacramento International comes out as just slightly higher than average, which is disappointing given that users and airlines are still paying for a $1 billion new terminal.

Notably, though, Sacramento scores ahead of two local competitors in the medium-size category, Oakland and San Jose, a good sign for an airport that is trying to entice outer Bay Area and Napa residents to fly out of Sacramento. The highest-scoring airport in the medium category is Dallas Love Field.

And Sacramento’s passenger rating is far higher than those of California’s three large airports: San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Portland ranked highest in the large airport category, no doubt because, despite its passenger loads, it manages to feel like a smaller, friendlier airport.